The effects of climate change in Zimbabwe

Christopher Chakwana is a climate activist from Zimbabwe who is passionate about research in the renewable resources sector and in areas of green production. He is currently studying for a Masters of Engineering in Manufacturing Systems and Operations Management at a university in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

As carbon emissions continue un-halted worldwide, the effects of global warming are now upon us. The world's poorest communities are the hardest hit, and those in Africa are frequently experiencing extreme weather outside the natural variability of African climate. Zimbabwe has not been spared from the effects of global warming. According to the meteorological services of Zimbabwe, since 1987 the country has experienced its six warmest years on record, with daily minimum and maximum temperatures having risen by approximately 2°C over the past century. This has seen the country experience extremes of weather over the past two decades. We have had to deal with 10 droughts, decreased freshwater and destroyed biodiversity. 

According to Zimbabwe Power Company, the water levels in Zimbabwe’s main lake, Lake Kariba, have dropped to below 30%, and this is seriously affecting power generation in the country. Hydropower contributes a significant proportion to the country’s electricity generation. Episodes of drought in the past few years coupled with changing rainfall patterns within the country have led to the decrease in Kariba’s water levels. The rains have become so erratic in some districts of the country that the United Nations Development Programme predicts agricultural production – Zimbabwe’s main livelihood source for nearly three quarters of the population – could decrease by up to 30%, which could lead to an increase in hunger and poverty.

 

In the past, Zimbabwe has shown great commitment to addressing climate change issues by being among the first countries to ratify the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Yet despite its support for climate issues, the country has failed to reduce the carbon emissions released by coal power stations. Zimbabwe continues to greatly rely on coal-powered thermal stations that emit large amounts of pollution. In order for Zimbabwe to reduce its emissions, the country needs to enact laws that promote the use of cleaner sources of energy, such as solar energy. The Zimbabwean Government needs to quickly push for a reduction in carbon emissions so as to foster a post-fossil-fuel society and introduce policies that allow for acclimatization to environmental changes.

Right now, solar power offers a good alternative source of energy for Zimbabwe. Research carried out by the International Energy Initiative shows that Zimbabwe receives on average good direct solar irradiation, which is far higher than that received in other countries within our region. It is important that momentum is not lost in exploring cheaper and cleaner sources of energy.

Climate change could mean significant loss for Zimbabwe. It is important that more research into how our locals can adapt to the changing weather patterns is done so that preventive measures can be undertaken in this area, as millions of people's lives are at stake, and the well-being and lives of vulnerable populations are on the frontline. Research indicates hat surface water resources within the country will reduce significantly by 2080, which will place a great part of Zimbabwe’s population at risk of water shortages. Western and southern parts of Zimbabwe are projected to experience drying up, leaving millions of Zimbabweans to face the resulting hunger and poverty.

As climate negotiators drawn from different countries meet in Paris for the COP21 conference, it is my sincere hope that they reache concrete resolutions. The task largely rests with developed countries to show ambition and determination in order to find a solution that satisfies every country. These countries need to realise that in Africa we are not only interested in getting a climate deal that supports a reduction in carbon emissions, but we expect far more than that. Our expectation is that the issue of the impact of climate change on Africa be well addressed and included in the final agreement. The COP21 climate conference must also yield firm commitments from devel¬oped economies not only to reduce carbon emissions, but also to make funding available to developing countries such as Zimbabwe that will finance climate adaptation work.

Across Africa, many national governments are initiating adaptation programmes, which focus on mechanisms such as disaster risk management, public awareness, adjustments to relevant technologies and scientific-based approaches to farming. However, according to estimates by a 2013 United Nations Environment Programme study, most African countries cannot fund these projects and will require an increase in funding from developed countries.