By Alagie Manneh in Qatar
Over the last six days, the world was gathering in Qatar for a once in a decade summit. The UN’s Conference on the least developed countries was held in Doha for the fifth time and saw delegates ranging from world leaders, heads of multilateral corporations, youth representatives and civil society members meet to discuss, share experience and forged partnerships that ensures the least developed countries are not left behind in achieving sustainable development.
Like previous summits, many pledges and promises were made at this year’s convergence . The group has called for greater economic inclusion, debt forgiveness while advocating for climate justice, global health, and women rights. Others have asked for support in the fields of education, entrepreneurship and finance while some focused-on engineering and medicine amongst other issues.
The Gambia, the smallest country on mainland Africa, has been amassing support primarily on climate change issues, women and youth empowerment to drive economic growth.
The negotiations, pledges and partnerships happening in Doha will define the future of these vulnerable countries in terms of sustainable economic growth towards achieving the SDGs.
The UN warns that the world’s LDCs are in a race against time to deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. “The remaining years need to usher in a new global partnership to ensure these 46 countries benefit from social, economic and environmental development”, says the UN.
Like most countries at the event, The Gambia, including Nepal, Malawi, Yemen and many others are categorised as LDCs.
According to the United Nations, the least developed countries, also commonly referred to as LDCs, are low-income countries struggling to achieve sustainable development because of several critical and structural obstacles.
“They are also highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human assets. LDCs have exclusive access to certain international support measures in particular in the areas of development assistance and trade,” notes the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
On the margins of the summit, the Gambia’s environment and climate change minister, Rohey John Manjang, was specific on what needs to happen if her country is to be successful in its fight against climate change.
“For The Gambia to achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, it will need at least 4 billion dollars,” she told a side event in Doha on advancing national adaptation plans in LDCs.
The Gambia’s future is at stake at LDC5, as it is among those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, including floods, storms, cold spells, sea level rise, and heatwaves, according to the World Bank.
Last year, two hundred and seventy-six millimeters of rain fell in two days in the capital Banjul, according to the department of water resources. “Hundreds of houses and livelihoods had been completely damaged”, it added.
The National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA), said that 11 people had died and more than five thousand were internally displaced.
The livelihoods of some 25 to 30,000 people who work in the fisheries sector are also being threatened by sea-level rise and other climate change impacts.
“Fish-based livelihoods and fisheries ecosystems are subjected to a range of climate variability, from extreme weather events, including flooding and occurrence of droughts through changes in patterns and abundance of fish stocks. Fisheries managers and resource users are confronted with the challenges in responding to climate change and variability,” said Katepa Kalala, the former FAO representative in The Gambia.
“Extreme weather events like floods have also increased poverty by damaging infrastructure such as roads making it hard for farmers to take their produce to markets,” said Seraphine Wakana, UN resident coordinator in The Gambia. “Another impact of the damage to infrastructure is outbreaks of water-borne diseases because of damage to the water reticulation system. Most disheartening has been the loss of lives. At least 10 people died during last year’s windstorm.”
Ms John Manjang and her delegation are seeking to mobilise as much funds as they can from the once-in-a-decade gathering to fight climate variability in The Gambia.
The country seeks to be a climate-resilient, working-class country via green economic growth assisting sustainable, low emissions development by 2050, in conformity with its pledge to the Paris Agreement. It has developed an ambitious plan to that effect, referred to as the Gambia’s long-term climate-neutral development strategy.
However, even with abundant political will, Ms John Manjang said attaining such lofty and admirable targets will be a mirage without financial and or technical support.
“We are willing to join the action to implement what we all should do to mitigate the impact of climate change, but the capacity is not sufficient. Finance particularly, remains a huge challenge. It is important that finance is readily and easily available for LDCs like The Gambia to implement their projects and ideas for a successful result,” she told delegates.
In a worst-case scenario, according to experts in a 2020 survey, global heating of 4.5C above pre-industrial levels could mean a sea-level rise of between 0.6 and 1.3 metres by 2100. That, they warned, would be enough to inundate most if not all of The Gambia’s island capital of Banjul.
“We are going to lose Banjul at the end of the day. It’s going to be uninhabitable unless the country is prosperous [enough that]we can have a city on stilts,” said Ousman Sillah, the former NAM for Banjul North, in an interview with the Guardian.
“If the status quo remains as it is, there will be climate refugees,” said Lamin Komma, head of the National Environment Agency’s coastal and marine environment programme.
The former environment minister, Lamin Dibba, said the final solution is to rely on science and technology, to have innovation and enhanced resilience and build the capacities of vulnerable communities.
LDCs produce only 4 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, but are hit the hardest by its impact.
Indeed, the country’s mitigation and adaptation plans and policies have been touted as one of the finest. But with no finance, they remain just plans. And Ms John Manjang is unsure what percentage of the funds required they will receive from the LDC5 event.
In his plenary address at the LDC5 summit, foreign affairs minister Mamadou Tangara described climate change as one of the greatest threats The Gambia is faced with. “Within Africa, The Gambia is one of the countries that are most-prone to the damaging impacts of climate change. This has caused the diversion of limited resources to cover the costs and losses incurred, thus adversely impacting our development efforts. We, therefore, call on our partners to support us to access new and innovative resources for adaptation to the impacts of climate change in The Gambia.”
Mr Carlos Manuel Rodriquez, CEO, Global Environment Facility (GEF), said LDCs such as The Gambia can access grants and resources from the facility through a variety of windows. “One is the traditional GEF trust funds that helps The Gambia implement its commitments in the international environmental conventions like climate change, biodiversity and land degradation,” he stated, adding that The Gambia has been accessing some of these resources for many years.
But the support is far from being enough, and Mr Rodriquez admitted that GEF and other partners need to “scale up the finance”.
“The Gambia is a country that is extremely vulnerable to drought, [with]the expansion of the Sahara Desert and its challenges, and the livelihood of many farmers [at stake],” he said.
He stressed the need to train young farmers, empower young women and mobilise resources from many different sources, particularly from the private sector that can contribute to scale up the funding that The Gambia requires.
He observed that none of the LDCs have so far received enough support in their climate fight.
“We need to continue in our efforts to bring more support not only in terms of finance, but the transfer of technology, [and improve]the south-south cooperation. All of these help us to be more resilient to climate change,” he stressed.
One curious episode affecting The Gambia is the lack of a financial needs assessment in its adaptation and mitigation plans.
“The Gambia has a good national adaptation plan, but it doesn’t have a financial needs assessment. They need to define what their financial needs are so that GEF can help,” he added.
The minister for finance, Seedy Keita, said the only option for The Gambia is to be forward looking.
“We cannot say for sure what will happen [here in Doha in terms of climate financing]but let us take the first baby steps, which is going to demonstrate the effect of our performance moving forward. We are confident if we deliver, the international community and the financial market will respond. And who knows, we can attain our target depending on execution. But if we don’t deliver, we can’t expect much,” Minister Keita said.
He explained how LDC5 is much mirrored with the National Development Plan (NDP) of The Gambia, which according to him is a green and recovery-focused NDP. “In that, we hope to mobilise resources leveraging on our excellent position in delivering our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) to the climate targets. We hope our development partners and the financial market will be sensitive to our demands and respond to our needs,” he stated.
Speaking earlier in his opening remarks at the LDC5 event, UN chief Antonio Gutteres said LDCs need a revolution in climate support. “No effort must be spared to addressing the financing challenges both for renewables as well as for climate resilient investments in LDCs.
“Combatting climate catastrophe that you did nothing to cause is impossible when the cost of capital is sky-high and the financial support you receive to mitigate and adapt to the destruction is a drop in the bucket,” the UN chief said.
But Ms John Manjang said that capital alone will not be enough to address The Gambia’s climate challenges. According to her, people must be aware and accept that climate variability is a reality.
“People need to accept that climate change is hunting us, and it’s going to reverse our development agenda if we are not careful or respond timely,” she stated.
The Gambia has been busy at the summit mobilising international support in its climate fight, yet still it falls way short of the finance required. And until these changes, its climate goals remain the opposite of reality.