On June the 5th 1972, following unprecedented diplomacy primarily undertaken by Scandinavian countries and by Sweden in particular, the world congregated in Stockholm for the first environmental conference dubbed at the time, ‘The Human Development Conference’ what ensued the initial convening of all the major blocks at the time as well as symbolically by Indira Gandhi, The Indian prime minister who was also seen as a major voice in the developing world, became the turning point to a major environmental movements in the 70s and 80s. Following growing global outcry, the United Nation in 1987 set up special commission led by the former Prime minster of Norway Gro Harlem Bruntland that subsequently published the first genuine international document that brought the attention of the world to the adverse human actions into nature.
‘The Bruntland Commission’ as it will later be known was also responsible for coining the concept of sustainable development, broadly defined as Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. But more importantly it removed the narrow concept that ‘environment’ perceived as a sphere separate from human emotion or action while “development” was a term habitually used to describe political goals or economic progress. Sustainable development in this new context was encompassing beyond the economic needs of a society but was also calling for social equity as well as environmentally conscious living.
Fast-forward 2014, the United Nation Framework for Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC) has last week taken place in the Peruvian city of Lima and although there has been major improvements in environmental policy and laws across the world to mitigate or adapt to climate change and live in harmony with nature, the unequivocal fact is that, this type of gathering hasn’t brought about the changes and the enforcements the people had hoped. Ever-since the dismal failure of Conference of Parties (COP 15) in Copenhagen, there has been a growing international discontent with this kind of mega-gathering of scientists and policy-makers. In construing this summary, one may critically pose a relevant question of; what does all of this got to do with a crippled, mere functioning economy like that of Somalia?
Well, Somalia is geographically located one of the most climate change exposed region in the world and has been frequented by varying aspects of climate exposures in the form of draughts, plummeting seasonal precipitation and floods. Due to the vulnerable nature of the Somali people that wholly rely on natural rainfalls for their animals and agriculture needs, slight change in its climate in the form of reduced precipitation or increased temperature will have huge ramification on the people living in the region. Furthermore, this naturally occurring mishap has been compounded by a prolonged civil unrest that has destroyed the fabric of the society including the complete dismantling of institutions that would have been in place to circumnavigate this natural manifestation. Until recently though, the prospect of any kind of development in Somali was unthinkable due to the prevailing security situation in the country, but now Somalia has a chance to fresh start almost everything from scratch as a result of improved security as well as the re-engagement of international donor community.
Somalia is currently undergoing an ever-reducing seasonal precipitation and if the current trajectories are any indication of future realities, many more people will be affected making precarious situation even worse. But on the other hand, an a more hopeful note, the country is going through major changes as a result of improving security, the donor communities are pouring money in different sectors of the economy, the huge diaspora community is returning and businesses is been set-up across the country. This brings our attention a dichotomy of both challenges as well as opportunities. On one hand, you have a development of a kind happening while simultaneously nature is not so kind to the impoverished part of the society. One thing I would like to clear from the onset is that I will not be lured to the insignificant debate into this context of manmade climate change versus its natural occurrence, that’s a debate for another day. Whether it’s manmade or not, a significantly changing climate is impacting on the Somali shores and we at-least ought to be thinking about it in our strategies if not holistically combating it.
In 2013, following a much-hyped conference in Brussels, Somalia has signed a document entitled ‘The New Deal for Somalia’ with the donor communities in general and with the European Union in particular that could perhaps be summed up as a comprehensive development aid to the conflict riddled country. Among other priorities the document has set of peace and state building goals that are: (I) Inclusive Politics, (II) Security, (III) Justice, (IV) Economic Foundations, (V) and Revenue and Services. The document is also described as a Somali owned initiative that is aimed at raising the country from its deathbed. This document is purported to act as a guiding vision for the state building and reinstitution of the Somalia’s national economy. However, the document even in its supplementary goal (cross-cutting issues) does it mention the environmental challenges facing the country, let alone prioritize it. While one can passionately attribute the environment or the lack of environmental conscious living to all the causes of the conflict in the first place, see detailed paper on this here: http://www.hiiraan.com/op4/2013/dec/52714/mainstreaming_environment_into_the_somali_new_deal_compact.aspx
The East Coast of the African continent has been in recent years touted to be the next frontier for hydrocarbon production in the world, with Somalia having the longest coastline, presumed to be containing the biggest oil and natural gas reserves in the region. This potential wealth discovery, though it would be a great source of revenue for this impoverished country and relief for its long suffering citizens, it can also create a resource curse that has often plagued numerous similar countries in Africa that have recently discovered similar natural resources. Conversely, Somalia is in the amidst of setting up national policies and guidelines that will steer this country back to the community of nations, so this might actually represent the best time to corporate national environmental policy that will not only safeguard the environment and live in harmony with nature, but will also create jobs and opportunities for the nations impoverished youth solving many challenges in the process.
An important incentive for Somalia to embrace a development path that is sustainable and holistic is the fact that, Somalia been already a nation suffering from the adverse impact of changing climate, automatically qualifies for the Green Climate Fund, a UN founded mechanism that redistribute money from developed nations to poorer countries to assist them with adaptation and mitigation practice to counter climate change. While the rest of the world finds it hard to incorporate environmental policies into their already matured national policy and change the missions of their existing institutions, Somalia has a somewhat privileged position of lacking any national policy and functioning institutions making it easier for it’s upcoming institutions to mainstream environmental policy and incorporate equitable social programs with ease. By taking the green economy path, Somalia will set up proactive national policies that have guided vision and are both responsive to the needs of its people and tailored for the protection of its endangered eco-system.
For more than two decades, Somalia has been the epitome of a failed state and led the world in all the unwanted indexes, but today is in a crossroad where it can choose to decide the destiny it chooses. The iconic African American nationalist Malcolm X is quoted to have said, ‘the future belongs to those who prepare for it today’ and its not coincidence that in our world today whoever plants the best seeds will live to harvest the best in the future, and what other way is therefore better to invest in national policies that will deliver the optimal in the future for this nation. The Somali minster in charge of natural resources recently attending a conference in London was quoted as saying that his country will be producing oil in six years, well six years is a long time for the proposition and the incorporation of proactive national guidelines that act as check and balance mechanism for future exploitation of the countries natural resources. The European Union as evidenced by its ill-fated deal with Somalia is applying double standard, where it’s advocating the incorporation of environmental policy in all its domestic policies and is the leading force in the UN climate conference to the transition of green economy, while showing indifferences to the biggest challenge facing Somalia when guiding their economic trajectories. But it’s up to the people of Somalia and especially its leadership to steer this nation to a more sustainable, equitable economic path.