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Opinions Thu, 7 Jan 2010

Mills at COP15 - Keeping up with “Much talk, Less action” syndrome?

“....Ghana will pursue [a] low carbon development growth path, even though our emissions currently are very insignificant” – President John Evans Attah-Mills

Despite the tremendous disagreements, December 18, 2009 has found its way into the annals of history of Climate Change Summits as the Copenhagen Accord was reached. Candidly, the United Nations Climate Summit (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark was one of the world’s delegates meetings that generated not only heated debates but large uncertainties towards reaching a better joint deal. The accord therefore came as a surprising package to curb increasing global warming especially when most world leaders including US President, Barack Obama were pessimistic of a future collective deal. Barack Obama in a warning to the Plenary at COP15 said “Our ability to take collective action is in doubt”.

It is important to note that the outstanding development at the just-ended summit was the move by developing countries that bear the brunt of the emissions of massive industrialisation in the developed countries for a non-binding agreement for determining the levels of carbon emission reduction and financing for adaptation. Countries in the African region were moved to opt for the best of deals especially when they know that the continent accounts for only 4 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions.

The speech of President Mills at the high level segment of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change held in Copenhagen makes an insightful and touching willingness towards cutting emissions and the spate of deforestation in Ghana. The simple question is “Can these commitments and strategies expressed by President Mills at COP15 be a reality?” Or would he be just keeping up with established mere formalities that are commonplace in the African region and Ghana to be specific. Most African leaders and past Ghanaian leaders exhibit strong willpower at implementing conventions and policies made at the international front only to relent in executing such strategies in their respective countries. It is right to ask that are these meetings the call up to fulfill the responsibility of just giving a speech in front of distinguishing world leaders? The much talk, less action syndrome indeed provides grounds for reconsideration.

The threats of Climate Change

Climate change is nothing short of crises that befall all people regardless of geographical boundary in the world. The fact that climate change variability was much felt in Ghana during 2009 with increasing floods and droughts destroying lives and properties has made it more urgent that the country adopts holistic mitigation and adaptation measures to improve the livelihoods of the ordinary people amidst increasing threats of climate change.

Though Ghana, according to President Mills “is a net greenhouse gas remover and therefore has not contributed to the problem of climate change”, the country is not immune to the ravaging effects of sea-level rise, unfavourable change in growing seasons, extreme weather conditions and increasing loss of biodiversity, which are the dreadful effects of climate change.

According to the “Africa’s Development in a Changing Climate” Report- A key policy advise from World Development Report 2010 by the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD)/World Bank, South Africa will suffer particularly severe drops in yields by 2030 without adaptation measures. For agriculture and food security, the country needs pragmatic and cross-sectoral measures to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of emissions and inimical operations in order to sustain the livelihoods of the majority people especially when the agriculture sector continues to be the main safety net of the poor in the rural areas. It is striking to know that if agriculture is not able to cope with the threats of climate change today then the fate of the sector that contributes much to the country’s GDP in thirty years time would be disastrous. Vigorous agriculture mechanisation, soil conservation programmes and technological advancement need to be given the utmost priority if we want to insure ordinary Ghanaians from food insecurity. As home grown solutions to curtail poverty and hunger and cut down on excessive imports, it is prudent to produce large quantities of food with sustainable local capacity to feed the growing population.

One study in Ghana, according to the IBRD/World Bank Report, estimates the costs associated with malnutrition and diarrhoeal diseases to be as high as 9 percent of GDP after accounting for long-term productivity losses. The impacts of climate change on health, therefore, provide grounds to be cautious. Climate change is expected to expose 90 million more people in Africa to malaria by 2030 — a 14 percent increase (Hay and others, 2006 cited in the IBRD/World Bank’s Africa’s Development in a Changing Climate Report). Malaria which is still the leading killer of children in the country has not been duly dealt with. What adaptation measure should be clamoured for in the fight towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015? As a measure to adapt the ravaging impacts of climate change, the country ought to curtail the threats of malaria to save our future leaders.

Towards a climate-resilient economy

If indeed, putting on hold actions on the climate change will be disastrous- according to President Mills- then Ghana, as a responsible Party to the UNFCCC needs to adopt a development framework that operates inclusively with climate change strategies.

The IBRD/World Bank’s Africa’s Development in a Changing Climate Report states that, 60 percent of the Africa’s emissions are due to deforestation and land degradation. The major contributor in Ghana’s so-called insignificant emissions is inclined to deforestation. Recent BBC report indicate that 90% of Ghana’s forests had been degraded since it attained independence in 1957, leaving only 10%, which is also under pressure by the local people. This means that the country has to stand up for a worthy cause towards controlling the spate of deforestation before agriculture is rendered impoverished and unsupportive to the growing population.

The contemporary capacities of the country as regards bleak political will, inadequate enforceable environmental protection regulations and ineffective law enforcement agencies have made the determination of President Mills to make actions on climate change an inseparable entity of development agenda very uncertain. Apart from the fact that laws enacted to ensure sustainable environment are woefully inadequate, the existing few are unenforceable. The available laws to right the operations of individuals and corporate bodies/companies towards environmental friendliness are too weak to ensure any meaningful approach towards achieving sustainable development. Influential individuals and powerful multinational and local companies easily shirk the laws and operate to the total destruction of the environment. As it’s witnessed, many multinational mining companies cheaply spill cyanide and other hazardous chemicals into water bodies with impunity. This is because there are virtually no effective laws to hold them duly responsible. These situations are not different with companies that operate needlessly and dangerously in the forests of the country. Trees are cut down without prior replanting. Our laws simply cannot bite.

Another unfortunate development has to do with the enforcement agencies that operate not in the interest of the law but in their own interest. Individuals and companies are able to easily bribe their way through to achieve their selfish ambitions without facing full rigours of the law. From our borders to the harbours and through to the entire sensitive sectors of the economy, one can witness massive mismanagement of state funds.

One aspect that is difficult to fathom is with the attitudes of our public officials including the president. The bold pronouncements and commitments by various presidents on implementing international conventions and strategies including the Climate Change Summit completely die away when it comes to implementation. It will interest you to know that aid being clamoured for by developing countries for adaptation measures, technology and capacity building can easily be siphoned by political leaders when the right attitude is not exhibited by these leaders.

The burning question that remains unanswered is what is actually the cause of the problem? A path towards low carbon development growth involves checking among other things vehicular emissions and chlorofluorocarbons from imported outdated refrigerators that contribute much to greenhouse gases. Are industries checked concerning hazardous emissions? It goes without saying that the Environmental Protection Agency has not only disappointed, but failed the country as regards environmental protection and as such needs to be strengthened and empowered as an independent body to check the operations of individuals, groups and multinational corporations that are environmentally hazardous.

It is worthy of note that the above factors are hinged on the nature and adequacy of environmental protection laws in the country. Ghana needs stricter and operational environmental protection laws to make the strategies to curtail the effects of climate change momentous. As at now, the country has only two basic legislations on checking air pollution: Environmental Protection Agency Act, 1994 (Act 490) and Management of Ozone Depleting Substances and Products Regulations, 2005. Whether or not these laws are operational would be left to individual assessment.

These and many others make our commitment to control the impacts of climate change relatively impossible. If really we want to be a responsible Party to the UNFCCC, then the country needs additional effective environmental protection laws and strengthening existing ones. It is about time we changed our attitude and leapfrogged the ordinary for a meaningful approach towards making the economy adaptive to the threats of climate change now and in the future.

Conclusion

The issue of climate change should, therefore, be tackled with ingenuity and in a collaborative manner. I hope President Mills’ insightful speech would not be a mere formality but would contain practical strategies to contain the effects of climate change. We have to chart a new course for national development agenda that cater for intuitive actions on climate change. A climate-resilient economy would not only serve to benefit the present generation but the welfare of the unborn generation. It is about time these formalities evident in speeches of our leaders at international meetings were relegated the background. Ghana can make development a reality only if we attach significance to myriads of approaches towards ensuring sustainable development.

The author Stephen Yeboah is at the Department of Planning, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, Kumasi-Ghana. (Email: stephenyeboah110@yahoo.com)

Columnist: Yeboah, Stephen