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MPs — the missing link

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In many respects, Zimbabwe is one of the leading African countries in terms of work on the environment. This is reflected in the economically important wildlife sector.

Report by Wisdom Mdzungairi

Although some species are endangered due to habitat destruction, the country’s rich wildlife resources have been somewhat well managed. A number of innovations, which have promoted sustainable utilisation of wildlife, could serve as a model for other countries.

Sadly, the country does not have a national climate change policy, which could give guidelines in dealing with global warming that has affected our rainfall patterns and increased the risk of droughts.

Belatedly though, Zimbabwe recently formed a committee of permanent secretaries of various government ministries as well as representatives of private companies, manufacturing industries and other organisations and tasked them with producing well researched and practical recommendations that will make up a draft national climate change policy.

There is no doubt that we all appreciate that climate change is a global problem, and the current prevailing paradigm would have everyone think that the only solution is a global one. And many countries like Zimbabwe have decided to forge ahead with their own plans in the meantime.

A global solution is desirable, but action is also required outside of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process.

In reality, MPs are supposed to be important actors in this process.

Unfortunately in our case, the Executive its wisdom and/or lack of it, heads of government ministries are leading the process.

Regrettably so, our climate change policy formulation does not have a timeframe within which it is expected to be passed.

Given the slow pace for developing an international agreement, and the current lack of a universally-binding agreement, International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) researchers say some countries are moving ahead and beyond the UNFCCC by adopting in tandem a national approach to combat the impacts of climate change by enacting domestic legislation based on their own set of circumstances.

This approach doesn’t replace the formal regime, but can, and should, accompany it.

UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres would seem to agree: “. . . at the international level . . . domestic legislation opens the political space for international agreements and facilitates overall ambition.”

There are several examples of countries acting now. Costa Rica’s National Strategy on Climate Change sets out a two-pronged approach — a national strategy concentrating on domestic activity, and an international strategy which recognises that they cannot go it alone.

According to IIED, South Korea has become the first developing country in Asia to pass a nationwide greenhouse gas Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) which will take effect in 2015. There are inherent challenges in unilateral action, such as lack of co-ordination among countries and the possibility of “DIY climate policies” not being effective.

But as some have pointed out,  “Global solutions negotiated at a global level — if not backed up by a variety of efforts at national, regional, and local levels — are not guaranteed to work effectively.”
In those cases, MPs could play a role as important actors driving this process. Apparently their role as legislators, overseers and shepherds of climate policy was recently highlighted during the 1st Globe World Summit of Legislators, which culminated in the drafting of the soft law instrument Rio+20 Legislators’ Protocol.

MPs also act as important catalysts for a shift from short-term political thinking towards longer-term climate and development considerations.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon told the MPs at the Summit of Legislators: “Parliamentarians have a profound influence. You enact legislation. You approve budgets. You are at the heart of democratic governance. And in today’s interconnected world, you are also the link between the global and local — bringing local concerns into the global arena, and translating global standards into national action.”

Yes, there is evidence of MPs striving to fulfil these roles in Africa — Zimbabwe in particular. The ongoing drafting of the National Climate Change Policy Framework in Ghana and Zimbabwe — that sits within these countries’ shared growth and development agenda — could prove to be a good opportunity for MPs to hold their Executive to account over climate action.

With the calibre of MPs we have, can they effectively fulfil these roles as legislators and protectors of climate policy?

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