Burning Forests for Rain, and Other Climate Catastrophes

Communities living on the foothills of Mount Kenya believe that
burning forests will result in rain. A new United Nations report
states that deforestation is one of the major drivers of climate
change. Credit: CC By 2.0/Regina Hart

By Miriam Gathigah
NAIROBI, Aug 9 2019 (IPS)

The villagers living on the foothills of Mount Kenya have a
belief: If they burn the forest, the rains will come.

“Generally, we believe that the sky is covered by a thick
layer of ice and only a forest fire can rise high enough to melt
this ice and give us rainfall,” Njoroge Mungai, a resident from
Kiamungo village, Kirinyaga County, which is located on the
foothills of Mount Kenya, tells IPS.

It is little wonder then that Kirinyaga is one of the counties
most affected by wild fires, according to the Kenya Forest Services
(KFS).

During the first two months of this year, at least 114 forest
fires were recorded across Kenya with at least five major forests
being adversely affected, according to KFS. In just a matter of
days in February, a wild fire ravaged an estimated 80,000 acres of
Mount Kenya’s forest moorlands. Forest and wildlife experts are
adamant that communities living around these forested areas are
responsible for the fires.

Such significant loss of forest cover is not a unique occurrence
across Africa. And yet deforestation is one of the major drivers of
climate change, according to a new report.

Scientists on the United
Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
(IPCC)
 have noted that the world is staring at a climate
catastrophe.

These warnings are contained in a new IPCC Special Report on Climate
Change and Land (SRCCL)
released yesterday, Aug. 8, in Geneva,
Switzerland.

Co-authored by 107 scientists, almost half of whom are from
developing nations and 40 percent of whom are female, the report
resoundingly places land management at the very centre of the
raging war to combat climate change, stating that effective
strategies to address global warming must place sustainable land
use systems at their core.

The Mijikenda community in southern Kenya carefully tends to the
outskirts of kaya forests, which also serve as the ancient burial
grounds of their ancestors, nurturing a diverse ecosystem that is
home to rare plant and bird species. A new United Nations report
states that effective strategies to address global warming must
place sustainable land use systems at their core. Credit: Miriam
Gathigah/IPS

“IPCC’s newly released report focuses on the link between
global warming and land use. At the core of this report is the
nexus between climate change and unsustainable land use, including
unsustainable global food systems,” Richard Munang, the
sub-programme coordinator on climate change at U.N. Environment’s
Africa Office, tells IPS.

Munang says that this nexus “is already coming to the fore in
Africa especially now that the continent is losing forest cover at
a rate that is much higher than the global average.”

He further explains that globally, Africa bears the
second-highest cost of land degradation—estimated at 65 billion
dollars per year—and that this has put a strain on economic
growth.

“While average losses resulting from land degradation in most
countries are estimated at nine percent of Gross Domestic Product
(GDP), some of the worst afflicted countries are in Africa and lose
a staggering 40 percent of their GDP,” he says.

The IPCC report emphasises that while climate change itself can
increase land degradation through increases in rainfall intensity,
flooding, drought intensity, heat stress and dry spells, it is land
management practices that has tipped the balance of increased land
degradation. The report noted that agriculture, food production,
and deforestation are the major drivers of climate change.

According to the report, land is a critical resource and also
part of the solution to climate change. However, as more land
becomes degraded, it becomes less productive and at the same time
reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon. This in turn
exacerbates climate change.

As a result of significant land use changes, grazing pressures
and substantial reduction in soil fertility, U.N. researchers now
say that one-third of total carbon emissions come from land.

Dr. Wilfred Subbo, a lecturer in natural resources at the
University of Nairobi, notes the findings with concerns: “Land is
under a huge amount of pressure and we are increasingly witnessing
how human-induced environmental changes contribute to catastrophic
carbon emissions.”

“We are indeed heading straight into a climate disaster and
this report has highlighted how damaged land is no longer serving
as that large sink that absorbs harmful carbon dioxide
emissions,” he tells IPS.

Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously
improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger,
the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said in a
statement. Credit: Miriam Gathigah/IPS

The report also noted “global warming and urbanisation can
enhance warming in cities and their surroundings, especially during
heat related events, including heat waves”.

“Last year the United Nations Development Programme indicated
that Africa’s urban transition is unprecedented in terms of scale
and speed and that the continent is 40 percent urban today,”
Subbo says.

Coordinated action to address climate change can simultaneously
improve land, food security and nutrition, and help to end hunger,
the IPCC said in a statement. The report highlights that climate
change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability
(yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food),
utilisation (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to
availability).

“Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate
change through yield declines – especially in the tropics –
increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain
disruptions,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working
Group III, in the statement.

“We will see different effects in different countries, but
there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in
Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.

Munang nonetheless points out that all is not lost: “Over 90
percent of countries in Africa have ratified their commitments to
accelerate climate action towards achieving the 2015 Paris
agreement.”

This agreement seeks to achieve a sustainable low carbon future.
Munang emphasises that such climate goals calls for countries to
embrace ambitious eco-friendly practices such as agro-forestry, the
use of organic fertiliser and clean energy, among others.

He says that a number of African countries are on track.
“Ethiopia has done very well and set a new unofficial world
record of planting over 350 million trees in just 12 hours.”

Kenya aims to run entirely on green energy by 2020 and is on
record as having the largest wind farm in Africa, as is Morocco
with the largest solar farm in the world.

“The key going forward is to change perspective and to look at
these actions within the broader goal of building globally
competitive enterprises with climate action co-benefits,” Munang
says.

Meanwhile, back on the foothills of Mount Kenya, Mungai says
that there are efforts to educate the community about forest fires
and the effect it has on both the land and climate.

“This belief will take time to change because it was passed
down from our grandfathers. But the County government is focused on
addressing these problems so future generations will learn to do
things directly.”

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Burning Forests for Rain, and Other Climate Catastrophes

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Burning Forests for Rain, and Other Climate Catastrophes