Ibrahim Isaka, 12, is the first child of a family of five and hails from Katanga, a community in the Central Gonja District of the Northern Region. The parents of Ibrahim are Mr Abudullah Isaka, a farmer and Madam Hafsa Mumuni a fish monger while his siblings attend basic school. The ambition of Ibrahim is to become a public health officer to help fight the many diseases at Katanga. However, his hope of rising from the junior high school to the tertiary level where he looked forward to acquire the necessary skills and education to enable him work and contribute his quota to the development of Katanga and the nation at large, was dashed due to the recent floods that hit his community. Ibrahim recalled that fateful day when his mother woke him from a dawn slumber! “Ibrahim Neema k?m kpena ti Dou”, which literally means wake-up Ibrahim water, had entered into the room. “Moments after I responded to the call of my mother all I saw was water oozing into our room. My father who saw the speed and volume of the water asked us to go out of our room and wait for him while he tried to salvage some belongings. “Minutes later I got to know that the flood was the result of the overflow of the White Volta Lake, because we lived close to the water body,” he said. Due to the disaster Ibrahim could not attend school again because his daddy had lost everything including the livestock, maize and millet farm that sustained the family. The school building, borehole, and the place of convenience in Katanga were washed away by the marauding flood. The case of little Ibrahim and Katanga community is no exception to the countless and agonising tales of the sprawling farming town, devastated by the effects of climate change. Mr Issifu Salisu Be-Awuriba, Central Gonja District Chief Executive told the Ghana News Agency in an interview that the flood, was the first catastrophic environmental incidence in the area. He indicated that an assessment made by the National Disaster Management Organisation (NADMO) after the flood indicated that 33, 305 people were displaced while 8, 811, households were affected. Mr Be-Awuriba added that 26, 822 farmlands were submerged, 65 schools collapsed, 15 boreholes destroyed, 1,109 livestock were carried away while some 50 culverts were washed away. He observed that “the flood has brought hunger and poverty to the affected communities rendering most of them homeless and bringing economic activities to a halt. The assembly need about GH¢ five million to resettle the displaced persons and to rebuild the collapsed school blocks.” Dr Edward Omane Boamah, Deputy Minister of Environment of Science and Technology, speaking at the high level meeting at the just ended Sixteenth Conference of Parties (COP 16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in Cancun, Mexico he said the overwhelming evidence in our respective countries and regions indicates that climate change presents serious global risks and demands an urgent global response. More than 200 years, the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere had increased by 30 per cent, mainly due to fossil fuels hence decreasing the earth’s albedo. Dr Boamah said climate manifestations in the form of floods, drought, water scarcity, food insecurity, rise in sea levels, cyclones and hurricanes clearly demonstrated the vulnerability of mankind, with Africa being the most affected. Sharing some of the climate change warning and catastrophes in Ghana, he said in 2007 the country experienced 112 millimetres of rainfall in just 24 hours in one town in the Northern Region. Dr Boamah said the effect of climate change in 2007 and 2010 manifested during the rainy season, leading to the loss of lives and property. “NADMO has confirmed that about 11… died as a result of floods in some parts of Ashaiman and Tema, moreover, people have also been found dead, 12 at Agona Swedru, and one in the Volta Region. What is Climate Change? Climate Change refers to the shift in average climatic parameters and/or in a magnitude of climate variability that are observed and persist over extended period of time (typically decades’ or longer). The concept could also be explained as the long term changes in climate directly and indirectly caused by human activities combine with those originating from natural evolution and variability. This definition is in line with that of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The term climate change usually refers to man-made changes that have occurred since the early 1900s. What is the difference between weather and climate? To understand climate change, it’s important to recognise the difference between weather and climate. Weather is the temperature, precipitation (rain, hail, sleet and snow) and wind, which change hour by hour and day by day. Climate is the average weather and the nature of its variations that we experience over time. The greenhouse effect is the natural process of the atmosphere letting in some of the energy we receive from the Sun (ultraviolet and visible light) and which is transmitted back out into space (infrared radiation or heat). This makes the Earth warm enough for life. For thousands of years the atmosphere has been delicately balanced, with relatively stable levels of greenhouse gases. Human influence has now upset that balance and, as a result, we are seeing climate change. Climate Change Impact in Ghana There is clear evidence that many of our key economic assets – the coastal zone, agriculture and water resources – are affected by climate change, which is also affecting our social fabric in terms of poverty reduction, health and women’s livelihoods. The combined impact is an obstacle to our continued development. Ghana’s coastal zone, for example, is essential to the economy, with five large cities and significant physical infrastructure sited along the zone, which are extremely vulnerable to flooding. In the north of the country, the 2007 floods demonstrated how climate change undermines development investments, with 317,000 people affected, 1,000 kilometres of roads destroyed, 210 schools and 45 health facilities damaged, and 630 drinking water facilities destroyed or contaminated. Direct emergency funding cost around $25 million. Ghana has made major progress on poverty in recent decades. Poverty persists, however, in the north and in the urban pockets and it is the poorest people who bear the brunt. Poverty is exacerbated by climatic stress in the Northern, Upper East and Upper West Regions where temperatures are relatively high. Lower agricultural productivity and flooding are also increasing the pressure for the people in the north to migrate to the south. The way in which people experience climate shocks varies across different social groups, geographic locations and seasons of the year, with men, women and children all experiencing different levels of hardship and opportunity in the face of climate change. People move in and out of poverty as their circumstances change, and this dynamic situation requires policy responses to climate change that look beyond income measurements to capture the full picture of vulnerability. Ghana stands at a crossroads. We have only recently become a net emitter of greenhouse gases, but our economic growth requires modernisation, particularly in the agricultural sector. This requires investment in infrastructure and increase demand for energy, which is likely to result in higher emissions. On the one hand, we have persistent poverty in some areas and among particular groups. On the other, we have the immense potential offered by the emerging oil and gas industries. The development path that we choose at this moment will set the direction for decades, if not generations, to come. Women and climate change What happens to women matters to our economy? Women produce 70 per cent of Ghana’s subsistence crops, account for 52 per cent of our labour force and contribute 46 per cent of our total GDP. They tend to be responsible for household water supplies and energy for cooking, and for food security and are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihoods – all of which makes them particularly vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Evidence supports this, suggesting that women are disproportionately vulnerable to climate change. A study on the impact of climate change on women in three districts has confirmed that, although women undertake 85 per cent of Ghana’s food distribution, they have difficulties in accessing land and formal financial services. Attempts to address gender concerns in climate change must first tackle gender inequities and recognise that the effects of climate change are likely to affect men and women differently. How are we causing climate change? Human activities like burning coal, oil and gas have led to an increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causing an enhanced greenhouse effect and extra warming. As a result, over the past century there has been an underlying increase in average temperatures which is continuing. Globally, the 10 hottest years on record have all been since 1997. The main greenhouse gas responsible for recent climate change is carbon dioxide (CO2). This has been released in huge quantities by our modern way of life. Levels have also increased due to the destruction of rainforests, which play an important role in absorbing CO2. Human activities are increasing other greenhouse gases too, such as methane and nitrous oxide. Methane is produced by bacteria that live in places like landfill sites, peat bogs and in the guts of animals like cows and sheep. Nitrous oxide is increased by the use of nitrogen fertiliser in agriculture. These gases have a powerful greenhouse effect and also contribute to climate change. However, they have not been released in such large quantities as CO2 and methane does not last for as long in the atmosphere. So, while they make a significant contribution to climate change, it is man-made CO2 which has by far the greatest influence. What will happen if we don’t reduce emissions? If emissions continue to grow at present rates, CO2 concentration in the atmosphere is likely to reach twice pre-industrial levels by around 2050. Unless we limit emissions, global temperature could rise as much as 7 °C above pre-industrial temperature by the end of the century and push many of the world’s great ecosystems (such as coral reefs and rainforests) to irreversible decline. Even if global temperatures rise by only2 °C it would mean that 20–30 per cent of species could face extinction. We can expect to see serious effects on our environment, food and water supplies and health. Our well-being will be threatened by more frequent and intense heat waves, floods, storms, wildfires and droughts around the world. Around 1.5 billion people currently lived in water-stressed regions. Climate change and population growth could increase this to nearly seven billion by 2050s, intensifying competition for this life-giving resource. Some areas could become more fertile; others more barren. This may lead to regional food shortages, mass migration and poverty. Malnutrition is expected to increase in developing countries (Source: IPCC 2007). Our well-being will be threatened by more frequent and intense heat waves, floods, storms, wildfires and droughts. However, deaths from cold-related diseases will reduce. Patterns of disease will also change, with wide areas of the world at risk from major diseases, such as dengue. Coastal areas will experience more flooding from rising sea-levels, especially large river deltas, which tend to be highly populated such as the Nile Delta. Meanwhile, some areas will attract more tourism as their climates alter. Amazonia is already damaged by deforestation. Climate change may magnify this impact by increasing the risk of fire. Other precious areas of high biodiversity, such as those in South Africa may see major losses of species as habitat conditions change. Around the world, some animals and plants may benefit and flourish in a changing climate, while others are likely to suffer. Climate change is a threat to Ghana’s development prospects and to its plans to become a middle income country by 2020. While our own contribution to global climate change has been negligible, the impact of the phenomenon on our economy and on our poorest people is already substantial. Ghana’s developmental progress over recent decades has been exceptional, and we can be proud of our progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). We are on track to achieve MDG1 – on poverty and hunger – before the 2015 deadline. It is not surprising that many see Ghana as a West African ‘success story’ and may be unaware of the very real threat that climate change poses to decades of careful investment in development. The nation’s response to climate change is important, given our good reputation in so many spheres, from poverty reduction to health. We are unusual: an African country that is high-growth and energy-hungry and, at the same time, vulnerable to climate change and its variability. We are at a point of transition in economic terms and that of energy, with emerging oil and gas industries. It is important that we grow our economy in the right way. If we do so, it can only enhance our ability to deliver on our development goals. The Government recognises that climate change affects every sector, and requires a multi-sectoral response. Climate change is already being mainstreamed into all development strategies, including its Shared Growth and Development Agenda. We are now developing a National Climate Change Policy Framework (NCCPF) as part of the work plan of the cross-sectoral National Climate Change Committee, hosted by the Ministry of Environment Science and Technology. The NCCPF has one aim: to ensure a climate resilient and climate compatible economy while achieving sustainable development and equitable low carbon economic growth for Ghana. Internationally, countries are negotiating a global agreement through the United Nations. The agreement aims to avoid dangerous climate change, set ambitious emission reduction targets, and encourage low carbon development — particularly supporting the poorest countries. The UNFCC in Cancún, Mexico, ended with the adoption of a balanced package of decisions that set all governments more firmly on the path towards a low-emissions future and supported enhance action on climate change in the developing world. The UNFCCC Executive Secretary said a total of $30 billion in fast start finance from industrialised countries had been set up to support climate action in the developing world up to 2012 and the intention to raise $100 billion in long-term funds by 2020 is included in the decisions. In the field of climate finance, a process to design a Green Climate Fund under the Conference of the Parties, with a board with equal representation from developed and developing countries, is established. At the same time, many governments all over the world are putting in place policies that aim to reduce emissions. These policies include measures to increase energy efficiency in homes and businesses and increase the use of renewable energy sources and more sustainable forms of transport. They are also working towards other adaptations necessary to cope with the changes in climate already happening. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon at the opening of the high level segment of the Sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties and the sixth session of the Conference of the Parties serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol in Cancun, Mexico admitted that Climate change affects everything the UN does – peace and security, development, and human rights. “We cannot sustain gains toward our Millennium Development Goals… or preserve the ecosystems that sustain us … We cannot ensure safety and stability for the poor and vulnerable … without progress on climate change,” he said. Climate impacts are increasing. In just four decades, there will be nearly nine billion people on our planet. How will we meet the needs of nine billion people while at the same time reducing emissions by 50 per cent or more, as scientists tell us we must? We need to fundamentally transform the global economy - based on low-carbon, clean energy resources. Ms Christiana Figueres Executive Secretary of UNFCC in a statement said in the arena of climate change, the list of vulnerable nations was long, and growing, saying there will be worse impacts, and no country will be exempted. “Tuvalu, Maldives, Kiribati, Vanuatu are looking for ways to evacuate their entire population because of salt water intrusion and rising sea levels. Sooner rather than later, island nations will have to seek refuge in other, higher lying countries,” she said. Globally, 250 million people have been displaced from their habitat due to extreme climatic events and whether related phenomena, food production in Africa and Asian countries have started declining and it is estimated that 200 million more people will swell the ranks of hungry people by the turn of the century. Frustrated at past failures, climate negotiators began another critical two-week conference with a call from Mexico's President Felipe Calderon to think beyond their nations' borders and consider all humanity as they bargain over an agreement to fight global warming. Last year Mexico suffered the worst drought in six decades followed by intense rain and hurricanes that killed 60 people and displaced thousands, he said. Climate change is already beginning to transform life on earth. Around the globe, seasons are shifting, temperatures are climbing and sea levels are rising. If we don't act now, climate change will permanently alter the lands and waters we all depend upon for survival.
Source: A GNA feature by Albert Oppong Ansah