Should Africa Sign the Paris Climate Agreement?

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia 29 Feb 2016 (ClimDev-Africa) - Two months after the adoption of the Paris Agreement on climate change, the euphoria with which national delegations and observers greeted the “breakthrough moment for global climate governance” is gradually giving way to calm introspection among African stakeholders on what the Continent’s strategy should be going forward to the signing, ratification and, eventual implementation in 2020. 
A recent seminar held by the Special Initiatives Division (SID) of the Economic Commission for Africa debated the question “Should Africa sign the Paris Climate Agreement?” which was brokered by leaders of 195 countries at United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris in December. 
Opening the seminar, Ms. Fatima Denton, Director of SID and Coordinator of the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) said that the Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 heralds a new dawn in the evolution of climate change governance and multilateral diplomacy.  
She identified a number of take away messages from the historic conference:  “Climate change is not only a threat to economic prosperity, but puts the whole foundation of sustainable development in jeopardy; it heightens the grave economic risks that humanity faces if a business-as-usual trajectory continues coupled with an increasing appetite for fossils fuel as the main growth formula.” 
Ms. Denton invited panelists to share their reflections on what the agreement means for Africa. The panel was composed of five senior scientists of the African Climate Policy Centre: Frank Rutabingwa, Senior Natural Resources Expert; Wilfran Moufouma-Okia, Climate Science Expert; Johnson Nkem, Senior Climate Adaptation Expert; James Murombedzi, Senior Governance Expert; Joseph Intsiful, Senior Climate Science Expert; and, Linus Mofor, Senior Energy and Climate Change Expert.
Although it is still a long way to the 2020 implementation of the Agreement, James Murombedzi, emphasized the need for Africa to have a strategy going forward before hastily ratifying the agreement or Africa’s interests could be compromised in the global climate arena. 
Johnson Nkem argued that Africa should ratify the agreement but it requires more work to fully understanding of the context and content of the agreement especially as regards to Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) the key means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the Agreement. 
“While INDCs are designed to keep global temperature below 2C, they offer African countries opportunities to realign their economic development along low carbon intensive pathways.  However, the means of implementation of the NDCs, and upholding adaptation which is of prime importance for Africa, needs to be fully understood. This is crucial in moving from ratification to implementation of the agreement", he stressed.
The UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has convened a high level signing ceremony on 22 April 2016 in New York, although the agreement can only enter into force once a total 55 countries (representing at least 55 percent of emissions) will ratify it.  Linus Mofor, explained that although unlikely, even if all of Africa did not sign the Agreement, it could still enter into force if because Africa’s emissions constitute only small fraction of global discharges. 
“So, Africa should ratify and implement the agreement”, he says, arguing that “the question should not be whether or not African countries should sign the Paris Agreement. He said the Agreement is like a doughnut: some will look at it and see the ring others while others will see the hole. African countries should see the ring of and identify strategies to work within the UNFCCC framework to make the COP21 decisions work in their favour,” Mofor explained.
Joseph Intsiful supported the need for Africa to sign and ratify the agreement because “it all boils down to managing climate risks for the continent.” 
“For Africa to effectively manage climate risks and take advantage of the opportunities that climate variability and change presents, it must build a strong climate information and knowledge society that can harness its unique potential and resources for its long-term sustainable development.
“Investments in science and technology must be significant enough to bring about the transformational change that is required to manage the multi-sectoral risks presented by climate variability and change. Without the appropriate policies that will drive African innovation based on robust science and technology, Africa will not be able to meet its long-term sustainable development goals”, he explained.
In conclusion, Ms. Denton said that, like in most international agreements, the devil is always in the detail. “Africa has to capitalize on the current capacities of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) as well as on the expertise gained in the establishment of INDCs in different countries to fashion an appropriate pre-2020 road map that could best suit the continent’s interests in the implementation phase”, she said.
She expressed appreciation for the lively contributions and questions from the floor and  pledged the ACPC’s continued leadership under the ClimDev-Africa Programme in providing the best guidance to Africa’s governments on climate issues and to support the continent’s successful participation at  future COPs. ClimDev-Africa is a collaborative initiative of the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
The Programme has created a solid foundation for Africa’s response to climate change through the investments in climate data and information as well in the provision of climate information services and policy support.
ClimDev-Africa has been a catalyst in strengthening Africa’s negotiating positions at COPs and contributions towards the global climate change discourse.