Global temperatures have been uncharacteristically at an all-time high. Severe food and water shortages and floods plague Africa, Asia and Latin America, causing climate migrants to abandon lands they have called home for centuries.
The Bahamas has just been hit by hurricane Dorian and the Thamalakane river and Lake Ngami are also drying up. Animals are dying and any hope of harvest dying with them. We are undoubtedly in the mist of a climate emergency.
In May, President Mokgweetsi Masisi officially declared Botswana to be in drought after months of unevenly distributed rains, severe heat waves and dry spells.
Thousands of livestock in northern Botswana, have been stricken by a crippling drought while rural communities have been especially affected by the intensifying extreme weather conditions and are looking to the government for help. As I write this, typhoon Lingling is drawing in on the Northwestern Pacific Ocean and will reach South Korean shores by break of night.
The rest of Southern Africa has been going through similar or much worse, leaving millions in need of food aid and immediate intervention to alleviate their misfortunes.
Botswana houses an impeccable collection of flora and fauna. Areas like the Okavango Delta and the now dried up Lake Ngami are under serious threat from the impacts of global warming and climate change.
Equally, legislators and decisionmakers around the world are following trends in climate change policymaking and are designing and implementing climate change legislation.
This year’s election cycle coincides with a severe drought that has affected any small agriculture output that farmers were hoping for, but none of the political parties are vocal on the issue. Climate change is one of the most pressing issues for global and national development agendas.
With the last 19 years having contained 18 of the warmest ones on record globally, the urgency to address both the causes and impacts of climate change is clear. According to the Fifth Assessment Report (AR 5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) for a likely chance of more than 66% of keeping the global mean temperature increase below 2°C, global emissions of all greenhouse gases need to be net zero by 2100.
The urgency for action is pressing hard on our comfort and our conscience. Shifts in the international policy landscape require ambitious national action. The adoption of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Agreement on climate change in 2015 have set the goal for the global transition to net zero emissions in the second half of this century.
Botswana is also party to these agreements. Achieving SDGs implementation will require not only successful domestic implementation of the current emission pledges, but also a major political transformation in how countries approach climate action and define their ambition.
Domestic framework climate change legislation comes to the forefront as the key means to consolidate political support for the climate agenda, to provide the framework for implementation of the Paris Agreement and for assessing progress, as well as to enable ratcheting-up of ambition going forward.
Botswana’s climate change policy has been in the pipeline for a considerable amount of time. The reality of a climate emergency confronts the lives of ordinary people every day, and so, political leadership must step up.
For Botswana to have a comprehensive strategy to tackle the reality of climate change, the country must take several steps to respond to the urgency for action.
The first step would be to create the necessary political momentum. The adoption of climate change legislation starts with a process of building political support, engaging the people who are affected by these severe droughts and developing a positive narrative around the benefits of the legislation.
Secondly, a relevant climate legislation and governance framework that represents a policy package response to the challenge at hand. For this to happen, the Ministry of Environment will have to provide leadership and expertise for building the rationale for action, assessments of threats and vulnerabilities and pathways for action.
All the relevant stakeholders must have an investment in building the right legislative framework.
In addition, adaptation and mitigation planning would need strengthened capacity building on the part of local communities and civil society organisations that tackle issues of climate change and climate justice.
A clear programmatic response with well balanced adaptation and mitigation priorities would have to be set out on the part of both government and engaged stakeholders, with climate investment strategies that include alternative energy transition plans, strategic sector priorities, vulnerable groups and women.
Climate finance is a critical aspect to finding solutions for climate change adaptation and mitigation together with building climate resilient infrastructure. Botswana must explicitly and intentionally start developing plans to tap into accessing the billions of dollars of climate finance available through multilateral development banks working in international climate finance and development.
Impacts of changing climate are not theoretical predictions to be tested in the distant future; they are increasingly becoming observable in the present day. Botswana is already experiencing climate change impacts at a significant cost to its people.
The window to act gets smaller and smaller every day, compounded by other urgent matters. As a small developing country, Botswana falls into the category of countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.
We see and feel it every day, and so should political parties in their electoral agendas as they seek election/ re-election into office. The climate emergency we are facing today is probably the biggest threat facing humanity.
It is only right that we hear a semblance of seriousness from both the incumbent government and those vying for political office.