Malawi’s subtropical climate, which is relatively dry and strongly seasonal, is among those highly susceptible to effects of erratic weather patterns.
With the country’s high population growth and intense deforestation, the country’s agrarian economy continues to be hit by effects of climate change. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are also harming agricultural growth.
Then, there are ‘strange’ pests and diseases which affect crop production and chemicals for clamping down on them seem nowhere in sight.
Yet, at the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) Climate Action Summit in New York last week, Malawi did not make clear commitments on upgrading its nationally determined contributions (NCDs) which are said to be central in climate change fight.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is clear about human-inspired global warming driving unprecedented changes in climate and impacting human and natural systems across the globe.
The increased use of fossil fuels in transportation, manufacturing and communications is at the centre of human-caused global warming, according to scientists.
Thus, there are repeated calls for countries to cut down on fossil fuel projects and avoid subsidising them.
But, the outcomes of the UNSG Climate Summit do not inspire much hope to stakeholders including activists and scientists.
Nevertheless, with 67 countries indicating their intention to enhance the ambition of their climate plans by 2020 and setting long-term carbon neutrality goals, President and Chief Executive Officer of the World Resources Institute (WRI), Andrew Steer, said the summit produced some inspiring signs of progress.
Still, according to Steer, a lot needs to be done to avert catastrophe.
He said at the close of the summit: “While countries were expected to come to the summit to announce that they would enhance their climate ambition, most of the major economies fell woefully short. Their lack of ambition stands in sharp contrast with the growing demand for action around the world.
“Many businesses and investors are ramping up their efforts, which should increase momentum. Similarly, smaller nations, especially the most vulnerable countries, are pushing ahead.”
Steer urged greater national leadership on combating climate change.
He also praised the private sector and subnational actors that he said are moving faster than national governments.
The WRI chief cited 87 businesses that have signed onto “ambitious 1.5 degrees Celsius targets across their operations and value chains” as one indication that there is progress in climate change fight.
“More than 100 cities committed to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The Gates Foundation, the World Bank and several governments announced $790 million to enhance resilience of over 300 million small-holder farmers.
“More than 130 banks, with $47 trillion in assets, signed onto new climate principles. Fifteen governments and 10 companies committed to accelerate energy efficiency by 3 percent per year, and others have joined a new initiative to support zero-carbon buildings.”
Other commitments announced during the summit ranged from expanding natural solutions and protecting the ocean to investors incorporating climate risks into their portfolios.
While Malawi’s Minister of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining, Bintony Kutsaira and President Peter Mutharika, acknowledge that climate change is harming the country, they fell short of announcing Malawi’s concrete progress on its NCDs and clear ways of improving them.
In 2016, the country came up with the National Climate Change Management Policy whose core purpose is to provide guiding principles in dealing with the crisis.
The foreword to the policy states that its goal is to create an enabling strategy and legal framework for a pragmatic, coordinated and harmonised approach to climate change management.
“The policy affirms government’s commitment to fully addressing climate change issues in order to reduce the vulnerability of its people, ecosystems and socio-economic development to the effects of climate change through adaptation and mitigation, technology transfer and capacity building.
“Translating this policy into action will build Malawi’s resilience to overcome the challenges of climate change and embrace the opportunities that are available to enable the country lay a solid foundation for a sustainable and prosperous Malawi,” part of the preface states.
But there are prospects of exploring crude oil in various parts of the country and establishing a coal-fired power plant in Neno District which activists state counter efforts in fighting climate change.
In fact, during a UNSG panel on least developed countries’ efforts to curb climate change, Kutsaira— sitting next to African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina, who announced the bank wants to see no new coal-fired power beyond next year—did not say how Malawi is handling a similar project set to set off soon.
He could also not clearly state what Malawi is doing in line with the Paris Accord which calls on all countries to deliver new NDCs every five years that are informed by the latest advances in technology, science and shifting economic trends.
Of course, there are those who argue that lowest emitters such as Malawi might not really come out prominently in efforts to curb climate change.
But others in the same category like Comoros, Cape Verde, Dominica, Maldives, Fiji, Seychelles and Samoa—with 0.00 percent shares of greenhouse gas emissions—are among those that have announced intentions to enhance their climate ambition or action in 2020 NDCs or update them.
Africa’s biggest emitter, South Africa, at 456 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, translating to 1.3 percent of global emissions, according to 2017 figures from Global Carbon Atlas, has responded to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’ call for nations to up their ambitions in curbing climate change.
In his statement to the UNSG Climate Summit, South Africa president, Cyril Ramaphosa—who did not personally attend this year’s UN General Assembly—reiterated the popular sentiment that although they have contributed the least to global emissions, developing countries are and continue to be most affected by climate change and its impacts.
Ramaphosa said South Africa shares the sense of urgency expressed by Guterres for addressing “the climate emergency”.
“We have seen the disastrous effects of climate change across the globe in the increased incidence and severity of extreme weather events such as flooding and droughts.
“In fact, the recent IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C has identified southern Africa as a climate change hotspot. Our region is likely to become drier and drastically warmer even under 1.5 or 2 [degrees Celsius] of global warming,” Ramaphosa said.
He added that recent events have clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of the region to extreme weather.
Citing the March 2019 tropical Cyclone Idai that killed more than 1,000 people in southern Africa particularly in Malawi, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, Ramaphosa said “extensive research” is ongoing in his country to quantify the likelihood of major climate change impacts occurring in the region over the next several decades.
“Climate change science is clear that the risk for flooding originating from intense land-falling tropical cyclones and for prolonged drought in southern Africa is increasing under continued global warming,” he said.
He then announced measures that his country has put in place to arrest the problem including building resilience, shifting to a low-carbon development path and embracing the global energy transition.
“South Africa places a high priority on the role of all countries to enable and support adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change, and build economic and social resilience to these impacts, particularly for those most vulnerable,” he said.
According to the South Africa leader, the rapid fall in prices of renewable energy technologies, coupled with his country’s immense renewable energy resources, has created a massive opportunity for everyone to make a shift.
From these initiatives and many others that other countries are implementing or planning to implement in line with the Paris Agreement, there is a lot that Malawi has to learn.
With the country’s subtropical climate highly susceptible to effects of erratic and hazardous weather patterns, the current generation has the opportunity to reverse any climate change-induced catastrophe, activists and researchers say.
Alick Ponje is a features writer at The Times Group. He graduated from the University of Malawi with a bachelor’s degree in education, majoring in literature in English. Follow him on Twitter @aponje