The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the most authoritative body on the science – has often faced criticism over the under-representation of African views (research) by African contributors, both in its reports and processes.This has often led to a distortion of the African narrative, and possibly the prescription of wrong or inadequate remedies for climate response on the continent, say experts.
Dr Sandra Bhatasara, a sustainable development expert with the University of Zimbabwe, and Professor Godwell Nhamo, a climate change specialist with the University of South Africa, were two of the 26 Africans nominated to design the structure and content of the IPCC Special Report earlier this year.
In total, only 86 experts, from an initial list of 610, were selected and participated in the making of the report’s agenda at a special meeting (Scoping Meeting) in Geneva, Switzerland in August. Original nominations from Zimbabwe numbered seven.
In a clear admission that current action on climate change was woefully inadequate, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), has asked the IPCC to produce a special report that bolsters global climate action and end poverty within the context of a 1,5 degrees Celsius warmer world. The report is due out in 2018.
The world is currently targeting to cap temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius in this century, according to a global climate treaty agreed by nearly 200 countries at Paris last December, to be achieved mainly by dumping fossil fuels in favour of renewable energy. But emerging scientific evidence suggests a cap at that level will not be enough to keep the world a safe and liveable place.
“I feel honoured to have been selected to participate in the Scoping Meeting for the Special Report,” Dr Bhatasara told The Herald Business, in an interview, adding she was, however, “intrigued” by her own selection.
“Judging from how the IPCC process has evolved over the years,” she said.
“I did not think I stood a chance among the ‘important scientists’ who have dominated the process.
“Am not underestimating myself by saying that, but clearly I didn’t think the IPCC was ready yet to accommodate young scholars, especially those from social sciences.”
Professor Nhamo said his selection was a “vote of confidence” in his climate work, which dates back to 1998, when he helped develop under-graduate curriculum in environmental science for two local universities.
“ . . . We were expected to provide draft title and chapter structure for the 1.50C special report, together with an indication of the relative size of the various chapters, and an annotated list of topics to be addressed by authors of each chapter,” he said.
According to the preliminary outline, the Special Report will consists six chapters in about 270 pages covering areas such as the impact of 1,5 degrees Celsius on natural and human systems; sustainable development, poverty eradication and reducing inequalities; strengthening global response to climate change and others.
The IPCC report comes as the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) reported on October 24 that concentration of carbon dioxide – the main climate-changing gas – in the atmosphere reached 400 parts per million in 2015, the highest since records began a couple of centuries back.
The WMO data indicates the urgency of action needed in lowering global greenhouse gas emissions to combat climate change. At current atmospheric CO2 concentration levels, the world would be in the furnace for several decades to come, even with aggressive action, scientists warn.
Safety occurs when CO2 concentrations drop below 350 parts per million.
It is crucial to highlight that the Zimbabwean duo were selected only to scope the structure of the Special Report, but not contribute scientific material.
Equally important is to understand that they now stand as a good a chance as anyone else to contribute in the authorship of the report, preferably as scientific researchers, and “not to be relegated to the so called ‘other sections’ of the report,” as Dr Bhatasara put it.
But the selection of Dr Bhatasara and Professor Nhamo is much bigger than individual glory. It is a matter of national pride, positioning Zimbabwe – a country battered by a flurry of devastating extreme climate-related events over the years – as a major player in the global discourse on climate change and global warming, issues now central to economic development.
As for the UN panel on climate change, questions have been raised over the way it produces its reports, particularly the key periodic Assessment Reports.
For example, of the 55 contributing authors, 5 lead authors and two coordinating lead authors, who contributed to the section on Africa in the Fifth Assessment Report, almost half were from abroad, without personal connection or intimate experience with and of Africa.
Compositions like these have been criticised for marginalising the African voice, whose story is reluctantly being told by outsiders. The implications for policy both at home and abroad resulting from such run deep.
However, the selection of experts for the Scoping Meeting appears to have addressed these concerns, not sure for how long. Experts from the developing world constituted 51 percent of those selected, while Africa accounted for 30 percent overall. Professor Nhamo described “this share of experts as remarkable”.
Dr Bhatasara hopes this becomes the future.
“The diverse African narratives or stories have been missing in previous reports, but so are Asian and Latin American narratives,” she explained.
“However, the Special Report is a significant departure from other IPCC reports. That’s what probably makes it special, amongst other factors. If the IPCC sticks to its original plan (which I hope it does), the report will take a multi-disciplinary approach, with a thrust to incorporate previously marginalised disciplines and knowledges.”
She continued: “The mere fact that the IPCC has now admitted its own biases is critical, that should be the beginning of a more inclusive process in the global production of climate change knowledge.”
God is faithful.