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Calls for Basotho to Collectively Protect the Environment in Line with Pope Francis’ Message

09 October 2023 by Pascalinah Kabi

Pope Francis attends his weekly General Audience at the Paul VI Hall on August 09, 2023 in Vatican City, Vatican. Credit: Vatican Media/ Getty Images

The whir of a tractor roars into life in Ha Raliile, a small village nestled in the Sehlabeng plateau in Berea.

The tractor belongs to farmer and businessman Thabiso Mokone. Mokone trades in renting the tractor to other farmers in the area and, selling fresh maize to street vendors.

“This year I am worried,” Mokone said.

Lesotho’s agriculture is predominately characterised by rain-fed cereal production. With climate change-induced drought creeping in, farmers like Mokone are troubled. They fear that their vulnerability to climate change will worsen.

According to a July 2021 study into the effects of climate change on Africa, Lesotho and other sub-Saharan countries are most vulnerable to the changing climate due to their very low capacity to adapt to or mitigate climate change.

The study, titled Climate Change, Land, Water, and Food Security: Perspectives From Sub-Saharan Africa, says the “warming on the African continent is projected to be greater than the global average, with an increased average temperature of 3–6°C by the end of the century under a high Representative Concentration Pathway.”

Earlier this month, Pope Francis said some countries experience severe droughts “every time the global temperature increases by 0.5° C.”

“We know that every time the global temperature increases by 0.5° C, the intensity and frequency of great rains and floods increase in some areas and severe droughts in others, extreme heat waves in some places and heavy snowfall in others,” Pope Francis said.

Although African countries like Lesotho have contributed far less to carbon emissions, they are hit hardest by effects of climate change.

“The effects of climate change are borne by the most vulnerable people, whether at home or around the world,” Pope Francis said.

World nears breaking point

As Lesotho celebrated its 57th Independence Day on 4 October 2023, the Head of a Catholic Church released a new apostolic exhortation that urges swift action on “climate crisis.” 

“Despite all attempts to deny, conceal, gloss over or relativise the issue, the signs of climate change are here and increasingly evident,” Pope Francis said.

Pope Francis has released that while “the world in which we live is collapsing and may be nearing the breaking point,” the world’s responses to climate change are inadequately shocking.

He says it was regrettable that global crises are being squandered when they could be the occasions to bring about beneficial changes.

“This is what happened in the 2007-2008 financial crisis and again in the Covid-19 crisis. For the actual strategies developed worldwide in the wake of [those crises] fostered greater individualism, less integration and increased freedom for the truly powerful, who always find a way to escape unscathed.” 

Pope Francis invited the world to recognise that “many groups and organisations within civil society help to compensate for the shortcomings of the international community, its lack of coordination in complex situations, and its lack of attention to fundamental human rights.”

Pope Francis’ new letter, Laudate Deum, was released ahead of the Conference of Parties28 scheduled for United Arab Emirates from November 30 to December 12 2023.

Conference of Parties (COP) is the apex decision-making body of the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention (UNFCCC). Since 1994, UNFCCC has organised 27 Conferences, bringing together world leaders, scientists, strategists and civic groups to discuss and decide on best possible solutions to mitigate effects of climate change.

But a little has been done to date, with Pope Francis saying many Conferences have yielded “scarce results”. He says while the 2022 Egypt Conference is another example of difficult negotiations, it at least marked a step forward in consolidating a system for financing “loss and damage” in countries most affected by climate disasters.

“This would seem to give a new voice and a greater role to developing countries. Yet here too, many points remained imprecise, above all the concrete responsibility of the countries that have to contribute.”

Stop romanticising climate change

Pope Francis describes the COP28 host, United Arab Emirates (UAE), as a great exporter of fossil fuels. He notes that gas and oil companies are planning new projects in UAE, with the aim of further increasing their production.

“To say that there is nothing to hope for would be suicidal, for it would mean exposing all humanity, especially the poorest, to the worst impacts of climate change.

“If we are confident in the capacity of human beings to transcend their petty interests and to think in bigger terms, we can keep hoping that COP28 will allow for a decisive acceleration of energy transition, with effective commitments subject to ongoing monitoring.

“This Conference can represent a change of direction, showing that everything done since 1992 was in fact serious and worth the effort, or else it will be a great disappointment and jeopardise whatever good has been achieved thus far,” Pope Francis said.

He reckons that the world must move beyond the mentality of appearing to be concerned but not having the courage needed to produce substantial changes. 

He insists that “to seek only a technical remedy to each environmental problem which comes up is to separate what is in reality interconnected and to mask the true and deepest problems of the global system.

“To suppose that all problems in the future will be able to be solved by new technical interventions is a form of homicidal pragmatism, like pushing a snowball down a hill.

“Once and for all, let us put an end to the irresponsible derision that would present this issue as something purely ecological, “green”, romantic, frequently subject to ridicule by economic interests. Let us finally admit that it is a human and social problem on any number of levels. For this reason, it calls for involvement on the part of all,” Pope Francis said.

He argues that if the world is sincere about making COP28 a historic event that honours and ennobles human beings, he is hopeful for binding forms of energy transition that meet three conditions.

“That they be efficient, obligatory and readily monitored. This, in order to achieve the beginning of a new process marked by three requirements: that it be drastic, intense and count on the commitment of all.

“That is not what has happened so far, and only a process of this sort can enable international politics to recover its credibility, since only in this concrete manner will it be possible to reduce significantly carbon dioxide levels and to prevent even greater evils over time.”

He then makes a clarion call that strategists at the COP28 must consider the common good and the future of their children over the short-term interests of certain countries or businesses.

“In this way, may they demonstrate the nobility of politics and not its shame. To the powerful, I can only repeat this question: “What would induce anyone, at this stage, to hold on to power, only to be remembered for their inability to take action when it was urgent and necessary to do so?”

Let us protect nature

In its January 2023 report, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) said at least 320 000 faced acute levels people food insecurity in Lesotho and the situation was expected to persist until March 2023, just prior to the main harvest period for the 2023 crops.

The UN organisation says over 60 percent of the acutely food insecure people are located in rural areas. “The overall level of food insecurity is above the five year average, mainly driven by the exceptionally low crop production obtained in 2022 and high prices of food,” read the FAO report.

Local environment activist, Mantopi Lebofa, says it is sad that an ordinary Mosotho who cannot afford to buy food is struggling to produce enough to feed themselves because of negative impacts of climate change.  

Mantopi Lebofa is the Founder and Director of the Lesotho-based NGO: Technologies for Economic Development (TED). Credit: Internet.

“When people go and buy food from the supermarkets, a fellow Mosotho at grassroots expects to produce food from their fields. Yet, they cannot produce anything because the land is dry, there is no water,” Lebofa told Uncensored News on 10 October 2023.

She echoes Pope Francis’ message that while individual efforts are necessary, communal, national and international efforts are urgently needed to mitigate against impact of climate change with an ordinary Mosotho in mind.  

“Truth of the matter is that poor communities are hit hardest by climate change. It is the people that live on farming who will be most affected. We are now in the El Nino period and it hits hardest communities at the grassroots level,” Lebofa.

She says Pope Francis’ message should inspire Basotho to appreciate that education on environmental protection should begin from within families because the existence of human beings is tied to nature.

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4 indicates that “education enables upward socio-economic mobility and is a key to escaping poverty.” Lebofa says education on sustainable development should start within family set-ups, teaching every family member to love and protect things around, including nature.

“Such education will extend to school and churches.  Environment in itself is a loan to us. Are we giving children a world that is in a better condition or are we hurting it even more? Then we are committing suicide because the more we destroy nature, the more we are hurting as individuals,” Lebofa said.

She concluded: “We need to care for the environment as Basotho.”

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