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06.12.2011 Feature Article

Climate Change: An issue for all

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It is obvious that there have been changes in the weather pattern right here in Ghana, as the country is experiencing more rainfall than is usual, especially in the month of August this year, when rains in Accra alone claimed over ten lives, in addition to the constant extreme sunshine.

What one often hears is that 'the weather has changed' without majority, especially the ordinary person in the street, bothering to give critical thought to why these changes have been occurring overtime, though it affects their very livelihood.

Even among the elite, issues of climate change (CC) and global warming have been given little attention with regard to a real understanding of the issues, impacts and the measures being proposed or necessary to address the situation.

As everyone goes about their duties, it is assumed that CC should be a concern for government institutions and agencies, and science-based organizations but the truth is that CC is an issue that should be of concern to all.

To my grandmother in the village, she will only make comparism between the present and the past, and probably relate it to other issues that one might consider as superstition, whereas others, even including some elite people, will ascribe religious reasons.

Beyond the individual understanding of the issues of CC are the underlying facts, including the evolution, impacts and the efforts being taken at the international, regional and national levels to ameliorate the negative impacts of CC, and move towards ensuring a safe world environment for current generations and those yet to come.

An overview
CC is said to be a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere, and which is in addition to natural climate variability observed over comparable time periods.

This climatic change is attributable to causes like water vapour, which is the most abundant greenhouse gas, but importantly, acts as a feedback to the climate, and increases as the Earth's atmosphere warms.

Also, there is Carbon dioxide (CO 2 ), which is a minor but very important component of the atmosphere, and is released through natural processes such as respiration and volcano eruptions and through human activities such as deforestation, land use changes and burning fossil fuels.

Humans have increased atmospheric CO 2 concentration by a third since the Industrial Revolution began and this is the most important long-lived forcing of climate change.

Another cause is Methane, a hydrocarbon gas produced both through natural sources and human activities, including the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture and especially rice cultivation, as well as ruminant digestion and manure management associated with domestic livestock.

On a molecule-for-molecule basis, methane is a far more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but also one which is much less abundant in the atmosphere.

Furthermore, there is Nitrous oxide, a powerful greenhouse gas produced by soil cultivation practices, especially the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning.

There are also Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), which are synthetic compounds entirely of industrial origin used in a number of applications, but now largely regulated in production and release to the atmosphere by international agreement due to their ability to contribute to destruction of the ozone layer.

Thus, the main cause of the current global warming trend is human expansion of the 'greenhouse effect' warming, that result when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.

At the international level to address CC, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was established in 1988 by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

The IPCC provides the world with a clear scientific view on the current state of knowledge in CC and its potential environmental and socio-economic impacts, and the IPCC is open to all member countries of the UN and WMO.

Bridging the knowledge gap
Despite a lot of activities going on internationally and even nationally, the knowledge gap of Africans and Ghanaians in particular is wide, and the involvement of critical expert groups necessary for Ghana to maximize benefits in the ongoing discussions remain limited.

Thus, experts say building the capacity of important groups, institutions and individuals remain key to increase public knowledge on CC and its related issues, and enhance Ghana's contribution to the discussions at the global level.

For instance, experts state that there is a large pool of funds for Adaptation and Mitigation efforts for which Ghana requires experts such as involving those in the financial sector in the process to gain access of those funds.

It is in view of this that the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment Science and Technology with sponsorship from the British Council brought together seventeen journalists from selected media houses from 15 - 21 November, 2011, to build their capacity towards the dissemination of important information on CC to the general public.

As pointed out by an Environmental Activist, Dr. David Pessey, those whose livelihoods have been affected are those who have contributed the least to the problem, including African countries, yet their populations are not heard in its discussions.

He believes that 'our people have a sense of what is happening and say these things are happening because we don't respect nature', therefore, 'it is time to get serious and let the ordinary people understand and join the discussions.'

The Conferences
Negotiations started in February 1991 to May 1992, when the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) was formed to negotiate a Framework Convention on Climate Change, which led to the adoption of the UNFCCC in May 1992 and entered into force in March 1995.

The key provisions of the Convention included among other things common but differentiated responsibilities, commitment of all Parties, Commitments of Developed Countries, also known as Annex 1 (A1) countries, and special provisions for developing, least developed countries with special needs.

This was followed by the series of the Conference of Parties (COP) conferences with the first one (COP 1) in Berlin, Germany in 1995 to negotiate a protocol with specific commitments for A1 Parties, but no new commitments for developing countries.

Other groups in negotiation include the Group of 77 and China, the African Group, Alliance of Small Island states (AOSIS), the European Union (EU), Umbrella Group, Least Developed Countries (LCDs), the Arab Group, Oils Producing Countries (OPEC), Environmental Integrity Group and Central Asia, Caucuses, Albania and Moldova (CANCAM).

Another important COP conference as explained by a Legal Advisor to the African Group of Negotiators, Yaw Osafo is the COP 3, which saw the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol (KP) in December 1997.

According to him, A1 Parties made specific commitments to adopt policies and measures to achieve goal of the convention, reduction commitments by AI Parties of 5% below 1990 aggregate for A1Parties, and a first commitment period of 2008 - 2012.

Also, they agreed on joint implementation of commitments by Parties, flexible mechanisms such as joint mechanisms, Clean Development Mechanisms and emission trading among others.

He mentioned that the protocol entering into force provision included for it to be ratified by A1 Parties that account for 55% of total reductions for the first Commitment Period (CP) but the US, the world's largest emitter of 36.1% has until the near end of the CP not ratified the KP to make it binding.

COP 17
COP 17 is currently ongoing in Durban, South Africa, and interested parties as well as observers keenly await what decisions and resolutions would be adopted, especially concerning a new commitment period for the KP, the particular position of the African Group and the case of countries such as China, India and South Africa, who are still categorized among Non Annex 1 countries, though they are known to be substantial emitters.

In view of US refusal to ratify the KP, the EPA Corporate Affairs Manager, Mrs. Angelina Mensah said COP 17 would mark a critical moment in the ongoing international CC negotiations, especially because the 'UNFCCC recognizes that the climate system is a shared resource whose stability can be affected by industrial and other emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.'

Thus, she referred to the UNFCCC in March 1994, which required governments to gather and share information of greenhouse gas emissions, national policies and best practices; launch national strategies for addressing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to expected impacts, including the provision of financial and technological support to developing countries; and cooperation in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of CC.

She explained that the KP is an international agreement linked to the UNFCCC, which sets binding targets for thirty seven industrialized countries and the European Union (EU) for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

According to her, 'While the UNFCCC encourages industrialized countries to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), the Protocol commits them to do so,' adding that 'A new international framework needs to have been negotiated and ratified that can deliver the stringent emission reductions as recommended by the IPCC.'

The basis for this, she noted, was expected to happen in COP 17 and so 'it is up to South Africa to ensure that a solid agreement is to happen in 2012,' while reminding all that taking a meaningful climate action is about seizing the opportunity.

The importance of taking steps towards a new agreement in 2012 to her is to build international competitiveness, new economic infrastructure, sectors and activity, create prosperity and jobs, transform economy and society, reduce poverty and improve health and quality of life for all.

Ghana's response
Ghana's emission is said to be most in the transport sector where there have been multiplicity of cars on our streets, especially the influx of private cars that carry fewer people, and polluting the atmosphere, and also in the waste sector where more and more burning of refuse is done, especially in the Greater Accra region.

Although, generally, Ghana's emission is not considerable, she has to take steps to forestall greater emissions as it seeks to develop because 'Climate change has great significance for sustainable development plans and livelihoods in Ghana', as observed by the Chief Programme Officer of the Energy Resources and Climate Change Unit (ERCCU) of the EPA, Mr. K.Y Oppong-Boadi.

According to him, CC should be seen as a developmental issue for the country, because the diversity in agro climatic regimes across the country from savannah to rainforest with differing degrees of temperature and rainfall variability make discussion of climate change for Ghana challenging.

He emphasized that extreme weather conditions such as storms, scarcity of water as rivers dry up in various places across the country were all evidence of the effects of CC in Ghana, hence, response to the situation has been at the institutional level.

These include the establishment of the National Climate Change Committee, Secretariat of the ERCCU, Designated National Authority - Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the Reduction of Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD) as a Mitigation effort and the preparation of the National Communication, which is prepared every two years to let the world know how a country was tackling issues of CC.

Currently, he said Ghana has prepared its second National Communication, Preparation of Ghana National Climatic Policy, Manual for the Preparation of CDM in Ghana, the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system, waste and improved stoves, and policy briefs of which about eleven have been published.

In addition, Ghana has Proposed National Systems to finalize National Climate Change Adaptation Strategies (NCCAS) while ongoing projects include the African Adaptation Programme, Human Health and Climate Change, Technology Needs Assessment of Climate Change Adaption and Mitigation, and the development of REDD+ strategies.

However, there are still issues for Ghana which include adequate funding for Adaptation programmes in key sectors of the Ghanaian economy, gender issues to be mainstreamed into CC activities in Ghana, especially if the country is to achieve the Millenium Development Goals (MDG), which impact on women in diverse ways.

Also, Mr. Oppong-Boadi noted that Ghana needs to mainstream Adaptation and Mitigation in national development plans, improve CC data and information collation and dissemination to ensure informed decision-making, as well as increased and adequate long term planning.

In view of these, he said Ghana's participation in COP 17 should focus on doing more work with regards to negotiations on the maintenance of the two-track approach, support the G77 and China to continue to negotiate long-term financing, among others.

Expectations / Conclusion
Undoubtedly, CC has become an issue that the world cannot afford to ignore because of the consequences that would arise such as significant changes in rainfall patterns, coupled with increased evaporation that would result in difficult water availability.

According to the EPA, 'our biodiversity will be severely impacted; especially the grasslands, fynbos and succulent Karoo where high levels of extinctions are predicted'  and 'maize production in summer rainfall areas and fruit cereal production in winter rainfall areas may be badly affected.'

Also, commercial forestry, vulnerable to increased frequencies of wildfires and changes in available water in south-western regions may occur, while alien invasive plant species are likely to spread more and have an ever-increasing negative impact on water resources.

For Mr. Oppong-Boadi, some aspects of the Negotiations would be difficult at COP 17, thus, Africa and Ghana for that matter have to work for convergence of positions in the operationalization of New Technology Mechanism and Adaptation Committee.

Ghana must also do more work on the discussions on NAMA, which he believes would receive agreements, and further establish bi-lateral consultations with some donor countries with the hope of receiving more funds to implement CC.

In sum, one expects that the large emitters in the A1 group and others such as China and India would show greater commitment to their responsibilities without imposing stringent measures on developing countries in their development efforts, and also put in measures to redeem their promises to Non Annex 1 countries in their Adaptation and Mitigation efforts.

Ghanaian Chronicle
Ghanaian Chronicle, © 2011

The author has 1023 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: GhanaianChronicle

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