The Least We Can Do About Climate Change

Mar 16 , 2019
By Girma Feyissa

Ethiopia’s economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, which contributes over a third to gross domestic product (GDP), almost two-thirds to export revenue and employs around 70pc of the nation’s adults. Climate change is thus an issue that demands strict attention if economic as well as political wellbeing is to be sustained.

Humans have to eat food, all of which comes directly or indirectly from agriculture. But agriculture will become next to impossible if the climate cannot support crops.

Farming has been the mainstay of the Ethiopian economy for a long time. Given the lack of mechanisation, stable weather conditions are essential for the production of some crops, which need the appropriate period of the year to be sown and cultivated. Any change in weather conditions often means disaster, as has been the case every time a drought strikes the nation. Climate scientists have insisted that these changes will become more intense and frequent, which for Ethiopia can entail food insecurity.

National and intergovernmental organisations have noted that this problem exists. But the world is too preoccupied with other political matters to pay enough attention to an issue that has consequences we will not fully experience for years, perhaps even decades. Most famous has been President Donald Trump, who ignored overwhelming scientific consensus that global warming is a consequence of human action to pull out of the historical Paris Agreement.

Climate change is a real phenomenon, and too easily perceptible. For instance, here in Brussels, the snowy season has almost ended, and the sun has come much sooner than it usually does.

Unfortunately, it is developing countries, many of which are in Africa, that will bear the brunt of this international carelessness. The likes of the United States are in a far better position, in terms of resources and know-how, when it comes to countering the effects of climate change, though the consequences to their economies will also not be negligible. Already exasperated land issues and relatively low levels and means of food production will spell disaster for nations such as Ethiopia.

What is to be done?

Developing countries have shown commendable efforts to use international organisations such as the United Nations to insist that they are paying for pollution that is being caused by, mainly, OECD countries. There has been a consensus over reparations after consistent efforts by individuals such as Tewolde Berhan G.Egzabher (PhD).

Poor countries are not blameless though. Deforestation that leads to erosion and a loss of biodiversity has contributed to increasing green gases in Earth’s atmosphere. But minimising this problem has been attempted through reforestation projects, though the outcomes, owing to increasing populations, has not been encouraging.

Reforestation has to be key to curbing the negative effects of climate chang. But the effort should not stop there. We will have to explore new means of addressing food insecurity, which does not only have to do with how we can produce more, but what else we can eat.

Fish farming is an important avenue to explore. Ethiopia is endowed with dozens of lakes, which are seeing their own challenges. The most recent and worrying are weeds such as water hyacinth, Emboch, which have debilitated parts of Lake Tana. Efforts are underway to address this problem, though some question the sincerity of the approaches.

Poultry farming is also another engagement to be encouraged, which will also bring employment opportunities.

But such problems need to be accorded more attention for the nation needs to improve fish consumption levels and reduce the burden on staple crops such as wheat and teff. This will not happen overnight. The fish industry will need to be developed, and its potential to fill gaps in consumption should be studied. Awareness might be a challenge, but if costs can be driven down and fish is available, people will turn to it.

Climate change is a danger that is approaching fast. We have to try to find new ways of supporting the consumption needs of a growing population in a country that is projected to suffer from more frequent droughts. In looking for solutions to such problems, we will come up with ways of addressing even bigger problems. But at the very least, we have to keep looking.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 16,2019 [ VOL 19 , NO 985]

Girma Feyissa is an economist by training.

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