Bits and politics: A climate of crisis


The whole of last week was environment week. Wednesday was World Environment Day (WED) and Friday was World Oceans Day.


For Zimbabwe it was a double as the country had the privilege to host eminent Scientist and Environmentalist Vandana Shiva who shared her ideas and experiences with people from all sectors of society, including key decision-makers, smallholder farmer organisations and the Press.

The two days were established by the United Nations and institutionalised in 1972 as a way to give a human face to environmental issues, empower people to play a part in sustainable development, and promote understanding and awareness of the issues. The days are also meant to draw attention to the environment and the threats it is exposed to.

This is why I thought the visit by Shiva is important for Zimbabwe. Titbits about her are in order then. In 1982, she formed the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology.. Shiva is very concerned about the effect of genetically engineered organisms on the environment, food sovereignty and the rights of farmers.

Perhaps, finer details on the importance of Shiva’s visit to Zimbabwe are for another day.

I am not sure if I am not conflicted to write about this year’s WED commemorations because for communicators in development, climate change is perhaps one of the most relevant issues.

The environment week followed another highly successful environment week with Zimbabwe hosting the continent’s Environment and Climate ministers. These events should have spurred Zimbabwe to move faster to close all gaps in its climate change policy.

I still believe that if major policy change is to be achieved, new meanings and messengers for climate change are needed. It is trite that communication can no longer be a guessing game anymore.

Because 70% of the country’s population depends on agriculture it is important for government to establish mitigation measures.

A recent brief by the Inter-government Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group summary for policymakers’, mitigation is a human intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of greenhouse gases.

It is important to note that climate policies must be informed by the findings of science, and systematic methods from other disciplines. Hence, sustainable development and equity provide a basis for assessing climate policies and highlight the need for addressing the risks of climate change.

So, limiting the effects of climate change is necessary to achieve sustainable development and equity, including poverty eradication. But effective mitigation will not be achieved if individual agents advance their own interests independently.

Globally, climate change has the characteristics of a collective action problem because most greenhouse gases accumulate over time and mix globally, and emissions by any agent affect other agents.

It is therefore important to note that international cooperation is required to effectively mitigate GHG emissions and address other climate change issues.

Furthermore, research and development in support of mitigation creates knowledge spillovers. As such international cooperation can play a constructive role in the development, diffusion and transfer of knowledge and environmentally sound technologies.

The fact that Zimbabwe’s Environment, Water and Climate ministry has advertised the position of climate change director is a step in the right direction as it showed its seriousness in tackling the challenge bedeviling the country.

Issues of equity, justice, and fairness arise with respect to mitigation and adaptation. Although Zimbabwe’s past and future contributions to the accumulation of GHGs in the atmosphere are different, the country may also face varying challenges and circumstances, and have different capacities to address mitigation and adaptation.

IPCC evidence suggests that out-comes seen as equitable can lead to more effective cooperation. Many areas of climate policy-making involve value judgments and ethical considerations.

These areas range from the question of how much mitigation is needed to prevent dangerous interference with the climate system to choices among specific policies for mitigation or adaptation. Social, economic and ethical analyses may be used to inform value judgments and may take into account values of various sorts, including human wellbeing, cultural values and non-human values.

Precisely, practical tools for economic assessment should include cost-benefit analysis, cost-effectiveness analysis, multi-criteria analysis and expected utility theory.

The limitations of these tools are well-documented.

Ethical theories based on social welfare functions imply that distributional weights, which take account of the different value of money to different people, should be applied to monetary measures of benefits and harm.

Whereas distributional weighting has not frequently been applied for comparing the effects of climate policies on different people at a single time, it is standard practice, in the form of discounting, for comparing the effects at different times.

More importantly climate policy intersects with other societal goals creating the possibility of co-benefits or adverse side-effects. These intersections, if well-managed, can strengthen the basis for undertaking climate action.

As the country moves to come up with a climate policy it is important that it is informed by a consideration of a diverse array of risks and uncertainties, some of which are difficult to measure, notably events that are of low probability, but which would have a significant impact if they occur.

The design of climate policy must be influenced by how individuals and organisations perceive risks and uncertain-ties and take them into account.

People often utilise simplified decision rules such as a preference for the status quo.

Individuals and organisations differ in their degree of risk aversion and the relative importance placed on near-term versus long-term ramifications of specific actions. With the help of formal methods, policy design can be improved by taking into account risks and uncertainties in natural, socio-economic, and technological systems as well as decision processes, perceptions, values and wealth.