Squeezed between the expanding Sahel in the north and the Gulf of Guinea to the south, Benin is enduring drought, flooding, pests devouring its staple cassava crop, and rising sea levels threatening its mangrove ecosystems and highly populated coastline.
Faced with these climate challenges, the country’s government and local communities are stepping up their response.
“Our GLFx Porto-Novo chapter intervenes mainly through awareness sessions for children and young people and through tree planting, with the main aim of mitigating these effects on the well-being of the populations,” says Horace Gnimassoun, a member of the chapter.
Based in Benin’s capital, the chapter is working with local affiliate Craddes ONG to advocate for the environment, raise awareness of poaching and wood cutting, organize community clean-ups and train farmers in sustainable agriculture. Last year, students and other volunteers also planted 1,000 trees to provide a bulwark against a changing climate and to revitalize depleted landscapes.
“The young people we work with approach climate change through the consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, such as a lack of rain and intense heat,” says Gnimassoun, pointing to the extreme weather Benin has experienced in the past decade.
GLFx Porto-Novo and Craddes embody the advocacy and lifestyle changes we need globally to both mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis, which is set to take a heavy toll on West Africa: up to 32 million people could be displaced by its effects by 2050 if nothing is done.
“Behavioral change, infrastructure change, and more efficient end-use technologies can all make a difference and can help to decarbonize our economies quickly,” says Felix Creutzig, professor of sustainability economics at the Technical University of Berlin and co-author of a recent paper on demand-side climate solutions.
“Key options are diet shifts towards plant-based meals, compact cities designed for walking, cycling and public transport, and the sustainable electrification of everything – bikes, cars, heat pumps. Public policies, urban management, and rules that treat material resource use for everyone equally are important steps to reorganize our lives.”
Such low-carbon, plant-based lifestyles are already the norm in many countries in the Global South, particularly for people living in rural areas. Now, the challenge is to support and implement grassroots initiatives that promote climate-friendly changes at the national level while also supporting social and economic development.
“Many developing countries have already set up strong legal frameworks for climate-smart and nature-based solutions,” says Pham Thu Thuy, a scientist at CIFOR-ICRAF. “The challenge lies in translating these policies into practice by installing the right enabling conditions, such as sufficient financial incentives, strengthening law enforcement, and increasing stakeholders’ awareness through hands-on environmental education programs.”
Benin, home to roughly 13 million people, sets an example of how such climate action can work at the national level. Last year, it submitted its first National Adaptation Plan to the United Nations, aiming to build climate resilience across eight areas: agriculture, water resources, health, coastal zones, forestry, energy, infrastructures and urban development, and tourism.
Working with Sustainable Energy for All, Benin is also pursuing clean energy through solar and wind mini-grids for the two-thirds of its population who currently live without access to electricity.
More broadly, Thuy says many countries in the Global South have made similar progress on climate mitigation in the past two decades – with much of the success coming from those on the frontlines of the climate crisis.
“Many local communities and Indigenous people have already designed and implemented cost-efficient and locally led climate-smart and nature-based solutions, even in isolated and poor areas,” she says. “Taking stock of traditional and Indigenous knowledge is as important as developing new knowledge or technologies.”
In Benin and other emerging economies, groups like Craddes embody this knowledge and are harnessing it for climate action at the local level, working in stride with national-level initiatives as the world continues to heat up.
To quote one young woman at a GLFx Porto-Novo tree planting event last year: “Come, run to this gathering, don’t waste any time – for time that is lost cannot be made up.”