By Corazon Aquino
COP27 discussions must focus on how to tap into and incorporate community voices and action in advancing climate action.
Attention is drawn to experts who have constantly warned against the increasing burden of climate change and its varied effects on communities across the globe. Various terms have been used to demonstrate the magnitude of the crisis including climate damage, and climate emergency among others. Social justice advocates have framed it as an ethical and political issue, rather than one that is purely environmental or physical in nature.
The World Bank and the United Nations have both termed the climate crisis as a defining issue of our time and consistently reiterated the fact that the world is at a defining moment – from shifting weather patterns that threaten food production, to rising sea levels that increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, and exacerbation of environmentally sensitive chronic diseases.
According to public health experts, climate crisis is one of the most imminent challenges to the health and well-being of people across the world, especially in Africa. As climate change events grow in frequency and intensity, it becomes harder for many populations to get the basic resources that they need such as food and water– thereby increasing susceptibility to diseases. According to WHO, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heat stress between 2030 and 2050.
Following from global conversations during the recently held World Health Assembly and World Health Summit events, the common resolve is the immediate need for interventions that culminate into a sustainable adaptation and mitigation measures. It can be reliably adduced that the cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of immediate and urgent action. To this end, various recommendations have been made, including putting a price on carbon, ending fuel subsidies, building low carbon resilient cities, increasing energy efficiency and use of renewable energy, implementing climate-smart agriculture and nurturing forest landscapes. Countries have also been encouraged to localise and adopt country-led solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Notably, the importance of multi-sectoral partnerships and meaningful collaborations has been unanimously reiterated. As a result, countries that are considered biggest contributors to the climate crisis have been challenged to be at the forefront in addressing and reversing the crisis.
With the climate crisis escalating, these top-level and policy-oriented recommendations and solutions are key and require coordinated and sustained global action at an unprecedented scale and speed. However, since global warming is a global problem, solutions should be collective and should involve individuals, organisations, country leadership and community members. The discussions and recommendations tabled, so far, have fallen short in articulating and creating awareness on what climate action means to a community member living in the furthest corner of the world and the essential role that they can play in advancing climate action, most of which is low cost.
In reality, the glaring effects of climate change are most felt at the community level. This, therefore, calls for a robust framework for community engagement rooted in the inherent and undisputed power that community participation plays in addressing global challenges of such magnitude. The expectation is that the messages will provide the community with the right information challenging some of their beliefs and empowering them to think about their own context specific challenges while thinking of local solutions and immediate individual actions such as climate smart agriculture, alternative environmentally-friendly transport system, among others.
To make my case, I reflect on the experiences of my mother who lives in a remote village of Sinyolo in Western Kenya. According to her, tilling land to grow crops for subsistence use no longer makes economic sense. She invests more than she gets during harvest time. She has resolved to buying produce during the harvesting season when the prices are comparatively lower. Recently, she experienced a pattern of increased malaria infections, contrary to her prior health status. However, I have established that she is highly unlikely to link these two occurrences with the possible effects of climate change. This is baffling owing to the fact that at the end of the day, she listens to radio or watches television coverage of news from global conferences and action being taken to avert climate change. She remains unable to establish linkages between climate change and increased malaria infections. Besides, she remains clueless on what role she plays in averting this global crisis.
Such level of awareness and local action is achievable if global actors partner with civil society and other grassroots organisations that interface with communities on a frequent basis. These actors understand the community champions, gate keepers and the various channels used to disseminate information on how communities themselves can contribute to climate action. With COP27 coming up in a few days, I hope that some of the discussions will focus on how to tap and incorporate community voices and action in advancing climate action.
Featured image: Martha waters crops in Marsabit County, Kenya. Photographer unknown.