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Road to COP 28: Empowering East African Communities for Resilient Governance in the Face of Climate Change
By Sadik Warfa 
Monday November 20, 2023


The quote "Failure to plan is planning to fail" is often attributed to Benjamin Franklin, and its message remains timeless and relevant in various contexts. In the context of the recent Africa Climate Summit, the quote underscores the importance of proactive planning and preparedness in addressing climate change and its associated challenges.

During the African Climate Summit, Heads of states emphasized the crucial requirement for significant funds to address the escalating environmental challenges. African nations secured climate funding agreements amounting to a significant $23 billion at the summit after calling for a restructuring of the global financial system to better align with Africa's requirements and in the journey to making the continent a renewable energy superpower.

The countdown to COP 28 is underway, and soon, there will be a gathering of climate delegations in Dubai to chart a way forward since the impacts of climate change, especially in East Africa, have reached unprecedented levels of severity and scope with this year going down as the hottest with approximately one in three days surpassing the 1.5C threshold laid out in the Paris Agreement.

Recent events, including the floods in various cities in Somalia (such as Baidoa, Bardere, Luuq, Beledweyne, Doolow, and Galkacyo), resulting in the displacement of over half a million residents; the displacement of more than 110 people in the coastal cities of Mombasa and Kwale in Kenya, with at least 3,000 families facing imminent starvation due to main roads being cut off by floods; and the hundreds of houses swept away in Ethiopia because of unrelenting rainfall in  Gambella and Afar, along with the loss of more than 130 lives in the East African region, vividly highlight the devastating effects of climate change in East African countries. These effects underscore the urgent need for climate finance, a concern consistently emphasized by East African heads of state. However, it raises the question: Is money the sole solution to these pressing challenges?

While many countries, particularly in Africa, often lack the financial resources and infrastructure required to effectively address climate change, and climate finance is a critical aspect of addressing climate change, a looming question lies in my mind: What about empowering communities in the conversation about climate change? Amid discussions on climate financing, green energy, and sustainable cities, have we given due attention to empowering communities, the front-line actors in the battle against climate change?

To set a background to my questions, Agriculture is the lifeblood of Africa's livelihoods and the backbone of national economies, supporting over 55% of the continent's labor force. However, since 1961, agricultural productivity growth has decreased by 34% due to climate change, the highest decline of any region in the world. The drought has directly affected 50 million people in and around the Horn of Africa, with another 100 million in and around the wider region facing acute food insecurity and the threat of famine. To be able to tackle this shared threat effectively, East Africa will need to adopt a collaborative approach that centers on empowering local communities.

Empowering local communities is, then, a cornerstone to sustainable and impactful climate action. Their resilience, traditional knowledge, and ability to adapt and often bear the brunt of climate-related challenges, including extreme weather events, changing agricultural patterns, and environmental degradation, are invaluable assets that need to be recognized and harnessed.

It is essential for communities in Africa to have global climate discussions, this entails the creation of platforms for community involvement in decision-making processes, integrating local knowledge into climate policies, and initiatives that are common/local people-focused. Some of the strategies could include :

Education and Awareness:

Communities need to be educated and informed on the challenges of climate change, and this ensures active participation in climate initiatives and the ability to adapt to changing circumstances.

Cross-Border Collaborations:

Climate change knows no borders, thus, there is a need to emphasize the need for collaboration between East African nations. This will ensure the utilization of shared resources, research, and joint initiatives to ensure the development of unified policies, technology sharing, and collaborative efforts to address climate change issues.

Community-based adaptation:

Community-based adaptation (CBA) strategies are fundamental in empowering communities to identify vulnerabilities and develop locally relevant solutions. Sustainable agriculture practices, water resource management, and community-led renewable energy initiatives, if well utilized, can enhance adaptive capacities and promote sustainable development.

Community-based initiatives:

With more than half of East African inhabitants being under 25 years old, it is time for leaders to engage the creative and innovative minds of the youth to help combat climate change and take the continent to the next level. Such initiatives are the YouthADAPT program, funded by the African Development Bank and the Global Center on Adaptation, that is slowly promoting green growth through private-led initiatives in Somalia and across continents.

Women Climate Centers International has also been instrumental in implementing women-led initiatives in Eastern Uganda, parts of Kenya, and Tanzania, helping build the resilience of communities and ecosystems to climate change impacts. It focuses on environmental conservation, empowering leadership skills in women, bio-intensive farming, and agricultural techniques that are instrumental in combating climate change challenges.

The resilience of East African communities in the face of climate change relies on a collective and community-centered approach, and this can be further enhanced by embracing community-driven initiatives, preserving indigenous knowledge, promoting education, and fostering regional collaboration.

It is by amplifying the voices of those most impacted by climate change through community empowerment that East Africa moves a step closer to combating the effects of climate change.

As we approach COP 28 in Dubai, leaders need to recognize that community involvement serves as a crucial catalyst, this not only bridges the gaps between policy-makers, scientists, and citizens but also paves the way for an integrated approach to combating climate change that considers the combination of social factors, ecological and economic factors and their contribution to an effective strategy. COP 28 provides an opportune moment to not only prioritize and implement community-driven solutions but also ensure a collective and sustainable effort in the global fight against climate change. Failure to empower communities obstructs their advancement, thus pushing millions into a cycle of vulnerability and has led to lower socioeconomic development and jeopardizes the attainment of sustainable development goals (SDGs) in Africa.

The writer, Hon Sadik Warfa, is a former Minister of Labour of the Federal Republic of Somalia and Represented Mudug Constituency Federal Parliament 2016-2022.


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