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Climate change education for social transformation

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THE International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), asserts that at least 70 percent of the very poor live in rural areas, most of them depending partly (or completely) on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Five hundred million smallholder farms in the developing world are supporting almost two billion people. 

IFAD further asserts that in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, these small farms produce about 80 percent of the food consumed.

Climate change will have serious adverse effects on this production as temperatures rise and water sources deplete. 

The global temperature has already risen 1.10C above the pre-industrial level, with glaciers melting and the sea level rising. Impacts of climate change, which includes flooding and drought, will displace millions of people. 

By 2030, an estimated 700 million people will be at risk of displacement by climate change. 

In 2020, concentrations of global greenhouse gases reached new highs, and real-time data point to continued increases. As these concentrations rise, so does the earth’s temperature. 

In 2021, the global mean temperature was about 1.1°C above the pre-industrial level (from 1850 to 1900). 

From 2015 to 2021 were the seven warmest years on record.

To limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, as set out in the Paris Agreement, global greenhouse gas emissions will need to peak before 2025.

They must then decline by 43 percent by 2030 and to net zero by 2050. 

Countries articulate climate action plans to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts through nationally determined contributions.

However, current national commitments are not sufficient to meet the 1.5°C target.

Climate change is likely to affect the frequency and intensity of extreme events.

The magnitude of impacts of extreme events on agriculture is already high. Analysis by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of 78 post-disaster assessments in 48 developing countries, spanning the period 2003–2013, shows that 25 percent of all economic losses and damages inflicted by medium and large-scale climate hazards, such as droughts, floods and storms, in developing countries affect the agriculture sectors.

Yet, according to a recent article by Dr Michelina Andreucci, though 67 percent of Africans recognise that climate conditions, especially for agricultural production, have worsened over time, only 71 percent were aware of the concept of ‘climate change’, while only 51 percent expressed confidence in their ability to make a difference.

The projected impact of climate change on major crop yields are well documented. Observations, globally, of the effects of climate trends on crop production, based on two decades of research, indicate that climate change has already negatively affected wheat and maize yields in many regions of Africa.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), highlighted, in its latest Assessment Report, that “…climate change increases and intensifies risks to food security for the most vulnerable countries and populations….” 

Early life under-nutrition associated with low harvests or weather-related interruptions of food supply can impair cognitive development.  

How will the continent fare with climate change which is threatening to reverse the progress made so far in the fight against hunger and malnutrition?

Climate change is not restricted to farmers. While personal experiences of climate-related changes and their impact are important factors in influencing peoples’ perceptions of climate change, education and understanding that it is caused (in part) by harmful human action are important factors in the fight against climate change.

Climate variability and change is also expected to undermine educational attainment as high temperatures, low rainfall and flooding, especially in the growing season, may mean children are removed from school to assist in income generation.  

While it is accepted that technological, institutional and financing factors are major barriers to climate adaptation feasibility in Africa, there is a dearth of education and climate change awareness in sub-Saharan Africa where it is often treated as a subject for adults, scientists, policymakers and governments.  

Yet the future lies in the youths. 

Understanding the human cause of climate change through education is a strong predictor of climate change risk perception and a critical knowledge foundation that can affect the difference between coping responses and more informed and transformative adaptation.

Information and capacity development through education and early warning systems could enhance vulnerable groups’ ability to cope and adapt their livelihoods.  

However, while some groups of people, especially in rural areas, may struggle to translate information into actual changes, lack of access to assets and social networks, among older populations, are critical limitations to locally-driven or autonomous adaptation and limit potential benefits from planned adaptation actions (like adoption of agricultural technologies or effective use of early warning  systems).

UNICEF has tapped into the minds and imaginations of children around the world to capture what it means to be a child growing up in the age of rapid climate change.

Through its Climate Change Education for Sustainable Development programme, UNESCO aims to “…help people understand the impact of global warming today and increase ‘climate literacy’ among young people.”

To respond to the urgent calls for action from young people to ensure every student is equipped to tackle climate change and to promote sustainable development, as enshrined in the Sustainable Development Goal Target 4.7, UNESCO and UNFCCC launched a series of monthly conversations on climate change education for social transformation.

Organised as part of the Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) Hub, the series was promoted by the German regional government of North Rhine-Westphalia to foster education and public awareness, training, public access to information and participation in climate change action.

Each episode explored the critical role of climate change education, and how to harness its transformative power.

Given the youth form the largest demographic in Zimbabwe, they must be in the forefront of climate change discussions. 

Actions to militate against climate change in Zimbabwe should take into account primary and secondary education and the needs of young people who constitute the largest segment of the population and are the future guardians of the land.

In an increasingly complex and interconnected world with a real, existential threat such as climate change, there is a growing call for education to enable individuals, as agents of change, to acquire knowledge, skills, values and attitudes that lead to the green transition of our societies, as enshrined in SDG Target 4.7 and, indeed, in the entire 2030 Agenda. 

Taking urgent action to combat climate change and its devastating impact is imperative to save lives and livelihoods as well as key to making the 17 goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the blueprint for a better future – a reality for all humanity and the environment.

Climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution have led to a planetary crisis that requires an urgent response. 

UN secretary-general António Guterres calls the climate crisis ‘…a battle for our lives…’ as we struggle to transform our societies to reach the 1.5-degree path recommended by the Paris Agreement.

The time is now for Zimbabwe to learn and act for our planet! 

Dr Tony M. Monda BSc, DVM, DPVM, is currently conducting Veterinary epidemiology, and Agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. E-mail:  MONDA@gmail.com

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