Liberian MPs discuss climate change effects in their constituencies

On 4 May, the Climate Parliament organised a national parliamentary roundtable for legislators from Liberia, in collaboration with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and with the support of the European Commission (DG INTPA). Climate Parliament’s Secretary-General, Nick Dunlop, began the session by encouraging the MPs to formalise this group of parliamentarians as a specific climate change group in Parliament. After Léa Hillaireau, Policy Coordinator at the Climate Parliament, presented the latest instalment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th assessment report and on the Climate Parliament’s activities and action ideas, the floor was opened for MPs to discuss the climate change impacts that they are already witnessing in their constituencies.

One of the key issues raised by the parliamentarians was the variability of the seasons they are already witnessing in Liberia. Historically, there have been 2 clear seasons in Liberia (the rainy season running from April-October, and the dry season running from November-March). However, Liberians are noticing that these seasons are no longer clearly defined and are experiencing intense temperature rises already. This has knock-on effects particularly for farming and for the efficiency of hydropower. Over the past year, many of the rivers in rural communities have dried up, meaning that there is not enough water in the rivers to produce hydropower, which constitutes a substantial proportion of the country’s energy supply. Also, the lowland areas have become too dry to support sufficient food production.

Another issue raised by the parliamentarians was the country’s reliance on logging, which involves a huge amount of deforestation. Liberia contains over 30% of West Africa’s rainforest, which is quickly diminishing. Communities depend on logging to supply their economies, so a replacement for this needs to be found that does not harm the environment. There are plans in Liberia to ban logging in the next two years, however, whilst they understand that this needs to be done for environmental reasons, the parliamentarians raised a deep concern about how the communities will be able to prosper when this ban comes into place.

Climate change has also had the devastating effect of sea erosion in Liberia, which has negatively impacted many rural communities – some villages have even been wiped out because of this. Sea erosion is caused by sea level rise due to climate change and leads to huge problems for countries like Liberia that make a lot of their money from having beautiful coastlines. As the beaches are disappearing, these countries are losing a great asset that brings in money from tourism.

It is clear from these issues raised that Liberia must diversify their renewable energy mix by investing in solar power to add to its hydro resources. Solar power is much more reliable particularly for adaptation to rising heat. The only way people in Liberia will be able to survive the coming heat is by having reliable local supplies of solar power. During heat waves, national grids tend to go down, and so the only reliable source of electricity in a world in increasing climate chaos is your local source. Solar powered village minigrids will be critical to this effect, as they will be needed to power air-conditioned spaces that people can withdraw to during the deadliest periods of the day. The cost of solar is only decreasing – when you install a solar power station or minigrid, you know exactly what your energy is going to cost today and well into the future because the price is fixed. Once the equipment has been paid off, then there’s virtually no cost at all, as they require very little maintenance. Even though Liberia has vast hydro resources already in place, we are already seeing that the variability of the seasons is affecting their efficiency – it is much more reliable for a country to diversify their renewable energy resources so that, during the prolonged dry season when hydro is proving less efficient, the country can rely on solar power instead. Hydropower can play a significant role as a battery for smoothing out the fluctuations in wind and sun, which means that countries like Liberia should be able to sell their hydropower at a high price because it will be needed in other countries when there's not enough solar or wind power.

The discussion then turned to the potential of drawing up a specific Climate Change Law in Liberia, similar to those we have seen recently in Nigeria and Uganda, which the Climate Parliament helped with. The MPs agreed that the Nigeria and Uganda laws are models that Liberia could benefit from. The Nigeria and Ugandan laws involved a lot of collaboration across different sectors (government, civil society, NGOs, etc.), which is critical to bringing in stakeholders that help to get these laws developed. It was also suggested by the MPs that they can start to establish a climate change commission in the country. Such a commission would be able to investigate diversifying the country’s renewable energy resources, which will help to raise the electrification rate in rural Liberia.