Africa’s Preparation for COP21

Climate change has significant and unequivocal implications for Africa’s development, and poses complex and changing challenges for Africa’s peoples and policy makers.  Addressing climate change has become central to the continent’s development agenda. It is proven that poorer countries and communities will suffer earliest and hardest from global warming because of weaker resilience and greater reliance on climate‐sensitive sectors like agriculture.

Over the last decade or so Africa has generally been experiencing high levels of economic growth. The implications of climate change for the sustainability of this growth, or its translation into development, are immense. The principal climate change concern for Africa is its implications for development and the wellbeing of societies and ecosystems.

In Africa, recent modelling indicates that a temperature increase of 2oC by 2050 is going to be already catastrophic for Africa. It could mean a loss of 4.7% of GNP, most of it as a result of losses in the agricultural sector. A temperature rise of 2.5oC ‐ 5oC would be worse, resulting in hunger for 128 million; 108 million affected by flooding and a sea‐level rise of 15‐95cm, among other catastrophic impacts.

Although the continent contributes only 3.8% of total greenhouse gas emissions, Africa’s countries are among the most vulnerable. Climate variability lies behind much of the prevailing poverty, food insecurity, and weak economic growth in Africa today.  Climate change will increase this variability:

  • The severity and frequency of droughts, floods and storms will increase, leading to more water stress.
  • Changes in agricultural, livestock and fisheries productivity will occur, and
  • The continent will face further food insecurity as well as a spread of water‐related diseases, particularly in tropical areas.

Some 200 million of the poorest people in Africa are food insecure, many through their dependence on climate sensitive livelihoods – predominantly rain‐fed agriculture. Temperature increases and changes in mean rainfall and evaporation are likely to become ever greater and more damaging to livelihoods through the 21st century. 

Given this background, what is the world doing about climate change and why is the Paris Conference of Parties (COP 21) so important, especially for Africa?

The UNFCCC COPs have become important spaces for the continuing global effort to refine and strengthen the international collaborative and regulatory framework on climate change and to improve global climate governance.

The COPs are attended by all governments parties, many non-state actors including  the private sector, civil society representatives as well as bilateral and multi-lateral institutions. COP 21 scheduled for Paris is particularly significant in that it will usher into existence the post-Kyoto Climate order, set to come into being by 2020. 

The evolving global climate governance regime requires that Africa develop ever more nuanced and sophisticated responses to guide the continents engagement at all levels of the climate response. While initially African participation in the COPs was fragmented and uncoordinated, it has increasingly become more organized. Recognizing that Africa stands to be most affected by climate change while contributing the least to greenhouse gas emissions, member States of the African Union have progressively begun to articulate a common position on climate change and to develop  common positions in the negotiations through a streamlined coordination mechanism involving the African Group of Negotiators (AGN), the African Ministers Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC).

The governance of climate change adaptation on the continent requires a review of the nature and trajectory of growth and development processes, the democratization of global systems to achieve equity, and the realignment of decision making processes to facilitate greater public engagement in the formulation of global and national responses to climate change.

The current treaty governing greenhouse gas emissions is the Kyoto Protocol (KP) which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. The objective of the Kyoto Protocol is to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, as required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Protocol currently binds 192 countries (Parties) who are signatories to the Protocol. The Protocol is based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities through which developed countries are obliged to reduce their current GHG emissions on the basis that they are historically disproportionately responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

When it first came into force in 2005, the KP bound signatory industrialized countries to greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets for the period 2008-2012. This was called the first commitment period. The KP thus expired in 2012. However, at the Doha Conference of 2012 participating countries voted to extend the KP until 2020, and also proposed a second commitment period, known as the Doha Amendment, in which 37 countries have binding targets for the period 2012 – 2020. However, several industrialized countries who committed to emissions reductions in the first commitment period have stated that they may:

  • Withdraw from the Protocol altogether; or
  • Not be legally bound by the Doha Amendment and its targets, or
  • Not take on new targets in the second commitment period.

Only a few industrialized states have committed to further CO2 reductions during the second commitment period than in the first period. It is not clear what the cumulative effect of these commitments would be on the goal of limiting global warming to 20C.

Thus several issues are under negotiation leading up to COP 21 in Paris in December 2015. The first is the new global climate governance framework will be required to replace the KP after 2015. Negotiations were already initiated at COP 20 in Lima in 2014 to agree on a post-Kyoto legal framework that would obligate all major polluters to pay for CO2 emissions. The key issues which have emerged after the Lima COP 20, and will constitute the post 2015 agreement at COP 21 are:

  • Pre-2020 mitigation ambition
  • Post-2020 agreement
  • Adaptation
  • Finance
  • Technology and capacity building

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Negotiation text

The African Group of Negotiators (AGN)

Official COP21 website