On a recent visit to Malawi, the first for an Irish premier, President Michael D. Higgins spoke of interdependence, reflecting the global nature of human society. On the day marking his third year in office, President Higgins, with his wife and an entourage of Malawi and Irish officials including various Ministers visited Saopampeni in Traditional Authority Mwanza, Salima District in Malawi’s Central Region.

The visit allowed the delegates to witness the progress people had made in building their resilience to a changing climate.

Salima District, like many other Districts in Malawi, is highly dependent on rain-fed agriculture and is very sensitive to less predictable rainfall patterns, higher temperatures and more intense and frequent extreme weather events. It could be considered a climate ‘hot-spot’ where there is a strong overlap between climatic and socio-economic vulnerability for a population that has been rapidly increasing over the last century.

Resilience building interventions, witnessed by the official delegation, in a predominantly agricultural economy included the promotion of crop diversification and drought tolerant crops; improved post-harvest management and grain silos; community seed banks to allow productive autonomy by sharing of robust local varieties; tree nurseries of local and exotic species that enable reforestation and agro-forestry; and ‘value adding’ to agricultural production through marketing of local products from the land. The fruits of these activities were on show in Saopampeni.

In addition to building resilience through agriculture, other integrated interventions such as Civil Protection Committees and Village Savings and Loans schemes help to build on existing health, education and community development initiatives.

Given the climate change emphasis on the programme it is fitting that renewable energy and energy efficiency are both being promoted at Saopampeni. With increasing demand for energy as the population and economy expand, innovative technologies are being promoted in the form of solar lighting and locally made fuel efficient cook stoves. These types of interventions really forge the increasing global nature of human society that President Higgins referred to. Delegates from North and South witnessed how local resilience building and practical examples of cleaner development can happen at the same time. In climate change speak, adaptation and mitigation are happening together.

In December 2015, a new agreement a la “Kyoto II” is likely to be ratified at the annual Conference of Parties of the United Nations Convention for Climate Change. in Paris, France. Interventions witnessed by the delegation at Saopampeni in November 2014 demonstrate to policy makers what can happen on the ground. It shows how resilience building can strengthen local economies and promote community autonomy in a way that is cleaner for our planet. As countries like Ireland reduce their greenhouse gas emissions per capita with the adoption of less carbon intensive development and as countries like Malawi grow in a sustainable manner, global emissions of greenhouse gases can be lowered to a safe level (contraction), resulting from every country bringing its emissions per person to a level which is equal for all countries (convergence). This so-called ‘contraction and convergence theory’ can be made practical and be in keeping with UNFCCCs goal of reaching safe and stable greenhouse gas concentration through the principles of precaution and equity.

At Saopampeni, this was evident. Households accessed better basic energy services through the stoves that they make themselves and through the solar powered light which extends their productive day. They use less wood, have cleaner and safer homes, spend less on firewood and candles, and the children can study longer. All of these benefits with emission reductions at the same time.

As Dr. Donald Kamdonyo, contributor to the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), emphasised at a recent Enhancing Community Resilience Programme (ECRP) conference in Lilongwe in October 2014

The climate change focus for Malawi is on adaptation to build resilience locally but if mitigation is possible in the process that is a welcome benefit.

Countries like Ireland and Malawi need to play their part and work together so that future global greenhouse gas emissions from human sources can be shrunk over time in a measured way to zero net emissions. This is necessary for our co-existence and our interdependence, a theme which President Higgins correctly emphasised in an official address in Lilongwe after returning from the visit to Saopampeni.

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