Can Zambia Have Health Benefits from Using Renewable Energy?

by Rodgers Phiri
(Lusaka, Zambia)

Solar panels (Rural Electrification Authority)

Solar panels (Rural Electrification Authority)

A recent Harvard report highlights that phasing out fossil fuels and replacing them with renewable energy could save millions of dollars in health costs.

As of now, the government of Zambia spends millions of dollars to provide medical services to its citizens, of which 90% of the diseases are as a result of the effects of climate change.

In the past ten years, more occurrences of diarrhea, floods and drought have been recorded in the country.

The problem of climate change is mainly caused by the increased release of carbon compounds into the atmosphere and the faster rate of deforestation.

The increase in temperatures due to the increased release of greenhouse gases has also contributed to the increased occurrences of diseases, especially diarrhea.

Health Costs from Burning Fossil Fuels

The report which was published in the journal Nature Climate Change, looked at regional health costs from burning fossil fuels, and the potential savings that could be made through implementing renewable energy and efficiency projects.

For instance, the mining companies operating in the Copperbelt of Zambia release a lot of carbon dioxide into the surrounding residential areas, others at least try to spend money in order to help protect the communities, while others leave the responsibility upon the government.

The rivers are polluted and money which is used to treat the people could be used for something else such as developing infrastructure in the communities if all burning of fossil fuels could be reduced or stopped entirely.

Production of electricity and the use of automobiles cause climate change which is contributing to the increase in health complications among Zambian citizens.

A Need for Change

A challenge is now posed upon the authorities to consider advocating for low carbon production systems among the companies bidding for contracts in the country. These companies which show willingness and ability to reduce on the use of fossil fuels and decide to depend on renewable energies should be the ones to be given first priority when awarding contracts.

It is discouraging to note that the country is suffering massive load shedding even when Zambia has abundant sunlight, a source of energy which is efficient and carbon free. This source of energy doesn’t put the communities at risk. Also, the country can save a lot of money once it considers making use of the sunlight we have and reduce health costs caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Reduction in carbon emissions implies reduced cases of climate change caused diseases. On the other hand, this implies that the country will also reduce its spending on medical treatments for the public.

It is important that the country considers long term plans to reduce carbon emissions by 2030. Reducing carbon emissions has appeared to be more beneficial compared to continued higher carbon emissions and curing the effects of greenhouse gases. In most instances, the effects are not even treated; the effects keep increasing thereby affecting the people in communities who don’t have the capacity to protect themselves.

Effects of Climate Change

Science has already proven that burning all the available fossil fuels would “eliminate” the ice sheets of Antarctica and raise sea levels by 58 metres.

This would cause havoc around the world, putting the world’s major low-lying cities at considerable risk, perhaps even wiping them off the map.

This also implies that the occurrence of floods is yet to increase if the current carbon emission rate is not reduced through putting in place short and long term carbon emission solutions.

Zambia should be part of the group to support the United Nations climate negotiators who are advocating for the need to set a mid-century target to eliminate fossil fuels.

Planning Ahead

In June, Uganda’s lead negotiator asserted that on behalf of 48 of the world’s least developed nations, they believe that “Total emissions need to reach zero between 2060 and 2080.”

In line with this, nearly 130 countries have now come forward to support a long-term goal in the Paris Agreement, to be decided upon on December.

Since Zambia is facing almost all the effects of climate change, it should be in the forefront in advocating and implementing short-term and long term goals towards climate change.

Islamic Declaration on Climate Change

This would be a difficult decision for many of the world’s big coal and oil exporting countries, especially OPEC countries. But Zambia needs to set an example because it will be for the good of the people.

However, in August, Islamic leaders even followed Uganda’s lead by issuing a Islamic declaration on Climate Change, calling on Muslims around the world to work towards phasing out greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and a 100% renewable energy strategy.

We as well in Zambia can learn from this movement and bring about change which will benefit not only the current generation, but also future generations.

This declaration was endorsed by the Grand Mufti’s of Lebanon and Uganda, along with prominent Islamic scholars and teachers from 20 countries, at a symposium in Istanbul in August.

A decision such as this would prove critical for protecting against increased ice melt in Antarctica, but, according Harvard researcher Buonocore, would also make sense in terms of human health, as he highlights.

Zambia Is Taking Action

It is encouraging to know that Zambia is taking important steps towards tackling climate change across the country. The country has developed an innovative overall vision through the National Climate Change Response Strategy and Policy.

The policy is a nationally coordinated and multi-sectorial response to combat climate change in more comprehensive and systematic manner.

The challenge posed on the government now is to speed up the implementation process and formulate National Action Plans in short periods which should be ready for implementation, considering replacing fossil fuels with renewable sources of energy and improve people’s health.

2015 May Be the Warmest Year on Record

The temperatures are rising each and every year. According to scientists, 2015 is predicted to be warmer than any other year in history. It is for this reason that the government and Zambia at large needs to champion the planting of trees to strengthen natural carbon sinkers and set up large solar panels to trap the light.

The development projects which Zambia implements are also contributing to climate change, it is for reason that Zambia needs to consider including a climate change action plan section in each and every developmental project. To ensure that sources of energy in those projects are renewable and do not contribute to complications in human health.

It is through short term climate resilient and low emission development in line with Zambia’s national development strategies and aspirations of over 13 million people who are adversely affected by climate change impacts. It is very much reasonable to have short term and long term plans for climate change because it is also changing in short term.

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