Climate change impacts, vulnerability and adaptation in Zimbabwe

Executive summary

This paper reviews impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in Zimbabwe, with the intention of providing a broad overview of the key issues related to climate change facing this particular country. It draws on a set of background papers that were produced by the Policy and Advocacy for Climate Change in Zimbabwe project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DfID) and implemented by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), the Zimbabwe Regional Environment Organisation (ZERO) and Dialogue on Shelter. These papers examine climate trends, scenarios and projections for Zimbabwe and draw upon a variety of case studies on adaptation projects. This working paper highlights the main themes, findings and conclusions arising from these studies and examines their implications for future research and policy.

While its primary relevance is for policy-makers, practitioners and researchers in Zimbabwe, it is anticipated that the general lessons are relevant for a broader set of countries that are dealing with similar environmental, demographic and institutional challenges, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Climate records demonstrate that Zimbabwe is already beginning to experience the effects of climate change, notably rainfall variability and extreme events. These conditions, combined with warming trends, are expected to render land increasingly marginal for agriculture, which poses a major threat to the economy and the livelihoods of the poor due to Zimbabwe’s heavy dependence on rain-fed agriculture and climate sensitive resources. It is expected that farmers, who represent approximately 62 per cent of the total population, will bear disproportionate impacts due to their limited adaptive capacity. Consequently, climate change poses a major threat to sustainable development at the micro and macro levels.

Climate change is expected to have adverse effects on a variety of socio-economic sectors that are closely linked to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Climate-induced water stress threatens to decrease the quantity and quality of drinking water in rural and urban areas, reduce the run-off necessary to sustain the country’s hydro-electric power supply, and contribute to declining agricultural productivity.

The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events are likely to intensify the existing natural hazard burdens for at-risk populations (especially in cities) and damage and destroy infrastructure. The increasing geographic range of infectious disease vectors (e.g. malaria) will also affect public health, especially among people living with HIV/ Aids (PLHIV) groups. In addition, climate change is likely to intensify the gender dimensions of vulnerability, especially among female-headed households.

In response, a growing number of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and research organisations, including United Nations (UN) agencies, are engaging in adaptation and development activities using a variety of approaches including community-based adaptation (CBA). Many of the projects demonstrate that autonomous strategies that were effective in dealing with past climate variability are becoming increasingly ineffective for coping with emergent climate change. As a result, there is a growing need for accurate and useful climate data to inform adaptation strategies that can anticipate future climate. Effective climate governance is also needed in order to guide coordinated action.

Zimbabwe has prepared its Second National Communication for submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management has begun to develop a national ‘Climate Change Response Strategy’ through a consultative process involving other government ministries, civil society organisations, academic institutions, and the private sector. Although climate change is addressed by environmental legislation, it is widely recognised that such policies are insufficient in light of the severity of climate change and the scale and scope of vulnerability. Governance is also fraught with institutional challenges, including limited capacity and poor relations between civil society and the government. Within this policy context, applied research has an important role to play in informing the development of adaptation strategies that respond directly to the needs and vulnerabilities of women and men, in raising climate change as a policy priority at all levels, and in informing an integrated approach to future climate policy-making.