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Communities taking the blame for the climate crisis. What narratives are we pushing?

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

Africa contributes about 3.6% of greenhouse gas emissions, the least contributor to climate change compared to developed nations yet they face the most adverse impacts of the climate crisis.
Despite having contributed the least to the climate crisis and having the lowest emissions, Africa faces the most impacts and increasing vulnerability posing risks to its economies, energy, water and food systems. Like most countries in Africa, most of Zambia’s population is in the rural areas mainly composed of small-scale farmers accounting for 70% of the population, who are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The country has in the past few years experienced frequent and intensified climate variability such as temperature and precipitation variability, leading to flooding and dry spells, destruction to infrastructure and increased human pest and diseases.

While steps have been taken to address mitigation and adaption strategies, most climate actions do not focus on the intersectionality of climate change and other inequalities as such as gender, the right to food, digital inequality to address the day to day challenges of the women’s lived realities.
While communities understand the concept of a changing global climate, many communities are still unfamiliar with the journey that brings the global community to this juncture, unaware that development in the global North are responsible for this crisis. However, we see communities taking the blame for the crisis they have not caused. Narratives of how the crisis has happened at community level is one that pushes the blame onto marginal communities from the real causers of the crisis because targeted messages that are carried in the communities are shifting blame of climate change onto community members. While communities are engaged in unsustainable environmental practices, they are not responsible for the climate crisis.

Loneness Nyanja, a woman farmer in Rufunsa district is conscious of the impacts of climate change as these impacts are her lived realities. However, her understanding of the cause of climate change and who is responsible for the climate crisis is mostly attributed to her community. When asked to explain her understanding of climate change, impacts and who is responsible for climate change Loneness said, “Climate change is really upon us now; our rivers are easily drying up and are unable to sustain water for the whole year. Because of cutting down of trees, but what I can say is that the reason people cut down trees is for firewood. We have received a lot of visitors who come to teach us the reasons why we should not be cutting down trees because it’s what causing the droughts. That it causes greenhouse gases causing the rains to stop earlier compared to the past years. A lot of people have learnt and have stopped charcoal burning. But now that they have stopped us from charcoal burning and cutting trees, they should give us alternative livelihoods. We are calling on all organisations in climate awareness and the government should provide us with alternative livelihoods for us to support our families.”

Loveness Nyanja, farmer in Rufunsa

While civil society organizations (CSOs) champion climate change awareness and climate action, it is important to reflect on what kind of narratives are being pushed, to reflect on how we enable communities to understand concepts of climate change, who is responsible and who the real causer of climate change is. This will enable communities to engage in policy advocacy that addresses key issues with regards to climate justice.
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