Africa stands in a precarious position due to the rapid changes in the climatic conditions. The African population largely depends on agriculture for livelihoods and survival. Many communities have been hard hit by unpredictable and changing weather patterns, worsening food insecurity on the continent. Frequent droughts, floods and cyclones have become common. Against this background, it is imperative that a different trajectory is charted forward, one which focuses on inclusive climate justice.
Climate justice is a concept which appreciates the multifaceted nature of the effects of climate change on different societal groups. Consequently, climate justice recognises that a plethora of stakeholders face different environmental, social and economic effects of climate change. Over the years, climate justice has become a movement, which is meant to ensure that different societal groups achieve fair outcomes and their rights are protected and respected in the face of climate risks and shocks. Climate justice addresses Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Number 13 on Climate Action. There are still millions of people who are suffering from the effects of climate change.
Climate justice interventions
The attainment of climate justice requires multi-stakeholder partnerships in order to ensure that the effects of climate change are effectively managed and controlled. Climate justice can be achieved through legal recourse, awareness raising, capacity building, financing climate change mitigation, pilot projects, regulations and advocacy. The deployment of these interventions is context specific due to the different country contexts.
Vulnerable groups most impacted
There are several vulnerable groups which need urgent protection and empowerment. These vulnerable people include women, children, disabled, the elderly and marginalised communities. Gender equality is a key element of climate justice. Historically, women and girls are, and have continued to be increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Women have a pressing need due to the fact that in most African countries they bear the brunt of climate change as they do most of the agricultural work. Women and children are more likely to die than men in natural and man-made environmental disasters. Moreover, when resources are scarce due to drought or deforestation, women have been subjected to sextortion in order to gain access to water or firewood. From the perspective of energy security, women collect firewood and therefore take a lot of their time away from educational and productive activities. When food security concerns rise in the different countries, women bear the brunt of the extra burden to look for food for the family.
Children are also vulnerable to climate change due to their specific dietary needs. Under the climate change regime, children’s diets can be greatly affected, thereby resulting in malnutrition of children. Malnutrition has a knock on effect on the health and viability status of children. There is also the risk of even greater effects on children suffering from HIV/AIDS. The complex web of the effects of climate change on vulnerable people is projected to increase in the years to come. Governments and and non governmental organisations need to continue working together to ensure that women and girls are central to the development of a just, inclusive and resilience society, which puts women and children as beneficiaries, decision-makers and leaders. This inclusive approach is the only way climate justice and gender justice can be achieved.
Disabled people are in a precarious position as far as climate change is concerned. People with disabilities are on the front lines of the climate crisis and as such efforts to address the crisis must include people with disabilities. Disability justice and the climate crisis are intertwined because people with disabilities are among the most vulnerable members of society. The double jeopardy comes to effect due to their physical handicap which impacts on their ability to seek livelihood options. Climate change affects the ability of people with disabilities to search for livelihood opportunities in areas such as farming, small to medium enterprises (SMEs), formal employment, beekeeping and other income generating endeavours.
In countries such as Zimbabwe and Mozambique, tropical cyclones have become an endemic phenomenon. The Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth in 2019 left trails of devastation including flooding of local communities, infrastructural damage and loss of lives. Furthermore, Cyclone Ana and Cyclone Batsirai affected the same communities in 2022. Vulnerable groups such as the disabled are not able to quickly evacuate in the face of climate emergencies and only rely on the help of well-wishers for them to find rescue. This does not demonstrate climate justice. We can only achieve climate justice when infrastructure is designed in a manner which is inclusive and takes care of the needs of disabled people across the continent. Africa needs policies on climate change which include disabled people and their needs. It is also important that disabled people have access to education on disaster response and can communicate with emergency responders when disaster strikes.
Elderly people are at greater risk of suffering from the negative impacts of climate change. The elderly are also more likely to encounter hardships during evacuations due to limited mobility and impaired senses. Due to their reduced agility, the elderly are also no longer able to effectively fend for themselves. Traditional patterns of practice on the African continent were aligned towards relying on children as a retirement package. However, things have changed with the passage of time, and the children are also be facing livelihood choices and challenges. When drought, famine, floods and tropical cyclones hit – the elderly are at the mercy of mother nature and may not have the ability to alleviate their situation. Governments across the African continent need to introduce safety nets and give incentives to the elderly people in order to cushion them from the impacts of climate change.
Indigenous communities are affected by possible displacement caused by natural disasters or development projects such as irrigation, plantations and other economic development. The challenge in some African countries is displacement of people in communal areas without careful consideration of their livelihood. This could be in the form of areas where grazing lands are located or otherwise areas where agricultural activities are being undertaken. In its different forms, disruption of agricultural activities can be in the form of effects on cropland, pastures, livestock, aquaculture and other emerging farming endeavours such as hydroponics.
Apart from the possible climate effects on communities, there is a possible double jeopardy related to health effects and safety concerns. The injustice of negative externalities on human health can be dealt with through environmental regulations as well as policies and strategies.
Across Africa, the implementation and enforcement of laws and policies related to climate change requires urgent strengthening in order to achieve climate justice. Climate action across the continent needs to be rooted in equity. To effectively work toward climate and environmental justice, inclusion is imperative. Ultimately, the fate of Africa shall be determined by how it tackles emerging developmental issues such as climate change. Climate justice could be one of the catalysts for an inclusive and sustainable development paradigm in Africa, and the future is in our own hands.
This article is written as part of a storytelling series called: Symbiocene – Finding Coexistence: Earth, Water, Wind, Fire and Us, a collection commissioned in partnership with African Crossroads. The contents of the series are the sole responsibility of This Is Africa Trust, and cannot be regarded as reflecting the official position of Hivos Foundation.
The hybrid event took place on the 14th and 15th October 2021 and featured live and recorded presentations on ECOEXISTENCE – a call for writing A COLLECTIVE MANIFESTO on how to restore a symbiotic relationship between humans and other-than-human entities (natural elements, animals, data-generated avatars and others). The programme was broadcasted online in the form of interviews, concerts, storytelling, panel discussions and digital experiences.