IN 1995, as a young research scholar, I was privileged to attend the First Session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change held at the International Congress Centre in the German capital, Berlin.
The conference, which put Germany at the forefront of the global movement to cut carbon dioxide emissions, brought together companies, investors, banks, public authorities, scientific institutions, citizens’ action groups, environmental institutions, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), academic think-tanks and other interested parties.
The primary discussion at the conference was based on the question: ‘What must be done about global climate change in the future?’
Then German Chancellor Dr Angela Merkel (latter dubbed ‘Klimakanzlerin’ – Climate Councillor — by the German press), who was then Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, penned a critical and comprehensive article on the protection of the climate which formed the foundation of the development of Green Technology and climate-proofing agriculture among other climate-smart initiatives.
Allied to the conference was ‘Climate-95, Berlin’, the first international fair on climate protection. The fair showcased, for the first time, the achievements of major environmental institutions and technologies in the field of climate protection. Among the exhibitions that I was privileged to observe and examine were new technical solutions for the energy industry for energy refinement and industrial production; traffic and transportation; agriculture; mining; as well as refuse disposal and urban ecology.
A trade fair which focused on energy and environmental technologies was held simultaneously in the city of Hanover.
Numerous NGOs represented at the conference came together and formed the ‘Climate Forum 95’, to serve as a joint co-ordination and information office and, together, they organised almost 50 varied events.
Mayors of the world’s largest cities were brought together at the climate conference to discuss environmental issues at municipal level.
An eye-opener conference titled: ‘Cities for Climate Protection’ revealed how much responsibility large cities bear in climate change; from the portion of energy they consume and the amount of carbon dioxide they release into the air.
It was revealed that cities of the 25 member-States of the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), at the time used up to 60-80 percent of the total energy consumed and released correspondingly large amounts of carbon dioxide into the air.
The Local Government Climate Programme Conference, organised by the International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives in co-operation with Berlin’s City Planning and Environmental Protection Department, dealt with examples of successful local government climate protection policy in Europe.
Young people and artistes also occupied centre stage in Berlin during the climate summit.
For example, about 400 young people from various European countries met with 300 young Germans during the International Youth Conference held under the theme: ‘The Climate is Right for Change’, to exchange their views on climate change and protection.
At the same event, UNICEF and Greenpeace, among others, organised ‘The Youth-Artist Climate Summit’ whereby young people and artistes illustrated the many and varied forces affecting the climate.
A highlight of the event was a performance titled: ‘The Forest’.
Other events organised included a large multi-media show titled: ‘Together for Nature – Global Alliance Arts and Science’.
Here international artistes and scientists jointly demonstrated the cultural and scientific wealth of the people of the earth. A direct satellite link-up with Australia, India and the US was set up for people who could not take part at the conference.
The programme was also broadcast nationally.
Three decades have passed since the Community of Nations signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in June 1992, on the occasion of the UN Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. Almost 120 States, including the EU and Zimbabwe, ratified the Convention which came into force in March 1994.
What has been achieved since then and where does Zimbabwe stand in this global partnership?
Recent assessments in 48 developing countries, spanning the period 2003-2013, revealed 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. Observations of the effects of climate trends on crop production indicate that climate change has already negatively affected wheat and maize yields in many regions, as well as globally.
Climate change will also have broader impacts through its effect on trade flows, food markets and price stability, as well as introduce new risks for human and animal health.
Increasing mean and extreme temperature trends across Africa are attributable to human-caused climate change.
Yet Africa is among the lowest contributor of historical greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions responsible for human-induced climate change and has the lowest per capita GHG emissions of all regions.
Nevertheless, Africa has already experienced widespread impacts from human-induced climate change.
Most African countries are predicted to enter unprecedented high temperature climates this century, emphasising the urgency of climate adaptation measures in Africa.
Exposure and vulnerability to climate change in Africa are multi-dimensional with socio-economic, political and environmental factors interconnecting.
Climate change has reduced economic growth across Africa, increasing income inequality between African countries and those in temperate northern hemisphere climates.
Current estimates indicate that gross domestic product (GDP) per capita for 1991-2010, in Africa, was on average 13,6 percent lower than if climate change had not occurred.
Impacts manifest mainly through losses in agriculture, tourism, manufacturing as well as infrastructure.
African policymakers are aware of the consequences of inaction on climate change, but believe if developing countries, such as Zimbabwe, followed the same developmental pathway taken by industrialised countries, more greenhouse gases would be released into the atmosphere, leading to more global warming.
On their part, industrialised countries, during global climate change negotiations, insist that developing nations reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.
In response, there has been a rise in framework and sectorial climate change laws across Africa.
Robust legislative frameworks, both climate change specific and non-specific, to foster adaptive responses to climate change, are being developed, such as Zimbabwe’s Initial Adaptation Communication to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (2022), the South African Draft Climate Change Bill, the Kenyan Climate Change Act and the Nigerian Climate Change Bill.
These are expected to affect whether and how individuals and institutions act and institute these bills, and thus contribute to the success or failure of adaptation policies related to weather and climate change.
From the Berlin conference, in 1995, to the forthcoming COP 28 in the United Arab Emirates in 2023, are climate conferences effective for Africa and Zimbabwe in particular?
Zimbabwe needs to be proactive.
Dr Tony Monda BSc, DVM, DPVM, is currently conducting veterinary epidemiology, climate change and agro-economic research in Zimbabwe. For views and comments, email: tonym.MONDA@gmail.com