Interview conducted by Innocent Chia| 11/11/09 | The Chia Report
A little less than a month from today (Dec. 7th – Dec. 18th), in the Danish cosmopolitan capital city of Copenhagen, environmental experts like UNEP’s Richard Tingem Munang will look to President Obama and his peers to provide political will and leadership on the pressing issue of climate change. While the big boys, and girl, club will be making these far-reaching decisions of global import, a looming concern for activists is what will happen to the Africas of the world that pollute least but are set to suffer most if nothing is done? As climate change Deputy Project Manager at theUnited Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the Cameroon-born Richard T. Munang (PhD) is part of a team charged with the daunting task of saving the world from itself with smart policies that build communities while saving the world.
Thanks to the convenience of social media networks, Chiareport caught up with Dr. Richard M. Tingem for an exclusive focusing on what Climate Change means to Africa and Africans.
Chiareport: Seventy percent of the estimated 1.1 billion people in poverty around the world live in rural areas and depend on the productivity of ecosystems for their livelihoods – to what extent is this a problem in Africa and, which areas are most hit?
Dr Richard T. Munang: This is a serious problem in Africa as many in this continent live on less than a dollar a day and plagued already with stressors like diseases and poor governance. These people are crucially dependent on ecosystems services – supporting themselves mainly through fishing, wild fruits from the forest, water supplies, health and shelters etc – and climate change will worsen/exacerbate the situation, thereby putting the lives of this impoverished millions in danger.
Entire ecosystems in Africa are affected. The forests, which provide food, are been degraded through illegal logging and fires, and animals/species been purged. Marine and coastal ecosystems, mangroves and coral reefs which harbour and provide sustenance to fishes are been destroyed and this huge food resource is been diminished. This is jeopardizing the livelihood of millions. Climate change will only make matters worse. The emphasis is that these ecosystems need to be restored, conserved and sustainably managed.
Chiareport: In my minds eye the picture you are painting is putting an equal burden on the supply side of the curve – including the small subsistent farmer in Kribi that has to fish from his natural environment, the pigmy in the far away bushes in Bertoua who has to hunt and kill game for survival, or my aunties and uncles in Kom who have to burn the fields to renew farmland for the next farming season. Tell me why these folks should be worried about it?
Dr Richard T. Munang: Global warming means that many dry areas are going to get drier and wet areas are going to get wetter. They are going to be caught between the devil of drought and the deep blue seas of floods. The poaching of these endemic species by our pigmy brothers in Bertoua only goes ahead to jeopardize the natural environment as these species are very vital for the delivering of ecosystems services that support life on earth. Unsustainable farming techniques, like the slash and burn practiced by our Kom aunties and uncles, leads to damage of our forest ecosystems, biological diversity loss and release of buried CO2 into the atmosphere further exacerbating the changing climate. Given that agriculture and land use changes – such as deforestation – contribute about one third of global green house gas emissions, there is serious need to worry.
Global warming is set to make many of the problems our communities already deal with, much, much worse. Many will face food crisis. As at now millions of farmers in Africa are no longer sure when the rain will fall and in what quantities, making growing seasons unpredictable. In extreme cases, we can expect more droughts and floods. When such changes strike, they not only wipe out crops and leave a trail of hunger but also help spread diseases.
But there is a glimmer of hope that the right response can bring benefits to the entire country. Sustainably managing our ecosystems does not only enhance natural carbon sink capacity, it also offers a way to safeguard and strengthen our economies, food and livelihood security for all communities. Ecosystems harness the power of nature to help human communities adapt. Protecting mangroves to shield communities and infrastructure against storm surges, ensuring our forest systems stay healthy to provide clean drinking water. These services, provided free by nature would be extremely costly to replace, even if it were possible to do so.
Chiareport: Can you address the demand curve of my imaginary graph….supply must be following demand, as some may logically argue that subsistence farming alone cannot have perilous consequences on the ecosystem.
Dr Richard T. Munang: In achieving multiple goals, there is need for a balance between the many components making up a ‘system’. Population increase and on-going lifestyle expectations coupled with ecosystem degradation is likely to further upset what is already an imbalance. If ‘demand’ were replaced by ‘requirement’ (based on equity of resource use) and ‘supply’ replaced by the ‘capacity of ecosystems to produce’, then society would have better guidelines under which food economies would function. This requires more efficient use of food resources (less waste, reduction in over consumption etc) which has additional benefits such as healthier diets. The probability of achieving a balance is greatly improved by protecting and appropriately managing ecosystems.
Chiareport: What needs to happen in order to increase financial investment for integrating ecosystem management with food security and poverty alleviation priorities?
Dr Richard T. Munang: We need to make the case at all levels of society- from rural farmers to global leaders – the role ecosystems play in sustaining life. It needs to be recognized that a healthy natural ecosystem has greater value in the long term than degradation for short term gain. The local communities need to know they can reverse their poverty by better managing their forest, their lakes, their rivers , their land so that ownership spirit needs to be part and parcel. We need an appropriate way to value ecosystems at an international scale. Investors need clear signals from governments and international agreements on how ecosystems are to be properly valued, for example their carbon storage and absorption capacity. Developed countries need to be cognizant of the reality of their emissions and work on reducing the emissions, as well as assisting developing countries in better restoring, conserving and managing this natural ecological infrastructure.
Chiareport: What are some of the solutions that are cost effective and achieve multiple goals?
Dr Richard T. Munang: -Better uses of organic farming systems reduce artificial fertilizer use and lessen costs and save on energy. As a result, fewer greenhouse gases are emitted into the atmosphere. The United Nations Environment Programme reported increases of up to 128% in 114 farms in Africa – most of them in East Africa – which has increased the household income of local farmers as well as the availability of food for their families. In addition, the report also finds that organic or near organic agriculture in Africa has resulted in improvement in social capital (more education, stronger farmer organizations), and improved natural capital (better use of locally available natural resources, diversification of crops, strong soil water retention in the soils and sequestration of carbon potential and resistant to droughts). Because organic farming is knowledge intensive, it is important that rather than subsidizing fertilizers and pesticides, support should be provided to schools that will train farmers as agriculture is very knowledge intensive.
- Promote rainwater harvesting and agro-forestry (carbon sequestration, increase soil fertility, fruits and food, adequate timber needs for construction)
-Establish a micro-financing fund to boost small-scale farmer productivity at local levels – With this they can buy seeds.
-The promotion of second generation bio fuels based on farm wastes rather than on primary crops—this could reduce pressure on fertile lands and critical ecosystems such as forests.
Chiareport: The Kyoto Protocol has run its course with mixed results… How would the failure to come up with a new treaty in Copenhagen impact Africa and other developing regions of the world?
Dr Richard T. Munang: In December, governments will meet in Copenhagen to agree a new global deal for tackling climate change. Failure to address the needs of Africa and other developing regions will spell doom – potentially condemning millions to hunger, starvation and death. The science is clear about the scale of the threat and what must be done to face it. What is missing is political will from the richest nations. For African nations, the time has come to stand firm and fight for a fair deal with specific targets for both mitigation and adaptation. A new climate-change deal that makes sense for Africa, considering its vulnerability and tiny contribution to greenhouse-gas emissions, needs to include the following:
• Financial resources for adaptation: The need to adapt is fundamental for Africa. Effective adaptation is underpinned by the availability of sufficient, secure and predictable financial resources that enable the people of Africa to adapt to climate change. Africa needs a global deal that ensures that adaptation moves forward and that specific targets and milestones are set.
• Mitigation: The ultimate solution to climate change is in reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, a responsibility that lies mostly with developed countries. Responsible countries must take on binding emissions targets.
• A focus on development opportunities in Africa: Africa’s emissions are tiny on a global scale, but all emissions add to the burden of climate change, so a fair deal should promote Africa-specific investments that help Africa to reach a higher development level without increasing emissions. This requires technology transfer, research and development, capacity building and specific targets.
• Carbon markets: Africa needs to participate and benefit from the carbon market. Africa must demonstrate its unique selling points and opportunities that exist for investors as well as guaranteeing a supportive policy environment.
Climate change threatens to exacerbate poverty in Africa in a catastrophic cycle that requires urgent attention. Any climate-related problems will be a challenge, but combined they threaten to derail entire economies and cripple the ecosystems upon which the majority of Africans depend for their livelihoods. The loss of even a few lives to an avoidable human-induced problem should not be acceptable. Sadly, mostly the poor, who have nothing to do with climate change, are affected by climate change, and their voices rarely get heard in debates about how to tackle the problem.
Chiareport: Put yourself in the place of the average global citizen that may not be very familiar with some of the environmental jargon that we have used here. What is the simplest and most important message you want the person to retain and pass on?
Dr Richard T. Munang: Africa’s future rests on the edge of a knife. Our planet’s climate is changing in ways that could spell disaster for millions of people across the continent. The fuel we burn, the forests we fell and the food we farm release greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These gases are trapping heat and wreaking havoc in our planet. The impacts are already being felt and that future effects could be “abrupt and irreversible”. We have to start dealing with the problem at home- it will affect farmers in the highlands of kom, Bali, Bafut, Bafoussam, Bertuoa and pastoralists in Garoua. It will impact fishing communities in Kribi and entrepreneurs in downtown Yaoundé. All of us need to understand this threat and work together to face it. More extreme climatic conditions will hurt the development prospects of every developing nation, Cameroon amongst them. Africa’s vulnerability is shaped by its economic, political and institutional capabilities and African leaders must rise to the challenge to adapt their populations to the changing climate.
Chiareport: Sir, we thank you for your time and hope to do this again in the nearest future.
Dr Richard T. Munang: Thank you Mr chia.
Dr. Richard Tingem Munang’s career has evolved from research scientist at Trinity College, Dublin through to today where he is the climate change Deputy Project Manager at United Nations Environment programme (UNEP) Climate Change Adaptation Unit. He coordinates UNEP’s activities on the joint initiative of UNEP and UNDP project called CC-DARE. This project aims to become a practical example of UN cooperation on a critical development issue and provide direct evidence of UN reform under the One UN banner. Dr. Munang’s areas of expertise include in climate change science & policy, societal adaptation, managing ad coordinating national and international climate change programs, research programs and assessments and communicating scientific, technical and economic information to policy makers.
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