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Guest post by Mary Robinson

Mary Robinson is President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, a Board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation and Chair of The Elders. She served as President of Ireland from 1990-1997 and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997-2002.

Climate change in need of action

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

As a passionate campaigner for climate justice, I’ve spoken out that climate change is a key governance issue that requires our urgent attention and action and undermines the enjoyment of the full range of human rights – from the right to life, to food, to shelter and to health. It is an injustice that the people who have contributed least to climate change and rising emissions suffer the worst impacts of climate change – and its disruptive effects. This is the case for many African countries and citizens.

As the former UN secretary general’s envoy on climate change, I’ve seen first-hand the impact climate change has on people’s lives. In some African countries, I saw the devastation brought on poor farmers, villagers and communities when they could not predict when the rainy season was going to come. Take where Lake Chad lies in West Africa and the Sahel region, the effects of climate change there include displacement of people, exacerbation of conflict and severe drought which is creating instability that is being exploited by terrorist groups. Earlier this year, the extreme weather event, Cyclone Idai caused catastrophic damage in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi.

Addressing climate phenomena, the impact it will have on the environment and on citizens is a key governance challenge facing Africa, and the world, and this needs to be at the centre of policy-making.

Various stakeholders gathered at the 2019 UN General Assembly (UNGA) last month, where the UN Climate Action Summit had a prominent place on the agenda. Beyond emblematic international goals and commitments, set out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the Paris Agreement on climate, the African Union’s Agenda 2063 – whose Goal 7 aims for environmentally sustainable and climate resilient economies and communities – there must be African-specific solutions and prevention mechanisms.

Requiring more than mitigation and adaptation, key dimensions of environmental sustainability need to be measured and tracked using robust data. These dimensions include absence of greenhouse gas emissions, sustainable fisheries and aquatic ecosystems, sustainable forests, and recycling and waste management. However, to date, finding suitable data to measure various dimensions of environmental sustainability is challenging. For example, data on greenhouse gas emissions are available for almost every African country, yet the latest available data year is 2010, 2012 or 2014 depending on the variable. Large data gaps are also found with regards to data on sustainable fisheries or wildlife trade.

As we look ahead, tools like the Ibrahim Index of African Governance’s next dataset update can provide a better assessment on how African countries are doing in these key areas of governance. Data is essential to be able to assess needs and priorities, take focussed decisions, efficiently allocate resources and monitor progress. The data landscape must be improved in order to make sound policies.

The climate crisis is a fundamental problem that we must solve and not merely pass on to the generations to come. To do so, we need quality data to inform policy-making.