The shea nuts that go into your Body Shop ‘shea body butter for very dry skin’ come from the savannah belt of West Africa. This is a semi-arid ecosystem that spans the width of the continent, below the Sahara desert. Here grows the shea tree.
Shea butter is used not only in cosmetics, but also in cooking, soaps, and as a wood protector. But harvesting shea nuts is slow, manual work, and many areas of forest are being cleared to make way for intensive, modern agricultural practices. Shea trees are also cut down and used for fuel. And if the human pressures weren’t enough, climate change means this region will only become drier in the years to come.
The impacts of this deforestation will affect more than just your skincare routine.
Shea forests are carbon sinks which means they take carbon dioxide from the air and store it for long periods of time. They also protect countries to the south of the Sahara desert, such as Ghana, from soil erosion.
The health of this ecosystem, therefore, is vital for agricultural productivity. And agricultural productivity is in turn vital for female empowerment in the region. 70% of Ghana’s agricultural activities are carried out by women, so they will be disproportionately affected by any decline in the sector.
Because of the environmental, social and economic importance of its shea forests, Ghana will receive $54.5 million over the next five years from the Green Climate Fund. This is a UN programme to help poorer countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.
The Green Climate Fund is currently financing 159 projects around the world. In northern Ghana, funding will go towards restoring degraded land through re-forestation, and empowering women through better access to financial channels such as loans and access to banks.
It is estimated that the Green Climate Fund will avoid the release of 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide, and increase the resilience of 407.8 million people to changes in their environment.
But where does the UK fit into this story?
Well, the relatively high standards of life enjoyed by those living in the UK are a result of this country’s early industrialisation. That same industrialisation has also exacerbated climate change in other countries, many of them ex-British colonies like Ghana.
The UK has a responsibility to help countries which are now feeling the delayed effects of our fossil fuel-powered industrialisation.
Slashing our foreign aid spending from an already un-generous 0.7% of GNI to 0.5% not only undermines our climate change promises – it undermines our moral integrity, too.
Sending money overseas is never popular with voters. But we have to remember that climate change is not a domestic problem, nor a problem that can be addressed country-by-country. In our interconnected world, how we live here in the UK has complex impacts on other countries. That’s why we need to keep spending on overseas aid, some of which goes towards the Green Climate Fund.
No fewer than five former Prime Ministers objected to the overseas aid cut. They knew that it would diminish the UK’s credibility in the lead up to the UN Climate Ambition Summit – which we are hosting in 2021.
If countries like the UK, which bear globally-reaching responsibility for climate change, won’t make meaningful commitments to its mitigation, how can we possibly convince other countries to make their own pledges?
Image: Faye Saulsbury