Since the global climate agreement was negotiated in Paris last December, we’ve heard a lot about the importance of big polluters like the US and China stepping up to actually put that agreement into force.So it was a bit of a surprise to hear that one of the first countries to fully commit to the Paris plan is not a big power. In fact, it’s a country that until recently was barely functioning: Somalia.
“We used to be a failed state, now we’re called a fragile state. If we can do this, anyone can,” said Foreign Minister Abdusalam Omer.
Somalia joined a dozen small island states and Belize that ratified the Paris climate agreement on April 22 at a ceremony in New York. So did Palestinian delegates.
To date, 16 nations have become parties to the agreement and 177 have signed on. Countries representing 55 percent of global emissions must sign on for the agreement to go into force.
Small island nations, including the Marshall Islands, Fiji and the Maldives are especially vulnerable to sea level rise. They ratified early after pushing hard for the agreement in Paris back in December.
Now, Omer said it is his country’s turn to send a message.
“Somalia is telling the world, stop denying that climate change is here, that the world is changing, and we are the cause of it,” Omer said.
Environmental conditions likely exacerbated by climate change are hitting Somalia hard. The rainy season there just started, but unusually dry conditions since October have been wilting crops and killing livestock.
The United Nations says close to a million Somalis are struggling to get enough food every day. That’s partly because of the country’s long civil war, but Omer said it is also due to more frequent droughts.
“A serious drought in the Horn of Africa used to come around every 10 years,” Omer said. “It was a predictable thing, people could get ready for it, and now it’s coming every two years.”
The US military has warned that climate change can contribute to political instability around the world. From Omer’s perspective, that’s already happening in his country.
“It brings instability, it brings people fighting over meager resources of food and water, and I don’t want to be blaming everything on the environmental disaster we’re facing,” Omer said, “but the drought is happening more often because of what we are doing to our environment.”
Somalia lacks an industrial sector, so Omer said the country can’t do a lot to cut carbon dioxide emissions and fight climate change.
But the foreign minister says the country is concentrating on one thing: reducing deforestation and desertification.
A quarter of a million tons of charcoal are exported from Somalia to Gulf countries every year, according to 2013 numbers from the UN. To produce that much charcoal, 4.4 million trees are cut down, and more than 180,000 acres of land are cleared.
This land is left unsuitable for agriculture or grazing, which is devastating to Somalis who rely on the land for their livelihood.
As part of the UN climate pact, the country has pledged projects worth $100 million to tackle unsustainable charcoal production, boost resilience and rehabilitate hydroelectric power in the country.