On 1 March, a virtual parliamentary roundtable with MPs from Sierra Leone was organised by the Climate Parliament with support from the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO) and the European Commission (DG INTPA). To begin with, Nick Dunlop, Secretary-General of the Climate Parliament, and Lilia Chanaoui, Network Coordinator, presented the conclusions of the latest instalment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 6th assessment report, published on 28 February. This instalment, the second of four reviews designed to cover all aspects of climate change and to inform policymakers, is looking at the adverse impacts of climate change and how they threaten humanity, nature and biodiversity. In 2017, the IPCC had ranked Sierra Leone third on its list of nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and five years later, its conclusions are still very worrying for the country and for West Africa in general, calling for an even greater urgency to take action.
One of the most critical impacts of climate change is the effect it has on agriculture. Droughts and disruption of rainfall patterns are affecting crops and livestock, and the multiplication of extreme weather events is likely to have increasingly disastrous impacts on food production in the future. They pose the risk of food security, malnutrition, loss of livelihood, increased inequality and poverty rates. In Africa, agricultural productivity growth has been reduced by 34% since 1961 due to climate change, more than any other continent. If we continue business as usual and the planet keeps warming up, 183 million people are projected to go hungry by 2050 globally, and severe stunting could affect 1 million children in Africa alone. These figures are particularly worrying in the context of an ever-increasing world population. And according to Sierra Leonean MPs, evidence of what’s to come is already visible in the everyday life. The heat is sometimes so extreme that livestock can’t even feed themselves on grass, and certain types of food that used to be commonly found in markets are now becoming scarce.
As a country with 500 kilometres of predominantly low-lying coastline, Sierra Leone is also particularly exposed to rising sea levels. Sierra Leonean islands and coastal cities, including the capital city of Freetown, are already in the frontline and regularly experience extreme flooding destroying livelihoods and forcing communities to flee away. Climate-induced migration is a phenomenon that Sierra Leonean MPs are already observing on a large scale. The IPCC estimates that over 2.6 million and 3.4 million weather-related displacements occurred in sub-Saharan Africa in 2018 and in 2019. And these numbers are expected to rise as more and more areas become unsuitable for living and fall out of the human temperature niche, the temperature range within which humans can live and thrive. Indeed, projections show that populations living close to the equator will be increasingly exposed to extreme weather conditions and climate-related excess mortality rates.
The parliamentarians of Sierra Leone expressed their desire to get more technical and financial support from the international community to lead the fight against climate change. They pushed for the creation of a Ministry of Environment, and are highly committed to work towards reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they also face practical limitations due to lack of information and limited alternatives for their constituents. In the north of the country for instance, copious amounts of charcoal are being burnt because people are not aware of the consequences of pollution, and also because they depend on coal for survival as they do not currently have any substitute power source. The MPs also raised their deep concern about the devastating impact of tree logging for international export, a large-scale phenomenon in Sierra Leone which is destroying the forests and native species, and contributing to a higher average temperature and aggravated air pollution. The MPs expressed their desire to get more training on climate science and terminology, to enhance their knowledge and be able to engage more efficiently with their constituents, their government, and all the national and international stakeholders working on climate change. Executive Director Sergio Missana pledged that the Climate Parliament will assist them with capacity building and facilitate, through international parliamentary roundtables, exchange of best practices with other countries facing similar threats.