As my third trip to Malawi in a year came to an end, it was apparent that we have reached a milestone that many might not have thought achievable when we started this project five years ago. On April 4, I attended the launch of Malawi’s new National Greenhouse Gas Inventory System (GHG-IS), where Government of Malawi officials delivered speeches fully endorsing the system. Their message was clear: accurate accounting of greenhouse gas emissions is a pivotal part of helping the nation make good on its commitment to pursue low emissions development strategies and improve resilience to climate change.
Categorized by the UN as a Least Developed Country (LDC), Malawi is a small and landlocked nation with high population density. Most Malawians rely on rainfed agriculture and are highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks, as evidenced by the devastation that Cyclone Idai brought to the region this past March.
By committing to account annually for national greenhouse gas emissions across sectors, Malawi’s Environmental Affairs Department is taking the critical steps to recognize the red flags hoisted by their annual greenhouse gas emissions earlier than many other more developed nations.
This vulnerability attests to Malawi’s need for climate finance, technology transfer and investment to grow sustainably. Recognizing this, Winrock has been supporting the Government of Malawi under the Tetra Tech-led, USAID/Malawi-funded Protecting Ecosystems and Restoring Forests in Malawi (PERFORM) project to develop a custom system to estimate and track greenhouse gas emissions and use that information to strategically direct climate finance and green growth investments.
Described by Tawonga Mbale-Luka, director of Malawi’s Environmental Affairs Department as “a complete and transparent National greenhouse gas Inventory [that] will allow us to understand and project our emissions and trends, and identify sectors for cost-effective emission reduction opportunities,” the GHG-IS includes all economic sectors and adheres to international emissions accounting standards. It also enables Malawi to regularly report emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and support reporting progress toward Nationally Determined Contributions to the Convention. This puts Malawi well in front of most developing nations that seek to lower emissions under the Paris Agreement but do not have the means to reliably estimate them.
A few months before the GHG-IS launch event, I presented estimates of 2010-2017 emissions generated by the GHG-IS to government officials at a workshop on the shores of Lake Malawi. Their understanding and commitment to using that information was inspiring. For example, they found the rising emissions from the waste management (faster than those from any other sector) alarming. This is a result of Malawi’s waste management systems not keeping up with the steadily growing population. “Waste emissions might be low for now,” said Evans Njewa, chief climate finance negotiator for LDCs, “but we need to acknowledge this increasing trend and take action; we know that otherwise these greenhouse gas emissions from waste are only going to go up.”
Findings like these pose challenges but also offer an opportunity for decision-makers in Malawi to take action. Transparency and traceability in the greenhouse gas accounting process are key for understanding where to direct investment and attention. “We need to know what our main sources of greenhouse gas are and which greenhouse gases we are emitting the most,” stressed Ben Yassin, deputy director of the Environmental Affairs Department.
Recognizing that only through a collective effort across all sectors will reliable and comprehensive annual greenhouse gas estimates be produced, government officials have consistently expressed interest in engaging actors from across Malawi’s economic spectrum. The GHG-IS launch event gathered government officials, academics, and representatives from international organizations operating in the country, all of whom will help. By committing to account annually for national greenhouse gas emissions across sectors, Malawi’s Environmental Affairs Department is taking the critical steps to recognize the red flags hoisted by their annual greenhouse g emissions earlier than many other more developed nations. Malawi is taking this opportunity to set a powerful example of how integrating greenhouse gas accounting into policy and decision-making can be done. And Winrock is excited to be part of this journey.
This blog was originially published on Winrock International's EarthTech blog.
Blanca Bernal works at the Ecosystem Services Unit in Winrock International, where she applies science-based approaches oriented to creating resilient and sustainable communities and to mitigating climate change.