On the 15th December 2020, UNDP launched a Human Development Report (#HDR2020) themed ‘The Next Frontier – Human Development and the Anthropocene’. The report reflects the relationship between the planet and the people, the impact of human activities on the planet, and need to change social norms and values to maintain balance and sustainability of the planet.
The report posits that today’s ecological and health challenges are a result of human impact on the planet. The social, economic, and political choices, scientific and technological advances, which humans collectively have made overtime, are beginning to put a strain on the planet and its inhabitants. As civilization and quest for human survival progressed, the impact and demand on nature has increased, eroding its natural recourse for renewal and diversity. As a result, instead of ‘people depending on the planet, the planet is now dependent on humans – hence, the Anthropocene; the age of humans.’ The Anthropocene emanates from the imbalance in the distribution, consumption patterns and use of natural resources by humans. The interdependency between the people and the planet, means that human prosperity is dependent on planetary endowment, and vice versa. This opinion piece will attempt to unpack what the Anthropocene means in the context of Lesotho, attempt to identify potential influencing factors and useful local knowledge and solutions, as well as recommend actions and strategies that may be adopted to contribute to abating the pressure on planet and impact on lives and livelihoods of Basotho.
What is the Anthropocene and its drivers in context of Lesotho?
The recent torrential rains have exposed Lesotho’s fragility to climate change. Projected changes to the climate over the next half a century in southern Africa are expected to exacerbate this vulnerability. Mean minimum and maximum temperatures are expected to increase by an average of 1 – 3 degrees Celsius by 2050, bringing along an increased number of very hot days, heat waves and drought intensity. Overall rainfall is expected to decrease over the same period but with probability of intensity of flash rains thus increasing the likelihood of floods. These climatic projections will exacerbate socio-economic and health vulnerabilities and the other pre-existing development challenges.
The Government of Lesotho has declared a six-months state of emergency following destruction of local road infrastructure, public and private buildings and deaths of people due to the heavy rains; this within the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Lesotho is also projected to experience increased poverty rates, widening inequalities and other socio-economic effects due to COVID-19[i].
Lesotho is a pastoral society and no exception to the Anthropocene. Unsustainable management of the natural resources including overharvesting has had a serious challenge of environmental degradation and loss of biodiversity in the country. 70% of the population is dependent on agriculture and nature -based activities, and a large part of relying on biomass as a source of energy. This puts pressure on the natural resource base and increases vulnerability, especially of rural communities. Due to the lengthy spells of drought, at least a quarter of its 2 million inhabitants has been consistently declared food insecure on annual basis for more than a decade.
With limited economic opportunities, Lesotho is experiencing a high youth unemployment, mostly associated with the underperformance of the agriculture and other nature – based sectors. As a primary source of livelihood, this has led to sporadic community conflicts in other areas, leading the government to prioritize immediate short-term gains for employment and economic growth, over medium to long term sustainable development benefits. As a response, the nature-based activities, including mining and quarrying, water harvesting and agricultural activities, have increased, and the emerging countenance is balancing the economic benefits and livelihoods versus the sustainability of priorities, leading to further economic and environmental shocks. Financial institutions such as the European Investment Bank now include environmental impact as a parameter in investment decision of infrastructure projects for example.
Historically the shocks have been costlier on the poor, and the adopted coping mechanism have tended to exacerbate the inequalities in wellbeing and livelihoods. Evidence shows that post the El Nino induced droughts, Lesotho experienced a higher loss of biodiversity due to overharvesting, higher internal urban – rural migration and cross border labour migration in need for alternative sources of livelihoods, especially from the rural areas. These movements breed a new shock and resources needs, resulting in ecosystem transformation, systems deficits, and changes in the ecological systems to ‘suit the human needs and wants‘. Finding alternative preoccupation and livelihood sources for the vulnerable masses, may have implications for the planet as activities in other nature-based sectors increase. The #HDR suggests empowering people, by building equity, innovativeness, and instilling stewardship for the planet to counter over exploitation and strengthen governance systems. This will enhance human capabilities for informed choices, improve livelihoods and enable better access to education which will transform their value system and ethics. In this way, humans become central to minimalizing the pressure on the planet by working with nature not against it.
Governance is at the core of Anthropocene; at sub-national, national, and global levels; the choices made have been mostly influenced by the system of governance, and the chosen values. Institutions with the mandate to oversee and guard against this imbalance need to sufficiently provide robust oversight, ensure that the voice and participation of communities impacted by natural resource use, are effectively sought and heard, guard against skewed governance in favor of big business and relegation of communities to further vulnerabilities. Since climate effects are mostly regional, and the natural resources are communal, a regional perspective may be necessary to address the emerging challenges.
Further, the Anthropocene is perpetuated by the current economic modeling, which does not include the cost on the planet in measuring wealth and growth. Economic actions are linked to human efforts for survival; utilizing or impacting natural resources to a large extend. The effects are not similar across countries, but they also tend to define the sociology, economic, and political geography for most countries. The communities with larger natural resources deposits often realize little to no economic gains, while also bearing higher environmental costs. The #HDR2020 recommends new indexes for measuring economic capabilities, by discounting economic gains with carbon emissions and materials consumptions, which may account for the distribution effects. For beneficiation, environmental and social impacts, costing must be integrated into development and financial planning for better and accurate information for decision making.
Strengthening natural resources governance
In Lesotho, major stakeholder groups to consider in natural resource governance include government, private sector and civil society organization, and individuals, including women, youth, and children. The private sector, communities and government play a central role in extraction and exploitation of national resources, which largely excludes most of the community’s members and beneficiaries in decision-making, except as potential laborers. In building a more equitable regulatory and governance framework for natural resources management in Lesotho, there is a need to decentralize decision – making and information on the natural resources. Building on the existing governance systems, communities should have access to information and tools that enable effective management of contracts and licenses for harvesting and extraction of natural resources. Crowdsourcing information on natural resources and using other innovative data collection tools, may help communities to measure their natural resources endowment, and accordingly make decisions for management, distribution of benefits and sustainability. The European Investment Bank is now factoring in project impact as a parameter in its decisions to fund major infrastructural and other projects.
Achieving ‘climate resilient’ governance is equivalent to restoring power balance between the government and its people, engendering transparency, and accountability at all levels. The recent policy mapping exercise undertaken by Ministry of Development planning with UNDP support has confirmed that only 32/132 government policies have considered climate change effects. The ongoing reforms provide an opportunity to re-design the national governance system and prioritization process, by mainstreaming and embedding multi-stakeholder participation and building incentives for natural resources governance. This will also break the cycle of political conflicts and struggles for power and resources at the national level, unlock private sector investment and employment opportunities in various sectors and divert attention to critical development challenges dogging the country.
Engendering economic gains and natural resources benefits for reversing the Anthropocene
Nature-based activities that include agriculture and mining and quarrying sector play a significant role in Lesotho’s economic growth and its long-term development objectives. To balance economic benefits to environmental costs, the #HDR recommends redesigning the economic structure and anchoring policy prioritization on the intrinsic and extrinsic value of nature – based activities and responses thereof. This has many benefits as it would drive fiscal policy, improving revenue collection and budget prioritization. This could also enable systems thinking and coordination of development activities dispersed across different ministries, including agriculture, transport and intrastate, environment, health, education, and finance.
As a policy measure, Lesotho has an opportunity to augment its revenue collection and support regeneration of nature through carbon pricing and related taxes to achieve distributional equity. While this may be complex i, the essence is in drawing potential benefits that may be derived from natural resources in the country and developing consistent policy framework. Introducing incentives to encourage companies to take advantage of some of the natural resources complements in Lesotho, such as the abundant solar energy and hydropower source, , may encourage innovation, economic competitiveness, and sustainability standards, thus reducing pressure for related public services.
Innovation as a driver to tackle the Anthropocene
Innovation can be a facilitator in tackling the Anthropocene. In response to global warming and climate change driven by increasing emission of greenhouse gasses due to fossil fuels use ; there have been several new technologies which provide alternative sources of energy since the inception of 4IR. Most of these alternatives have been a direct use of self-renewing energy which could gradually accustom human activity to be centered around renewable energy and energy saving modalities. Some of the known inventions or innovations have been highlighted below as examples:
a) Wind energy
b) Fuel efficient stoves
c) Hybrid vehicles
d) Traditional cooling and heating systems
e) Adaptable solar panels
These few examples form a perspective of alternative resource needs which could bring a predominant change and a preferred balance in the usage of natural resources. Technologies on machinery are some of the most heightened contributors of greenhouse emissions and the ideas of innovations that are inclined towards saving the little that the planet has, would bring a much-needed change towards achievement of responsible consumption by 2030.
As part of its 2015 submission on Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCS), Lesotho committed to reduce its emissions unconditionally by 10% by 2030, while its conditional target is 35% by 2030. To increase renewable energy sources by 200 megawatts by 2020. In support of this commitment, the tax regime can be reviewed to encourage transformation in private investments in the renewable energy sector. These and other innovative financial models can support private and domestic consumption.
In conclusion the Age of the Anthropocene requires a longer-term and nature-based perspective in building back better. People must be empowered to participate in decision-making to inform their desired choices by enhancing equity, pursuing innovations, and instilling a sense of stewardship. To achieve a future against climate and other planetary shocks, a system thinking to economic polity transformation, people’s social norms and their agency, is necessary to ensure equitable and sustainable environment. This presents a conclave for traditional value system and knowledge to co-exist with modern techniques for enhancing capabilities, such as the digital technology and urbanization to effectively navigate the Anthropocene.
It is only the future of our children and planet at stake. The time to act is NOW!
#HDR2020 report : http://hdr.undp.org/en/2020-report/download
[i] UNDP 12 June 2020 – Southern Africa
Socioeconomic development and climate risks assessment