Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Climate Change - in Sierra Leone and in Canada

This week, as countries from around the world are working to negotiate a new agreement on climate change at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change taking place in Copenhagen, I thought it would be fitting to post something about climate change. I have found that there is generally very little talk about environmental issues here in Sierra Leone. This is not that surprising to me, and I’m sure is the case in other developing countries as well. Both your average person and the government tend to be focused on first meeting basic needs (food, water, shelter, health, education) before they can begin to think about environmental issues. Unfortunately, many environmental problems tend to have longer-term effects, which are generally less pressing than the urgent and immediate needs of survival today. However, environmental challenges, including climate change, will have an impact on the country’s ability to meet its development goals, if not right now, then certainly in the future.

Climate change is already having an effect in Sierra Leone. Over the past few years, changes in weather patterns have been noticeable. The rains are starting later in the year and continuing on longer. This affects farming patterns and timetables, and can reduce agricultural productivity. The longer wet season results in more mosquitoes, which spread malaria. The later start to the rainy season also has the potential to affect the provision of reliable power in the country from the Bumbuna hydro dam which has recently come online. Developing countries like Sierra Leone tend to have the lowest emissions and are the least responsible for causing climate change, yet they will likely experience more devastating effects from climate change (droughts, severe weather, food shortages, rising sea level, etc.) and have far fewer resources to be able to mitigate and adapt to these changes. This actually seems to be one of the big contentious issues in the discussions in Copenhagen – how much will rich countries help poor countries adapt to the problems caused by climate change.

A little more on the negotiations happening in Copenhagen: The intention at Copenhagen is for countries to reach a new agreement on climate change that will replace the Kyoto Protocol (set to expire in 2012). The Copenhagen negotiations are aiming to achieve agreement on greenhouse gas emissions targets (with the aim of bringing developing countries on board to mandated rather than voluntary targets), financial support for developing countries to help them mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change, and a carbon trading scheme. About 100 world leaders are attending (including US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, but not Canada’s Stephen Harper) and all 192 countries will be represented. (Most of this info is from this BBC article). More info on the Copenhagen conference is available at

Although it is important to bring developing countries into any agreement on climate change, especially the big developing countries like China and India, in order to reach the targets being discussed (keeping global average temperature rise under 2 degrees Celsius, or even 1.5 degrees), it is critical that developed countries step up and implement their fair share of reductions. Unfortunately, Canada’s reputation on climate change is currently pretty abysmal. Now, with the new Obama administration in the United States, Canada seems to be performing even worse than the United States under Bush, which is saying quite a bit. We’ve already been awarded the “fossil of the day” award in Copenhagen – awarded by a coalition of 450 environmental groups to the countries “doing the most to obstruct progress in the global climate change talks.” Canada is the only country to actually renege on the greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets it agreed to when it ratified Kyoto, and now has the lowest targets among developed countries (a 20% reduction by 2020, but from a 2006 base year – only a 3% reduction from 1990, the base year for Kyoto). This stinging critique of Canada’s actions on climate change (or lack thereof) by George Monbiot ( has actually made me feel embarrassed to be a Canadian.

All countries must do their part if we are to prevent global warming from having a devastating effect on the planet, and a disproportionate effect on the poor.

No comments: