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The Effect of Corruption and Poor Governance on Climate Change Readiness in Africa

"Any action aimed at mitigating and adapting towards the effects of climate change should be met with an equal, and perhaps even more aggressive, improvement in governance systems and corruption-mitigating measures."

The World Economic Forum has convened once more at Davos, where heads of states, government representatives, corporates, organizations and civil society have gathered to discuss some of the world’s most prominent issues.

A recurring theme at this year’s meeting has been climate change. This comes as no surprise. The last few months have seen global and local headlines dominated by news of climate-related crises ravaging communities, entire cities and, in certain instances, even countries.

From the raging fires in the Amazon to the vicious wildfires that tore through the Australian continent. We’ve watched with dread as torrential rains, followed later by a tornado, destroyed homes and infrastructure in KwaZulu-Natal, while outside our borders drought and famine threatened our continent’s most marginalized communities.

Climate change is an undeniable phenomena and its effects are visibly underway throughout the world, bearing the strongest impact on society’s most vulnerable.

A report by the BBC expects Africa to be the continent most affected by climate change, given the particular dependency of many Africans on climate systems and an overall lack of adaptation capacity.

What role might corruption and poor governance play in exacerbating the impact of climate change in Africa?

Despite significant progress to ensure greater transparency of and accessibility to systems and structures of governance, as well as joint efforts towards eradicating corruption, the continent at large still fails to uphold these promises to the daily, lived experiences of ordinary Africans.

A great majority of states on the continent continue to grapple with endemic corruption, giving rise to maladministration and playing out through political and economic exertion to benefit and sustain the elite. Similarly, poor and inadequate governance policies leave populations grossly under-served and stunted.

The threat of climate change to the environment threatens millions of Africans. This extends beyond the observable impact on agriculture, to indispensable facets of society such as infrastructure, human health and migration.

This impact on the continent has been well recorded. Africa’s economy is largely attributed to the contributions made by the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector, with figures denoting that it employs as many as 65% of all working individuals and accounts for 75% of domestic trade.

Purely from an agricultural perspective, a degradation of our ecosystems will result in a significant and catastrophic decline in our continental GDP. Beyond this, it will give rise to growing exposure to illnesses, a new category of migrants in the form of climate migrants and destroy the very infrastructure that supports economic mobility such as roads, bridges and towns.

Climate change requires both governments and citizens to be proactive about the changes that have already occurred and that are forecasted. This necessitates the need for realistic and effective policies, bolstered by the existence of a robust governance system. The prevalence of corruption in any society, particularly where it is high, detracts from the ability of good governance and policy measures to be meaningfully administered.

Corruption impacts the quality of public services and policies, as well as any government's ability to commit to its own policies. It should therefore be noted that any action aimed at mitigating and adapting towards the effects of climate change should be met with an equal, and perhaps even more aggressive, improvement in governance systems and corruption-mitigating measures.

The main approach to dealing with the effects of Climate Change is two-pronged, in the form of mitigation and adaptation. The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) defines mitigation as “efforts to reduce or prevent emission of greenhouse gases”. Generally, adaptation refers to the steps involved in reducing specifically the impacts of climate change on the environment, community and society at large.

If the livelihoods of Africans are to be preserved and improved, which is the expectation that citizens have of the governments they have elected into office, it is of the utmost importance that states work to drastically reduce the presence of corruption and to uphold good governance measures.

The responsibility doesn’t lie solely on governments to reduce corruption however. It is also the role of ordinary citizens to ensure that they work in the best interest of their nation.

Dealing decisively with climate change, while progressing the advancement of Africans, will require the joint efforts of governments and citizens to address the factors that hamper the ability of climate-mitigating measures to be effected.

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