Signing of Paris Agreement a milestone on Malawi’s path to climate-resilience

Sep 26, 2016

H.E., President Arthur Peter Mutharika, signs the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations on September 20, 2016, in the presence of the Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, Miguel de Serpa Soares

H.E., President Arthur Peter Mutharika, signs the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at the United Nations on September 20, 2016, in the presence of the Under-Secretary General for Legal Affairs and United Nations Legal Counsel, Miguel de Serpa Soares.

At the High-Level Event on Entry into Force of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, held on September 21, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon characterized climate change as the “defining issue of our generation”.   It is clear that the international community shares his sense of urgency. Earlier this week, sixty countries formally joined the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, passing one of the two thresholds for the climate deal’s entry into force. These countries represent 48% of global greenhouse gas emissions, falling just short of the second threshold of 55%.  With this hurdle surmounted, the UN is ever more confident that the Paris Agreement will enter into force this year, making what once seemed impossible now inevitable. 

Among its many benefits to help move the world towards a greener and cleaner future, the Paris Agreement provides an internationally accepted framework for interventions on climate change and enables signatories to access new sources of funds to tackle climate change effects such as floods, drought and hunger. 

Nowhere is the need for climate action more pressing than in Malawi.   The devastating floods in 2015 impacted more than 1.1 million people, displaced 230,000 people, and killed 176 people, while causing damage amounting to US$ 286 million. A severe drought continues today to affect millions of vulnerable people, induced by an unusually strong El Niño, with loss and damage totaling US$365 million and requiring recovery interventions estimated at US$ 500 million. An estimated 6.5 million Malawians – 39% of the population – face food shortages and nutrition risks due to the ongoing drought. In the coming months, the effects of La Niña pose a real risk that the same regions affected by drought may also face severe flooding.  The impacts of these cyclical weather phenomena are exacerbated by soil and forest degradation, and made more complex because of the ‘new normal’ of a changing climate.

These climate-related shocks underscore the significance of Malawi joining over 186 other countries earlier this week to become a signatory to the Paris Agreement.  This welcome news paves the way for Malawi’s eventual ratification of the agreement through parliament, and secures its seat at the global table to shape the global rules for low-carbon development and to accelerate domestic and international investment to adapt its economy, particularly its agriculture, energy, transportation systems, to the impacts of a changing climate. 

To put Malawi on a pathway towards climate-resilient and sustainable development, we must first safeguard the country’s fragile development gains.  Unprecedented climate-induced disasters risk erasing past, present and future development dividends, especially for the poorest, and even in those regions of Malawi that are accustomed to managing major disaster risks. 

We know that humanitarian needs will shrink once communities can arrest and reverse environmental degradation and transition to more sustainable pathways to prosperity.  That’s why UN partners in Malawi will continue to support women’s empowerment, quality education for all, food security and nutrition, climate-smart agriculture, social protection, private sector-led economic diversification, and renewable energy, while also expanding investment in strengthening early warning systems, disaster risk reduction, and preparedness.

As ratification of the agreement works its way through Malawi’s parliament,  action is needed on other fronts.  The range of public investments that Malawi makes over the next 10 to 20 years will determine its ability to adapt to a changing climate.  Building long-term resilience requires sustained investment in large national programmes that all development partners can stand behind to tackle pressing issues such soil and forest loss, watershed restoration, and access to clean energy.  Working in silos will not get Malawi to where it needs to be.  This means that managing climate risk must be at the heart of Malawi’s development planning, including its next generation national development plan. Financial flows at sector level for climate action need to be better tracked and, at the same time, a comprehensive system for managing all sources of climate finance needs to be put in place so that all stakeholders can work together under the guidance of a medium-term expenditure plan for climate change that is defined, implemented and monitored by Malawians.  

By signing the Paris Agreement earlier this week, Malawi has reaffirmed its commitment to tackle its climate challenge. Let’s use this opportunity to work together to put Malawi on a greener and climate-resilient pathway.