Freelance journalist Brigitte Weidlich reports on World Environment Day celebrated in June 2004, highlighting future climatic changes with potentially serious implications for Namibia, such as rising sea levels due to global warming which could impact negatively on Namibia’s rich marine life and fish stocks.
Namibia joined over one hundred countries early in June to celebrate World Environment Day. Past achievements and challenges lying ahead were highlighted at the function hosted by the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) on June 7, the working day closest to June 5. This date is set aside by the United Nations each year to celebrate the benefits, beauty and heritage of the world’s environment to present and future generations of mankind.
Data on future climatic changes released on the occasion included areas of concern for Namibia. The good news was a grant of US$350 000 (N$2.2 million) from the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) signed between Namibia and UNDP the same day. This is in addition to a recent US$7.1 million (N$46 million) grant from the World Bank channelled via the GEF for community-based ecosystem management to benefit rural people.
Deputy Minister Petrus Ilonga launched a booklet and poster to mark this special day. Entitled Namibia and Climate Change, the booklet is a summary of a 130-page publication compiled by Namibian researchers for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The predictions it details are serious: Due to global warming the sea levels along the Namibian coast will rise between 30 and 100 cm by the year 2100, resulting in the warming of the cold Benguela Current. According to the report, this could impact negatively on Namibia’s rich marine life and fish stocks. Another impact of rising ocean levels is the inundation of parts of Walvis Bay and its port, as well as other coastal towns such as Swakopmund and Henties Bay.
Air temperatures are expected to rise by 2ºC – 6ºC on average over the next 96 years, causing higher evaporation per degree of warming, resulting in even less available water for the country. “Even without the threat of climate change, Namibia faces absolute water scarcity by 2020,” the study reveals. Changes in rainfall and temperature will impact heavily on Namibia’s biodiversity and ecosystems.
“Considering our resource-based economy and limited technical and financial resources to adapt to its effects, climate change could potentially become one of the most significant and costly issues that affect the national development process of Namibia,” Deputy Environment and Tourism Minister Ilonga cautioned when the booklet was launched. “We will have to increase our planning efforts, improve co-ordination amongst various sectors and involve all Namibians in finding a way to cope and adapt. Climate change is not of our making and we cannot be expected to bear the costs of this global problem alone,” he added.
Dr Jacqui Badcock, resident representative of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) said that conservation and environmental work was part of the Millennium Development Goals for all UN member states to be achieved by 2015. “The linkage between biodiversity and poverty can be described in at least four dimensions: food security, health, income and livelihoods, and vulnerability,” Badcock commented. “With a majority of the country’s population living directly off the land, the link between biodiversity and their livelihoods is immensely important.”
UNDP is – through the Global Environment Facility – funding Namibia’s above-mentioned Initial National Communication (INC) study.
Namibia ceded to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1995 and this has placed a number of legal obligations on the country. Among them is the preparation and presentation to the Convention of the INC report on the status of climate change in Namibia, as well as corrective actions planned to reduce the predicted effects of climate changes until 2100. Although Namibia does not yet have a national policy on climate change in place, various plans, policies and programmes already exist with regard to Namibia’s natural resource management and sustainable development in the context of the country’s harsh existing climatic conditions.
In 1998, a country study on climate change was completed under the auspices of the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) with funding from Germany’s Ministry for Economic Co-operation and the GTZ (Gesellschaft für Technische Zusammenarbeit). It served as foundation upon which the INC was formulated. The Namibia Climate Change Committee (NCCC) was established in 2001 and is chaired by the MET.
“The committee’s main function is to advise Government how to meet its obligations towards the UN Framework Convention for Climate Change,” says Joseph McGann, programme co-ordinator in the Directorate of Environmental Affairs at the MET. “However, there is an urgent need for financial resources to support a strategic planning process on climate change in Namibia.”
Efforts have already been made to increase awareness of climate change issues. The Desert Research Foundation of Namibia (DRFN) started regional awareness programmes focused on the sensitivity of arid environments and impact of climatic changes on them. Information dissemination and awareness of environmental issues have received general attention in school curricula. Training in environmental management has been undertaken, with most recipients being staff at national institutions, local communities and NGOs.
There are now 29 officially recognised conservancies in rural areas, from which communities receive direct benefits via tourism and hunting concessions. One of them, the Torra Conservancy in north-western Namibia, received the Equator Initiative Prize 2004 jointly with six other communities from developing countries selected from 340 nominations. Every two years the Equator Prize is given to communities for outstanding achievements in poverty reduction and biodiversity conservation.
The Global Environment Fa-cility (GEF) in June apportioned US$350 000 to Namibia to start the preparatory phase of strengthening management and capacity of four of the country’s national protected areas. They are the Ai-Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, Namib-Naukluft Park, Etosha National Park, Bwabwata National Park in western Caprivi and some areas of the Sperrgebiet, soon to be proclaimed. After the 18-month preparatory phase, a further US$8 million will be allocated to the five-year project. It includes the development of functional links between Etosha and the Skeleton Coast Park.
Another funding of US$7.1 million from the GEF, following approval from the World Bank, was made available this June for rural communities to conserve and restore ecosystems on communal land via conservancies. “The communal conservancy network in Namibia covers some 29 conservancies with 150 000 residents across 75 000 square kilometres,” said Rock Scobey, GEF sector manager for Southern Africa.
The five-year assistance project makes direct funding and technical assistance to rural people available for community-based tourism. This includes start-up capital for craft production and marketing and game meat production from trophy hunting. The GEF monies will also be used to draft an integrated policy and legal framework for community-based ecosystem management.
This article appeared in the 2004/5 edition of Conservation and the Environment in Namibia.