Chasing climate goals in a sanctions-targeted country

Zimbabwe is expected to experience increased cyclone activity in the coming months.

Zimbabwe is expected to experience increased cyclone activity in the coming months.

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  • Sanctions against Zimbabwe over human rights violations is impacting its ability to secure capital for certain projects.
  • Zimbabwe has managed to mobilise funding for climate-smart agriculture but struggles to attract investment for renewable energy.
  • The country aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% across all sectors of the economy by 2030.
  • For climate change news and analysis, go to News24 Climate Future.


Washington Zhakata, Zimbabwe’s director of climate change management, is a worried man.

On 10 December 2022, Zimbabwe’s meteorological department announced an increase in cyclone activity in the country over the next four months.

“This season, we are anticipating an increase in cyclone activity in January, February, March, up to April, but in terms of projections we expect five cyclones,” state newspaper The Herald quotes Benjamin Kwenda of the Meteorological Services Department.

The increasing number of cyclones and an accompanying increase in the severity of droughts in a country reliant on rain to produce enough food is not the only thing worrying Zhakata. First and foremost, he’s concerned about money.

“Sanctions have made it difficult to court external investors,” Zhakata says. This is despite the country managing to “mobilise millions of dollars to fund climate-smart agriculture”.

For more than two decades, Western countries, including the United States, European Union member states and the United Kingdom, have been imposing different forms of targeted sanctions against Zimbabwe, citing continued human rights violations and the closure of the democratic space.

In December alone, the US added four Zimbabwean nationals and two Zimbabwean companies to the sanctions list. One of the individuals is Emmerson Mnangagwa Jr., the son of Zimbabwe’s President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

These sanctions have made it difficult for Zimbabwe to attract investors, access foreign markets and get capital for essential projects.

And while the country’s increasingly dynamic agriculture sector has managed to adapt to changing circumstances and mobilise funds locally, Zhakata says Zimbabwe’s exclusion from world capital markets has slowed how it implements its climate change agenda.

In 2021, Zimbabwe announced a revised National Determined Contribution that would see the country reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% across all sectors of the economy by 2030.

According to both Zhakata and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the country’s ambitious climate-smart agriculture projects require “substantial resource mobilisation with international support” in the face of deteriorating climatic conditions.

“Zimbabwe did not experience cyclones before the year 2000. The frequency of such disasters is a call to action from us to rich countries to help with everything from adaptation to climate resilience. We cannot do that without financial resources,” Zhakata says.

Projections are that the country’s maize production – which saw bumper crops in 2021 thanks to good rains – will drop by 33% by 2030.

According to the United Nations Development Programme, the country must raise around US$8 billion by 2030 in adaptation finance. It says the money should go towards dam construction, renewable energy, resilient crops and livestock production.

“Policy documents are there, but implementation has been slowed by lack of resources,” says Wellington Madumira, national coordinator of Climate Action Network Zimbabwe.

For Madumira, the issues go beyond sanctions.

“While Zimbabwe has cited sanctions for the slow uptake of foreign direct investment, human rights and governance issues have impacted how the country attracts investors in critical areas such as hydro-power and renewable energy,” he says.

“Investment promotion in the renewable energy sector is low, and what we have seen is that climate change impact is higher than the pace we are moving to address these issues,” Madumira adds.

For Madumira, addressing climate change is an uphill task as Zimbabwe already faces many economic and political challenges.

The establishment of a loss and damage fund was agreed to at the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27), focusing particularly on vulnerable countries.

For Zimbabwean smallholders like Gilbert Mponda, a farmer in the country’s drought-prone southwest, COP27 could have offered hope. All he wants is the financing required to turn to better farming methods, including irrigation.

“What we need now is not just good rains but what to do when there are no rains,” says Mponda.

While the government claims that sanctions frustrate Zimbabwe’s development plans, some believe the ruling party is using the restrictive measures as an excuse for its failures.

Tapiwa Gomo, an independent climate finance researcher, believes commitment to Zimbabwe’s climate programmes goes beyond money and sanctions.

“While funding is necessary, not everything requires money,” says Gomo.

“In Zimbabwe, one of the most effective ways to address this is to rethink how to effectively and productively use water in the Zambezi River and other water resources for food production, water supply and energy generation,” Gomo adds.

Even for those countries not on anyone’s sanctions list, questions remain about the definition of “particularly vulnerable”.

Zhakata believes all developing countries are vulnerable to climate change, and the criteria for selecting beneficiaries should be revised. He is also not confident that high-emitting countries will honour their latest climate finance commitment, as they failed to meet a 2009 pledge to deliver US$100 billion a year to help poorer countries deal with climate change.

“What is the guarantee that these funds will be deposited?” he asks.

Post published in: Agriculture

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