Are politicians interested in climate change impacts on Ghana?
Human activities particularly the burning of fuels, cutting down of trees and other agricultural activities such as the application of fertilizer in addition to natural processes, release gases such as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2o) into the atmosphere.
These gases have the ability to trap the infrared radiation (sun’s energy) which reflects in the form of temperature.
The continuation and exacerbation of the human activities has added to these gases resulting in an increase of the earth’s surface temperature, sea level, precipitation, droughts and floods in many parts of the world of which Ghana is no exception.
Evidence abounds in Ghana that temperatures in all the ecological zones are raising while rainfall levels have been generally reduced and patterns have increasingly become erratic.
Ghana’s economy is heavily dependent on climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture, fisheries, tourism and the forest sector, based on a 20- year baseline climate observation.
It is projected that yields of maize and other cereal crops will reduce by seven percent by 2050.
Despite limited irrigation facilities agriculture is currently the biggest contributor to Ghana’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) but over the last decade the agriculture GDP has declined from 51 to 36 percent whiles the increase in temperature, decrease in rainfall and its unpredictability is likely to jeopardize employment of about 60 percent of the active population.
The United Nations Framework Conversion on Climate Change (UNFCCC) defines Climate change as a change in climate attributed directly or indirectly to human activity that alters the composition of the global atmosphere in addition to natural climate variability observed over a comparable time period.
Effects of climate change are already evident in Ghana and they include change in species composition and increasing presence of invasive species in forests and farmlands, increased wildfire threats and extension of the forest transition zone further down south.
Besides its environmental and ecological role, the forest sector in Ghana contributes about six percent of GDP, employs about 2.5 million people and exports wood products worth about 200 million dollars annually.
However the climate change has the potential over a period of a few decades to undermine the sectors performance and significantly reduce all these benefits.
At the moment the cost of environmental degradation in major natural resource sectors is estimated at five percent of GDP.
Additionally the forest sector accounts for $ 500 million according to the Institute of Statistical Service and Research (ISSER) and the World Bank report in 2005 and that the situation would get worse if climate change is allowed to exert its full impact on the forest in that case Ghana could even become a net emitter of carbon.
There is no doubt whatsoever that Ghana has entered into a period where effects of climate change are unprecedented and unavoidable.
Therefore there is the need to capture climate change issues adequately in policies that are made for national development and also the Ministry of Lands and Natural Resources and the Climate Change Unit of the Forestry Commission are well resourced to ensure that matters relating to Ghana’s forests were dealt with without any excuses.
It is in the light of these that as Ghana prepares to go to the polls and is examining the manifestoes of all the political parties, it is appropriate that issues such as climate change are highlighted by political parties.
This is because climate change and climate variability issues have gradually shifted from merely environmental issues to become a major development challenge for most Africa countries including Ghana
The National Democratic Congress (NDC) in its manifesto says that Ghana is on the verge of losing its forest cover which is currently estimated at about 1.6 million hectares, down from the estimated 8.2 million hectares at the beginning of the 20th century and as a government interested in holistic development it would pursue policies and programmes that will target the reversal of the trend and address gaps in the effective and efficient management of Ghana’s forest reserve and resources.
These policies according to the NDC manifesto would include the expansion of the national plantation development programme to cover degraded forests and off-reserve areas, promoting the utilization of non-traditional tree species such as rubber wood, coconut and bamboo to supplement raw material supply from natural forests and to intensify sensitization programmes on bushfire prevention suppression and control.
According to the manifesto, the NDC will introduce alternative livelihood programmes for chainsaw operators, promulgate legislation to prevent mining activities in protected areas and create specialized courts to adjudicate protected area offences.
The NDC says when retained in power, the government would develop the Achimota Forest into a publicly owned ecological theme park, review the provisions of the forestry commission Act1999, Act571, to re-align with other commissions dealing with natural resources.
As in the words of Mr John Allotey, the Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in a publication, efforts towards combating the impacts of climate change appear to have been largely unplanned and ad-hoc as it is driven by emergency, planning at various levels and across sectors hardly considers the long term rippling effects and implications of climate change.
According to him, the recent 2010 flooding and destruction of property and infrastructure pose a major challenge to national development, the rate at which property was destroyed, lives were lost and the speed with which climate infrastructure such as roads deteriorate give credence to the fact that climate change is a major developmental concern for the country.
Climate Change has become a global issue and Ghana cannot afford to downplay efforts in managing this global canker as forests are depleting at a faster rate and leaders have to be held accountable.
This can only be done if Ghanaians ensure that in their campaign pledges politicians recognize such issues so that when they are voted to power people can use their own pledges and promises to demand their side in the voting agreement.