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Negotiating price of climate change, longing for sustainability

‘…Climate controls how the design of the world accommodates to life.’ Richard Fortey, 2005[1]

Negotiating from where? Are there countries that are not longing for sustainability in which peoples are living happier, hunger-free and violent-free lives in the face of changing climate? Yes, almost all! But articulating the message of climate change to reactivate consciousness of peoples and institutions to greenly invest in redressing climatic-related issues is still not resonatingly getting stronger and forceful. Indeed, society has generally been informed about climate change but not necessarily the real-life extent to which it is killing biospecies and troubling poorest communities, industries and businesses in the global South. This text succinctly conveys cluster of climate change happenings around the Volta Basin, which is probably the world’s largest man-made lake in the global South. The basin spans transnational boundaries of Burkina Faso, Togo, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Mali with the biggest volume of water flows and circulations in Ghana. This natural asset supports multiple livelihoods of nearly 100 million people – hydropowering, drinking, cultivating, transporting and sheltering. Its immense impact on human development is day-by-day distorted by climate change.

What is it about climate change to be negotiated? The compelling evidence of damaging effects of climate change on human-environment is best explained by how biodiversity and forest-like build ups are extensively deformed or disappeared. The forest-like surroundings that serve as habitat for thousands of flora and fauna species now can count in tens. Along the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, the edible and non-edible products from borassus and mangrove forests are declining by 50-85%. In certain coastal locations, these trees are completely extinct. This becomes risks for the lives of people at the grassroots who directly depend on dry- or rainforest products for food or herbal medicine.

Climate change risks hit the lives of people connected to earthworm economy living in either countrysides or cities. Getting earthworm to use as bait in informal fishing industry is increasingly a heavy saddle. Not only has the earthworm population squeezed but fishstock has also dramatically reduced. The setting of a local netting system referred to as Atidza in the size of 10m x 4.5m x 4m along river banks could yield 200kg of fish such as tilapia, catfish, shrimps, oysters, and molluscs. Nowadays, a chief earthworm economist could harvest, sell and calculate 0.9kg of fish from the same size of Atidza. The freshwater level in the rivers, streams and lakes has receded and its place taken over by drier clay, non-consumable insects and stunted trees. It is not only rivers in the countrysides that are affected. The urban rivers are dried up too. Hot weather changes have overturned the fortunes of communities such that some do not even have access to clean drinking water. Harvesting of different fishes do not exist any longer. The beneficial insects and birds that get attracted to fishes, which people could hunt have migrated. Sometimes both fishermen and hunters come home with nothing for consumption or sell.

The vast areas of greenfields are increasingly converted to monocropping. The cultivation of one type of crop season after season on the same plot has caused excessive application of inorganic fertilizers and weedicides among 90% of the croppers. This practice potentially contaminates soil and water resources. As a result, the topsoil richness and water table are on a downward trend as evidenced by poor harvests from the plots. Another effect is that croppers have moved from the cultivation of 5ha plots to as low as 0.2ha or completely abandoned cropping. Fallow cropping is almost ceased. The protected and unprotected parklands are in fierce battle with bushfires and intensive cultivation to the extent where marginalised women have little chance of picking fruits and nuts. What climate change has done in this situation is to distort seasonal and ecosystem cycles and, in the process, alter the resilience and security of human-environment subsystems.

Rainfall is one of the key determinants of the security of how humans relate to environment at the grassroots. Within the coastal subregion, rainfall is seasonally sporadic and temperature is unpredictable making so difficult for croppers to determine specific crop to cultivate and to plan ahead. This observed finding does not deviate from view that ‘climate imposes direct constraints on agriculture, most critically in determining whether or not there is sufficient growing season for a particular crop[2]’. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) similarly discloses that if temperature inches up to 20C it would invariably have ‘effects on millet and sorghum yields’ in both savannas and Sahel. In the catchments of Lake Volta, hot weather variation combines with structurally and socially embedded factors to tight the hands of most croppers and fishermen at the back by painfully eroding basic incomes and livelihoods. If crops are not flooded (see Figure 1), disease-infested or burned, then they are withered by extremely hot temperatures. Hunger, malnutrition and child labour are predominant underlying consequences if crops are destroyed. School dropout is not rare among children below 15 years. More disturbingly, the appetite of croppers for microloans is increased. This pushes them into financial debt.


Thousands of informal and formal industries do not obtain required quantity of raw materials to work with.  Climate change has tremendously downsized the amount of industrial materials, particularly for agri-industries, which are involved in banking and industrial processing of foodstuffs. Also, the possibility to cut grasses and shrubs to weave mats or make craft for local markets is very thinner and thinner. Keeping livestock is more of a burden because grasslands are cropped leaving limited areas for ruminant grazing.  The palatable grasses for grazing are anthropogenically burned or destroyed due to land degradation primarily fueled by hot climatic conditions. If the grasses are over dried or burned, it leads the herders to move livestock from one location to the other occasionally resulting in community-herder conflicts. In this situation, how can croppers obtain animal manure to carry out biocomposting for soil nutrient enrichment? Under these unfriendly living conditions, female-headed households, especially those without formally educated members or no access to formal employment sectors, remain vulnerable to climatic dictations. The unavailability of grasses or trees to construct shelter means that some pro-poor households are living in dilapidated homes or migrated to cities. In this way, climate change speeds urbanisation and indirectly breaks family belongingness and community cohesions. So, on research assignments, I have frequently put the question: “Can agri-insurance safeguard poor households against climate change distortions?” Climate change injects significant rippling effects on the generation and consumption of energy at rural-urban and industrial settings as well.


Roundtabling complex people-energy-ecosystem case: The argument that the relationship of urbanisation and climate change is complex and inseparable is not denied. Urbanisation fuels demand for charcoal and firewood. More trees must be cut to produce charcoal to meet needs of poor and middle-income city dwellers. The trees for producing charcoal have shortened in diameter and height thus from 3.3m to 2.1m and from 7.5m to 5.3m respectively due to precipitation deficit that curtails plant growth. What is the lesson here? The coarse texture of charcoal is not fine any longer. As a result, poor city dwellers must burn over 45% of charcoal to generate the same amount of energy that was used for heating and cooking about 15 years ago. So, it is not surprising that destruction of forest-like vegetation is exceeded. Accordingly, society has shifted to wood-cutting in sacred groves putting extra pressures on environment and production of more CO2 emissions. The latest Africa Progress Report indicates the continent ‘accounts for only 2.3% of global CO2 emissions’ and cooking alone ‘consumes over 300 million tonnes of wood supply in Sub-Saharan Africa’, which implies that if energy consumption from solid biomass is collectively dealt with, it can reduce emissions by 50%. The report discovers that nearly ‘600,000 people in the region die each year of household air pollution. Almost half are children under 5’. Should children continue to die because of refusal or inaction to clean carbon footprints?

Energy challenge inextricably links to the pressing challenge of climate change in Ghana and Africa (see Figure 2 and 3). It frequently manipulates water capacity in the Volta Lake on which the Akosombo Dam is built and managed by Volta River Authority. The electricity in homes, industries and institutions are considerably hydropowered from the dam. The Energy Sector Strategy of Ghana suggests that the hydropower and other sources of renewables supply about 60% of energy requirements in the country[3]. The Association of Ghana Industries (AGI)[4] at the beginning of this year recounted and summarised energy impacts on the poor performance of industries (see Figure 2). In later months, the AGI published a statement to show a return of ‘stability in economy’ indicative that the industrial energy challenges were watered.

Figure 2: Major industrial challenges in Ghana


Source: AGI, 2016

Figure 3: Electricity generation gap between Africa and other regions

Are there waves of best practices? There are hundreds of mosaic interventions to count involving diverse organisations and governments aimed at mitigating climate change. Firstly, it is obvious that adaptive living is the immediate and reliable strategy to escape vulnerability to severe risks of climate change. I had witnessed urban food production in Senegal’s Dakar City, Greater Accra and the fringes of Igando Streets in Lagos State where producers cultivated fresh indigenous vegetables/pulses as a strategy to adapt to climate change risks. These crops absorb GHG emissions. The producers engaged in innovative plot design and used no inorganic chemicals capable to harm human health and environment. Secondly, outside of the cities, more advanced technology was piloted to tap solar radiation to support irrigation in Africa’s rural areas[5]. As part of REDD+ initiative, Ghana’s Forestry Commission and others partnered with the Netherlands Development Organisation to promote improved cookstoves and biomass energy efficiency as a bigger programme of conservation and rehabilitation of mangrove ecosystems in coastal communities. This initiative matches the country’s energy plan. At a global scale, UNIDO’s positive relations with UNEP and the Committee of Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change yielded the establishment of the ‘Climate Technology Centre and Networks to facilitate the transfer, development and deployment of innovative climate technologies in developing countries, and is working towards accreditation under the Green Climate Fund[6]’. Such networks can serve as foundations to manage knowledge and streamline institutional and industrial issues concerning climate change. On a broader context, Guillermo Castella Lorenzo, based at UNIDO, holds vivid record of the achievements of the Montreal Protocol on addressing the depletion of the ozone layer[7].

New call for novel action: The responses to climate change issues are taking place at different scales and among different actors. Yet, it cannot be denied that how to sdgs-13enhance and sustain human lives under cruel climatic extremism requires sober ruminating and innovative sustainability-driven solutions.

The interaction of climate change with urbanization and other drivers of ecosystem are so complex to precisely predict in African region as noted by IPCC. Negotiating price of an item, service or commodity can somewhat be done better if absolute value of the item, in this case climate change, is known. Do we know the cost of climate change? This calls first for new scientific and problem-solving research into cleaner and greener technologies that are capable to add efficiency to industrial utilization and management of environmental and ecosystem resources. Within this, inclusive opportunities for win-win transfer of ‘climate-change-related technologies’, not only between developed and developing countries, but also between local villages, cities or organisations can have ‘both economic and environmental benefits[8]’ for even the poorest. The same way agri-insurance can rebuild lives of adults it is the same way that cleaner technologies can reverse child deaths from household air pollution. New ‘advances in technology’ will aid gathering of time-tested data on climate change and the general environment as well as help in sharing, organising and disseminating climate-related information as the World Meteorological Organisation[9] attests to.

What needs to be stressed is that industry-driven climate change must receive a sizable fraction of money from donors, private sector investors and governments. It should be noted that the cost of climate change is not as colossal as compared to the cost of the decision not to fight it. An investment into climate change interventions is a good thing if done ethically green because it undoubtedly equals to investing in peoples, fighting deserts, producing greener foods and jobs to lessen unwanted migration of African youth through the Mediterranean Sea.

The number of those susceptible to the risks of climate change directly or indirectly, especially marginalised women, persons with disability, and children, tend to possess the weakest capacity to fairly negotiate interests and their ways through risky prices offered by climate change at the landscape, market and policy levels – agropolitics and financial hindrances are so intense. Whom can they turn to? As I stated elsewhere, adaptive living presents the quickest and reliable nature-based interventions (NBI). How long can the poor keep on adapting? Enabling people not to succumb to risks of climate change means that adaptive living strategies (e.g. cover cropping and mulching) must open up to embrace both market-based intervention (MBI) and science-based intervention (SBI) (e.g. price incentives and tapping solar energy rather than fossil fuels respectively). With this, they can become more resilient and sustainable. One of the bases to do this is to redesign sustainability-driven solution (SDS) that promotes people-led decisions and green industrialization to inclusively blend social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development – an important approach lacking previously in business models and development policies.

[1] Fortey, R. 2005. The earth: an ultimate history. HarperPerennial: London.

[2] McGregor D. 2002. Climate, environment and development. In: Desai, V. and Potter, R.B. (eds.) The companion to development studies. Arnold Publishers: London. pp 278-283.

[3] Republic of Ghana, 2010. Energy sector strategy and development plan. Ministry of Energy, Accra.

[4] AGI, 2016. AGI business barometer 4th quarter 2015 summary report. Ghana Industry Newsletter, January-February 2016, p.4, Accra.

[5] UNU-INRA, 2015. Regional forum on greening industries and green entrepreneurship promotion as a driver of sustainable and inclusive growth in rural Africa. Technical Training Guide, (in partnership with ILO, PAGE, ITC (ILO) and IDRC), held November 9-13, 2015, Accra.

[6] UNIDO and the 2030 Agenda (n.d.). The 2030 agenda for sustainable development: achieving the industry-related goals and targets. Vienna, Austria.

[7] Lorenzo, G.C. 2016. International environmental conventions. A paper presented at UNIDO/CEU Green Industry Course held July 11-22, 2016. Budapest, Hungary.

[8] Littleton, M. 2009. The TRIPS agreement and transfer of climate-change-related technologies to developing countries. Natural Resources Forum 33 (3) 233-244.

[9] WMO Secretariat, 2013. Public weather services programme- what is the future? WMO Bulletin 62 (2) 16-19.

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