HomeOpinion & AnalysisColumnistsTime to start preparing for the worst

Time to start preparing for the worst


Its time to start protecting people from the impact of severe-weather events as the climate change conversation is shifting.

This was disclosed at a meeting of environment stakeholders in Harare last week, a precursor to the launch of Zimbabwes 3rd State of the Environment Report in Harare today to coincide with the World Environment Day (WED) on June 5. The theme for WED 2012 is Green Economy: Does it include you?

But, in the discussions, one thing which came out clear was that political attacks have made environmentalists cautious with respect to how they convey the information generated by their models and empirical studies.

For example, when environmentalists urged government to rethink its decision to permit the construction of a massive hotel on a wetland near the National Sports Stadium, they were attacked left, right and centre.

The implication was that we cannot keep the open area just for frogs. I may not be a scientist myself, but ecologically these play a huge role in terms of purifying our drinking water instead of using the nine water purification chemicals to treat water.

Does it make Harare water any safer without frogs? Besides, there appears to be discord among government departments, hence no political will to protect the environment itself a major concern to the environmental sector, a notion shared by Environment minister Francis Nhema.

Nhema told guests the ongoing trend analysis and findings of Zimbabwe Environment Outlook (ZEO)s state of the environment, has shown that rural to urban migration is a major driver of urban environmental challenges.

These challenges manifest themselves in the form of increased demand for water, energy and related services, unsustainable waste generation and pollution.

While councils have by-laws that target abatement of environmental degradation, these have been ineffective and poorly implemented.

But decision-makers must have information about worst-case scenarios that might arise, in order to prepare adequately to respond to extreme events.

For example, 100 year floods dont occur every 100 years the probability of a flood of a particular magnitude might be that it occurs once in 100 years, but it is still possible to have two floods of this magnitude take place within several years of each other.

And the changing climate is in fact causing such extreme events to occur with increasing frequency. And so guidance for policy can best be drawn from a risk management perspective, studying specifically the probability of high-impact scenarios.

In any sort of crisis situation, government must prepare for the worst. Whether a disruption of power supply might result from inclement weather, a gas explosion, or deliberate sabotage, government must have emergency plans in place to provide essential energy to hospitals and other essential services.

In the case of the future of crop production in a country, a similar type of precautionary approach is necessary to maintain food security for the population. Scientists must be given the political space to explain to decision-makers what the worst-case situations might be.

Decision-makers must take into consideration the uncertainties with which climate modellers and agriculture experts are working, and request information that reflects the range of uncertainties.

Scientists should not be frightened into downplaying the more serious impacts that are foreseen this only serves to worsen threats to food security if indeed policymakers are not prepared for the breadth and severity of possible impact on food production.

Climate change poses monumental challenges for agriculture with respect to the climate variables most important to plants and animals, temperature and rainfall.

Biological organisms have physiological limits to the amount of excessive heat they can endure.
Girding communities now to bounce back from droughts, floods, heat waves, and severe storms they currently experience will go a long way to help them adapt to long-term global warming.

That broad message is what is contained in the ZEO report which surveys the current state of scientific knowledge about the impact global warming could have on nine types of extreme-weather events.

The volume is the strongest signal yet of a sea change in thinking during the past decade on adaptation to climate change.

Although the report has dealt with the subject all along, adaptation is seen by many activist groups on global warming as a cop-out a topic aimed at diverting attention from the need to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases.

But researchers have indicated that even if the country slammed the brakes on emissions, the climate would continue to warm because carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere for centuries.

The gradual-but-relentless build-up of CO₂ in the atmosphere since the dawn of the industrial revolution is an indication that humans are pumping it into the air faster than natural processes can remove the excess.

Increasingly, some degree of adaptation has come to be seen as a necessity, not a diversion.
Teasing out trends in extreme weather and identifying global warmings fingerprint are challenging.

By definition, extreme weather events are relatively rare and require observations of consistent, high quality over long periods of time and with extremely good spatial coverage.

But enough data have been accumulating during the past years at least to begin the process. So we must pledge to make earth a better place to live in.

To spread this message and create awareness, WED commemorations this year may be the right time to initiate solutions on environmental issues.
Let us identify issues related to environment and ways to take corrective action.

The idea behind such awareness programmes is to use WED as a strong and effective platform in protecting the environment and finding solutions for a sustainable living.

Let us extend our full support to WED 2012 to prevent veldt fires, protect the forests, rivers and habitats.


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