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Danger of blaming climate for policy gaffes

Climate change has turned more than 10 counties into the biblical valley of dry bones. Experts had forewarned us. And now, the worst fears have been confirmed.

As pangs of drought sink deeper into affected communities, animals and crops have been cruelly wiped out and their place taken by agony, hunger and despondency.

Only last week, helpless herders sold off their livestock at Sh500 each in Kajiado after it became clear they would succumb. In places like Wajir, Garissa and Kajiado, locals have become quite familiar with the stench of death.

The Horn of Africa is undergoing its worst drought in 40 years, leaving about four million people food insecure in Kenya. And those facing the risk of food insecurity stand at above 50 million across IGAD countries. It’s a tense moment. The colossal losses and emerging threats to livelihoods, blamed on global warming, are hitting the region’s raw nerve days to the start of this year’s UN-led climate change talks, dubbed ‘African COP’ in Egypt, from tomorrow.

There’s no more denying that combating climate change and its effects is an age-old challenge, and perhaps the greatest headache facing mankind. At any rate, however, it has come with renewed risks and unpredictable fashions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns that by mid-century, a billion people will face water shortage and hunger. In Africa, 600 million are at risk.

Experts now warn the stress of drought, famine and poverty threaten to create social strains, leading to a potential for involuntary migration, breakdown of communities, political instability and armed conflict as battle for resources takes a nasty tangent.

Drought and land degradation, like what’s happening in more than 20 counties in Kenya, have affected 250 million people worldwide in at least 100 vulnerable countries. The big question is whether COP27 will deliver for vulnerable countries, especially in Africa and Asia.

There is no two ways to it. Global warming has to be addressed. But how? There has to be a paradigm shift in how governments act or react. Negotiators at COP27 must deliver tangible outcomes. The rural poor who contribute less to global warming but suffer most, are looking up to them. Wealthy nations must be prevailed upon to fulfil their pledges on finance.

The annual summit, happening amid the raging Russia-Ukraine war, should yield a just solution. Parties must rise above parochial interests in sticky areas like loss and damage. It is in everyone’s interest that rich and poor countries strive for a synergy. Funding Africa’s mitigation needs would cost $1.6 trillion by 2030. The delegates have their work cut out.

While we badly need the money, our delegates in Egypt must demonstrate adequate understanding of the issues. Let them not be a clueless clique only focused on bagging the cash. There is no time for trivialities and sideshows. Meanwhile, political leaders should not blame climate for every disaster or policy blunders.

A trend has emerged where every single crisis – be it a disease outbreak, unemployment, wild fires or any other incident – is irrationally blamed on climate.

When poor urban planning leaves no land to soak up rain water, why would decision-makers blame floods on global warming? Then there are serious effects of poor agricultural practices that lead to climate change but aren’t cause by it. We need emphasis on local solutions that reduce communities’ vulnerability to shocks.

Using climate change to mask misplaced priorities in food production, pollution management or urban planning, is self-defeatist and could lead corrective efforts astray by deflecting attention from what needs to be done. The very existence of climate change does not give governments or political leaders leave from doing the right thing. The world can’t wait for solid steps at COP27 to save the planet.

The writer is an editor at The Standard. Twitter: @markoloo