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Lapses in Zambia’s climate change talks

JOSPHAT Banda is a grade eight pupil at Libala Primary School in Lusaka. He wakes up at 04:30 hours to heat bathing water before a routine power outage at 06:00 hours.
Should he wake up late, Josphat risks having a cold shower in the current freezing temperatures as Zesco will have already commenced implementing its morning load shedding programme.
Many people in various parts of the country are enduring the devastating effects of intensified load shedding triggered by the drastically reduced water levels at Lake Kariba and other water bodies where Zesco generates electricity from.
The power utility firm has attributed the low water levels to poor rainfall which Zambia experienced last rainy season, which many believe is one of the effects of climate change.
Like other countries in the world, Zambia is not spared by the distressing impacts of climate change, prompting the country to start participating at annual climate change symposia. Thanks to the United Nations Development Programme for financing Zambia’s participation at global climate change negotiations.
Yet again, Zambian climate change negotiators will this year travel to Paris, France, to take part in the 21st Session of the Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
The conference, which will take place at the Paris –Le Bourget Site from November 30 to December 11, will also serve as the Eleventh Meeting of Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (CMP11).
To this end, the Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection convened a four-day workshop in Chisamba last week to prepare Zambia’s climate change ambassadors to the COP21 dialogues.
The seminar attracted participation of representatives of various government ministries, agencies, civil society organisations dealing with environmental matters as well as media personnel.
“Climate change has continued to impact negatively on our country’s most sensitive sectors and the livelihoods of our poor and vulnerable communities.
“For instance, the droughts and floods which have increased in frequency and intensity over the last two decades have adversely impacted on food and livelihoods of communities,” said Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection permanent secretary Barnaby Mulenga when he officially opened the Fringilla Farm Lodge seminar.
As a country which is vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change and a party to the UNFCCC, Mr Mulenga said Zambia will continue to take part in fundamental negotiations and see to it that the aftermath reflects national interests and development priorities.
“I wish to implore each and every one present here to reflect on past performances at the conferences; what was achieved, what needs to be achieved and refine our strategies for our participation at the forthcoming conference,” Mr Mulenga noted.
His counsel ostensibly came amid concerns that Zambia’s negotiations at past climate change forums have not been as per expectation mainly due to innumerable discrepancies that mar preparatory meetings, let alone the selection criterion of people who finally make it to COP discussions.
“There are so many things which make it difficult for us to effectively take part in climate change negotiations at COPs. There seems not to be consistency in the selection of people who attend preparatory workshops. There are always different faces at these meetings,” Chuma Simukonda, the Zambia Wildlife Authority acting director-research, planning and veterinary services, observed.
“Those who are attending this workshop will be trained on how to negotiate, but instead of the same people coming for the second preparatory meeting, there will be new faces, and those who will finally travel to Paris will be completely different. How can we negotiate successfully like this?” Mr Simukonda wondered.
It was evident from this observation that the number of participants to preparatory workshops has somewhat dwindled because some delegates feel frustrated that after being trained at two pre-COP meetings, some of those who travel do not even attend preparatory conferences.
As such, of the 50 people who were invited for the Chisamba workshop, only 36 turned up.
Mr Simukonda was not the only one with this sort of thought.
Interim Climate Change Secretariat environmental and social inclusion manager Carol Zulu said during her presentation of the COP21/CMP11 national position paper that there should be consistency in the preparation and selection process of people to go and negotiate at COPs.
“It’s sad that the past meetings have seen new faces, and the final list of people travelling for COP negotiations has been completely different, making it difficult to effectively negotiate,” Mrs Zulu lamented.
Charity Nalweya of the Zambia Environmental Management Agency said negotiators at COPs should be relevant to the process by ensuring that they exhibit seriousness for them to achieve the expected results.
Ms Nalweya said there is need to widen the selection mode of negotiators to include the academia, students and technocrats from various government departments.
She observed that even the number of Zambian negotiators at COPs is small compared with countries like China which sends over 100 mediators to climate change deliberations.
But Ministry of Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection chief environment management officer Richard Lungu, explained that his ministry has always been requesting participating institutions to be consistent with their nomination of officers for COP preparatory meetings.
“We always indicate in our invitation letters that the nominated officers should be the same people to attend all meetings, but we keep on seeing new faces,” Mr Lungu said.
The ministry is as such waking on modalities which will see institutions nominate officers who will permanently be part of the COP negotiating team to enhance consistency.
Other delegates were concerned that traditional leaders need to be brought on board especially during preparatory meetings as they live with communities where environmental issues can be well addressed.
“Chiefs are left behind in environmental issues, they are not involved in environmental meetings. I don’t know if something is being done to involve chiefs who live with the community,” Caroline Chuunga, the Lusaka Province senior chiefs’ affairs officer in the Ministry of Chiefs and Traditional Affairs, said.
But Mr Zulu, who is UNFCCC national focal point, said his ministry can only go up to a certain level in formulating policy regarding chiefs’ participation in environmental issues.
“Yes, we have not been effective in this area. We need to look at that to bring chiefs on board especially in environmental public awareness,” he said.
As was observed at the Fringilla workshop and other similar past forums, issues of consistency in the selection of people to attend preparatory conferences and the actual COP negotiations need to be treated with the urgency and gravity they deserve.
Only then will Zambians see the fruits of effective COP talks as there will be a steady inflow of funds for mitigating the effects of climate change in the country.
This may eventually enable Josphat to stop spending sleepless nights as he attempts to beat Zesco’s implementation of its daybreak load shedding schedule which undoubtedly is an offshoot of climate change.