At the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000, then-Maldivian President Maumoon Abdul Gayoon passionately asked: “When the UN meets (in 2100) to usher in yet another century, will the Maldives and other low-lying nations be represented here?”
This was an existential concern over global warming and climate change. And when the world converged on New York for the annual UN General Assembly the other week, climate change was the dominant theme.
Hopefully, 24 years since the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and as many conference of parties meetings, the Paris Agreement and Kyoto Protocol will find global consensus and support, which is lacking, especially from actors in the global North — who, sadly, are the principal polluters, although the effects of climate change are more prevalent in the global South.
Climate change is no longer a foreign concept discussed in foreign capitals and largely threatening low-lying nations alone. In Kenya, the effects of climate change are manifest in our reducing agricultural production, increased intra- and inter-community conflicts over resources (especially water and pasture) and triggering migrations which, again, inevitably breed conflict.
Reducing and erratic rainfall patterns have created farmer-pastoralist conflicts which, unchecked, have escalated to full-scale bloody violence. Migration of agricultural communities closer to the river sources, and over-exploitation of the little water available (or remaining), threatens downstream communities, which rely on the rivers for pasture and domestic use.
Threatened with hunger and death of their livestock, the downstream communities — the new climate refugees in their nation — move closer to the rivers, and to the farms, and a survival game pitting the communities ensues.
We are all witnesses to this. Regionally, the Western Darfur genocide and the Chad conflict — which led to International Criminal Court indictments — are notable climate-induced conflicts.
Again, reduced rainfall has amplified the thirst for irrigation-fed agriculture from depleting rivers. Starved of farm produce from declining yields, rural-urban migration is rising, especially of jobless youth in the agricultural areas. That provides a perfect ground for conscription into international terrorism, violent crime and extremism and human and drug trafficking.
Climate change is an international, regional, national and county problem. It is personal; therefore, our local problem.
To stem what is, essentially, a rising threat from climate-driven resource deficits — especially between pastoralists and farmers, residents inhabiting and protecting (even destroying) water towers and those downstream or in cities depending on the water, and on coastlines facing displacement from rising sea levels — we have no option but to confront this challenge head on.
For starters, let us bring back and amplify the tree planting culture in our homes and schools and other public institutions. Environmental conservation should be a measurable performance indicator in the public and private sectors. This noble task should move beyond the corporate social responsibility event.
We must inculcate a culture of environmental consciousness in, especially, our growing children, who face even greater threats from changing climate.
The national and county governments can create incentives for climate-smart interventions such as setting aside funds and special grants for environmental conservation and restoration. That can move beyond time-bound grants to sustainable approaches which involve the people.
Further, have taxation policies that make renewable energy products, including investments that make use of clean and renewable energy, affordable and attractive. Promotion of biogas and solar energy in homes, for lighting, heating and cooking, would save trees besides affording citizens clean energy sources and environment.
The availability of clean energy in rural homes has been shown to greatly reduce drudgery and enabled women to engage in economically meaningful ventures, which inevitably reduce poverty in society.
The global South must create home-grown solutions using local knowledge and available resources to stem what are, essentially, climate-driven conflicts.
While Maldivians worry about rising sea levels, we must be worried about the existential fears by communities, which lead to security threats and the risk of civil strife caused by the effects of global warming and climate change.
Mr Kimemia is the governor of Nyandarua County. [email protected]