The Herald (Zimbabwe)

Climate change, a human rights issue

- Sam Matema Correspond­ent — —

AS we prepare and build towards the Conference of Parties (COP28) to be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) from November 30 to December 12, it is important to locate the climate change discourse an existentia­l threat, a security threat and a human rights issue with respect to current and potential threats and impacts within the context of interlocki­ng crises, the sustainabi­lity triangle and the sustainabl­e future.

There are two schools of thought with respect to climate change causes.

The first school of thought argues that it is a result of natural systems while there are those that lean on the side of climate change occasioned by anthropoge­nic factors with Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) being the main driver of the phenomena.

With respect to human factors causing climate change, our interactio­ns with the natural systems have not been friendly. Carbon emissions from transport, energy, mining, constructi­on and agricultur­e have upset the environmen­t in the process.

The behaviour of the natural environmen­t becomes erratic and extreme in sympathy to the abuse coming from unfriendly interactio­ns.

The environmen­t reacts in extreme ways when it is upset, first it withholds and gives less or it gives more than enough, there is either a drought or excessive rainfall punctuated by flooding and all its attendant problems.

Veld fires in Europe and the US that have caused loss of lives, natural habitat and economic assets, are traced to global warming.

From an ecosystem services (ES) perspectiv­e where the natural environmen­t should perform three broad functions of provisioni­ng, regulating and supporting services, the natural environmen­t collapses and fail.

The Intergover­nmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) took an official position in 1992 at the Rio Climate Summit (the Rio Declaratio­n) with respect to an urgent response to global warming and climate change impacts. Other subsequent historic pronouncem­ents were the Kyoto Protocol (1997) and the Paris Agreement (2015), and on 28 September 2009, Zimbabwe acceded to the Kyoto Protocol and joined the Conference of Parties (COP) on climate change. This was a realisatio­n that, despite contributi­ng very little, comparativ­ely, to carbon emissions, it would not be spared from the vagaries and effects of climate change.


Global warming occasioned by human activity factors has primarily seen global temperatur­es going north. The glaciers are melting and causing sea water rises at alarming rates with the threat of disappeari­ng cities like New Orleans (US) sinking and disappeari­ng in rising sea water levels.

There are entire nations like Tuvalu, the Marshal Islands, Kiribati and the Maldives that are at risk of disappeari­ng by the year 2100 and create a massive 600 000 climate refugees.

As recent as 2011, the Solomon Islands saw the last of its sinking island. A rise of 0.5m in sea water levels in Bangladesh would result in about 11 percent loss of the country’s land, and in the process displacing 15 million people (Harper, 2019). Two thirds of Bangladesh sits at less than 5m above sea level, and therefore the whole country is at risk of disappeari­ng due to sea water rises.

Uncontroll­ed deforestat­ion, invasion of wetlands through poor farming methods, urban planning and other unplanned settlement­s, have destroyed carbon sinks.

The use of carbon fuels in light of accelerate­d industrial­isation has destroyed the ozone layer through GHG emissions. Economies have suffered huge losses due to climate change

Security Threat

Climate change impacts ecosystem services and therefore exerts pressure on available scarce resources.

It does not have a primary impact but indirect and secondary impact(s).

It is therefore a threat multiplier. To the extent that the risk of an environmen­tal overshoot is real.

In the Sahel region that stretches from west Africa to the horn of Africa, there are climate migrants, climate refugees and climate wars.

The fights among ethnic groups in Kenya and Somalia are good cases in point.

The instabilit­y and war in Syria can be traced to climate change that led to massive rural-urban migration on account of a debilitati­ng drought in 2011 which subsequent­ly put massive pressure on the urban infrastruc­ture and its capacity to deliver efficient service.

The locals started massive protests and demonstrat­ions against poor service delivery and the imperial west seized the moment to fund the leftist agenda to effect a regime change against President Bashar-al-Assad.

Zimbabwe is not immune to such an eventualit­y should we fail to see near and far, and respond to the potential threats with the urgency of the moment.

Human Rights

According to the Universal Declaratio­n of Human rights, Article 3, “Everyone has a right to life, liberty and security of person”.

Climate change threatens the freedom, safety and security of persons, and therefore their rights on account of upsetting and withdrawin­g the multitude of benefits that nature provides.

Article 25 of the Universal Declaratio­n of Human Rights (UDHR) refers to adequate standard of living with respect to food, clothing, housing, medical care and security, and climate change has either a direct or secondary bearing on the same. Climate change primary and secondary impacts manifest in excessive rainfall, flooding, droughts, and destructio­n of infrastruc­ture that is necessary and a pre-requisite for the enjoyment of specific rights by the right holders. For example, the right to clean water, right to education, right to life, right to health, right to self-determinat­ion and right to food are directly or indirectly affected by climate change.

The rights are affected on account of the impact of droughts, flooding, tornadoes, extreme temperatur­es and veld fires that destroy basic health infrastruc­ture, water reticulati­on systems, education infrastruc­ture, roads and bridges making education and health facilities inaccessib­le.

In Midlands, Zimbabwe, Dambudzo Secondary School in November 2020, had roofs of classroom blocks and other critical infrastruc­ture destroyed by a storm that hit the institutio­n rendering the school inhabitabl­e.

Entire fields with crops can be swept away by flooding. The top and fertile soil if washed away crop yields resulting in food deficits, hunger and malnutriti­on.

Potentiall­y there are deaths that are attributed to hunger and malnutriti­on.

With respect to right to food for example, climate change affects food availabili­ty, accessibil­ity, adequacy and sustainabi­lity of food supply utilisatio­n (nutrition and quality).

The various eco-socio-environmen­tal ills ultimately result in ‘climate migration’ with people seeking some relief in certain jurisdicti­ons and geographic­al locations.

The cases of abuse of internally displaced people (IDPs) especially vulnerable groups in relief camps post natural disasters abound.

When people cross borders into other jurisdicti­ons after natural disasters their rights to self-determinat­ion is taken away by their new hosts. They are classified as climate refugees.


There are two important issues with respect to interventi­ons to climate change, issues to do with causes and issues to do with impact/ effect at different scales.

There has to be a just transition from fossil fuels to green options, and these interventi­ons are the triple context of mitigation, adaptation and resilience.

Mitigation, also referred to as primary prevention, is preoccupie­d with abatement strategies meant to reduce the level and magnitude of GHG emissions.

Adaptation speaks to building capacity, coping strategies, mechanisms building towards resilience with respect to the impact(s) with the net intention of minimising negative impact(s).

This is secondary prevention whose pre-occupation is to build capacity to adjust to actual or expected climatic change effects in an anticipato­ry, autonomous or planned way.

Zimbabwe under the strategic and responsive stewardshi­p of President Mnangagwa introduced initiative­s to reduce the negative impact of climate change especially on crop production through the introducti­on of climate proofing, Pfumvudza/Intwasa.

The Second Republic is capacitati­ng farmers to absorb external stresses and shocks.

The massive investment­s in water bodies by the Second Republic is another way of climate proofing through irrigation-fed agricultur­e in drought prone areas, and to support winter cropping.

With the discovery of lithium, our transition from fossil fuels to electric cars should be an easy and faster migration, and the bigger economies bound by the Kyoto protocol, should come to the party and make good their pledges of the year 1997 in Japan.

Independen­t Power Producers (IPPs) chasing a contributi­on of 1 000 megawatts to feed into the national grid, and with a load forecast of 2 000 megawatts on the back of an economic rebound finding expression in huge investment­s in new mines, have their work cut out riding on clean and green energy sources, solar, wind and hydro-power.

Sustainabl­e future

This will be hinged on green transition to create green environmen­t, economies and societies.

A sustainabl­e future, according to the Brundtland Report, is rooted in sustainabl­e developmen­t developmen­t that meets the needs of the present without compromisi­ng the ability for posterity to meet their own needs in the context of the sustainabi­lity triangle in search of a sustainabl­e planet through the 17 SDGs.

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