‘Develop legal instruments to fight climate change’

Sifelani Tsiko-Agric & Innovations Editor

Zimbabwe must step up efforts to come up with legal frameworks for climate change to enable the country to avoid catastrophes and reactionary emergencies that are costly. 

Climate experts who met recently at a workshop organised by UN-Habitat and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) said Zimbabwe was spending huge amounts of money on climate emergencies which in many cases had not been budgeted for.

“We are supporting Zimbabwe through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to come up with its own legal framework that will make sustainable urban planning a reality in the country,” said Anna Hoffman-Kwanga, country representative of KAS to Zimbabwe. 

“Laws play an important role in supporting climate change action. It is a tool for laying out the ground for decision making and implementing urban planning.” 

Experts drawn from UN agencies, government, civil society organisations, research institutions, local authorities and universities met to review the governance framework for urban and climate planning, a law and climate change tool kit, as part of efforts to promote climate smart cities. 

The meeting was being held at a time when Zimbabwe was experiencing a rising tide in weather related natural disasters that have led to loss of lives, destruction of property and infrastructure running into millions of dollars. 

“We need laws that address climate change in development plans such as our drainage systems, building standards and key issues around energy efficiency, waste management and emissions,” said Lawrence Mashungu, a government climate change mitigation expert. 

“Zimbabwe has climate change policies, but we need to go further to come up with our own locally suitable laws that will guide and support our action plans. We need to put these climate change policies into something that is enforceable.” 

UN-Habitat in collaboration with the Regional Office for Africa, Climate Change Unit and relevant country offices, is supporting Malawi, Namibia, and Zimbabwe in achieving resilient and low carbon urban development by improving the understanding of and building the capacities on legal frameworks. 

The project includes country assessment of existing urban laws on climate change for resilience and low carbon urban development. 

This project has been funded by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) and will directly benefit the national governments of Malawi, Zimbabwe, and Namibia while the urban dwellers of the three countries will indirectly benefit from the improved capacities and knowledge of national governments to support climate-friendly urban development through legal frameworks. 

Experts urged legislators to craft laws that deal with or support renewable energy targets and non-fossil fuel obligations, energy efficiency standards, building standards and performance. 

Zimbabwe and most other African countries still do not have legal frameworks on climate change which should be the vehicle for implementing the Paris Agreement. 

“We need to put laws and systems that support climate action. Our cities must promote walkways and cycle tracks that promote non-motorised modes of transport,” Mashungu said. 

UN-Habitat was working closely with Zimbabwean climate experts to make them better equipped to make localised decisions to tackle climate change. 

“Climate change is the defining issue of our time and it requires deliberate and sustained action from both state and non-state actors to implement the Paris Agreement,” said Samuel Njuguna, a UN-Habitat lawyer specialising in international comparative urban law and governance. 

“Urban law plays an important role in increasing cities’ resilience as law defines urban forms where land, infrastructure and basic services can be built.” 

He told participants that UN-Habitat had developed an Urban Law Module of the Law and Climate Change toolkit — to assist countries in building the necessary legal frameworks for effective domestic implementation of the Paris Agreement and their Nationally Determined Contributions. 

The UN agency was working closely with climate and urban planning experts to develop climate laws that address environmental priorities and guide best practices to improve national and local responsiveness to climate change, enhancing Zimbabwe’s resilience and sustainability. 

“Both our urban and rural settlements are being severely affected by the adverse impacts of climate change and we need to develop climate change laws that will help minimise the impact on people, livelihoods and infrastructure,” said Shamiso Mtisi, an environmental law expert. 

“Law is a powerful tool that can be used to direct both our urban and rural planning designs in a way that is sensitive to climate change related problems. I am also confident that it will spur action to help Zimbabwe meet its climate change goals at both local and international level.” 

Mtisi said the laws sought to guide the development of smart cities through proper physical infrastructure assets, new technologies and connectivity and transportation systems with safety and security features that minimise the impact on people. Zimbabwe had so many laws on urban planning and environmental management that were disjointed and cumbersome.

Experts said there was need for reform and the harmonisation of the laws to effectively deal with problems that come with climate change. 

Zimbabwe and most other Southern Africa have not been spared from weather-related disasters. 

The region is now experiencing an average or above-average number of tropical cyclones every season. 

At least 16 districts across six provinces in Zimbabwe were affected by heavy rains and floods early this year. 

Tropical Storm Ana caused floods and damage affecting 845 houses and 51 schools. The storms left about 10 dead. 

Tropical Cyclone Idai, the worst in more than 50 years, brought heavy rainfall and strong winds to Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe between March 5 and 19 2019, causing severe flooding which led to loss of lives, destruction of infrastructure, disruption of livelihoods and destruction of crops. 

The cyclone affected four provinces in Zimbabwe namely, Manicaland, Masvingo, Midlands and Mashonaland East. 

It also affected more than 270 000 people, leaving 341 dead and many others missing. 

Experts say there is need for tailored legislative responses to the unique domestic situations of Zimbabwe that will address issues related to infrastructure designs in flood prone areas, while at the same time providing legal options that will enhance climate change response and adaptation on energy, land development and zoning and many other aspects related to the environment. 

Zimbabwe has main-streamed climate change in its national budget. 

A total of $54,2 billion was set aside for climate change programmes in the 2022 national budget. UNDP was supporting the Government and other local authorities to implement programmes that promote the concept of smart cities. 

“It is time that African countries change their law making processes to include climate change related issues,” said Njuguna. 

“The cost of having a law that is not effective is very high. 

We need to develop climate laws that are implementable and could help minimise loss of lives and damage to property and infrastructure.”

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