From Hotspot to Climate-smart Hub

Climate change has dominated the international agenda over the last quarter of 2014. From the UN climate week in New York to the Asia-Pacific Cooperation Summit in Beijing all the way to the G-20 meeting in Brisbane, the clear and present danger of unchecked rises in temperature levels has finally hit home. Setting aside old divides, world leaders have come forward with bold announcements and pledges in a bid to arrest climate change. The unfolding developments represent a watershed that will help break the long stalemate in global climate talks with the promise of ushering a new era of low-carbon future. This turn of events has led many to believe that the momentum for climate action is gathering steam ahead of the Lima Summit this month for a successful post-Kyoto agreement in Paris in 2015. 

Deals and Pledges 

One of the main highlights in recent months has been the deal brokered between the world’s biggest polluters, the US and China, which together account for close to 40% of global carbon emissions (China and US Make Historic Climate Change Agreement). The US agreed to reduce emissions by 2025, while China committed to a CO2 peak by 2030. At the rhetorical level at least, such pledges provide a degree of comfort to all stakeholders that the world is finally serious about a low-carbon future. 

The announcement of fresh climate finance towards the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was another potential dealmaker. This is good news for African countries that are gearing up to push for additional funding at the Lima Summit (African countries demand $7 billion for green fund by December).  

The GCF is a financing mechanism of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) set up to support mitigation and adaptation efforts of developing countries.  

By September, the New York Summit had only managed to mobilize $2.3 billion in pledges from six countries (UN Climate Summit: Ban Ki-Moon Final Summary). Subsequent pledges, notably $3 billion from the US and $1.5 billion from Japan (United States and Japan Announce $4.5 billion in pledges to Green Climate Fund (GCF), further boosted the GCF’s initial capitalization. At the Berlin Pledging Conference in mid-November, the GCF secured a total of $9.3 billion in pledges, yet failing to match the initial target of $10 billion (Climate fund receives $9.3bn pledge). Still, hopes are high to meet, and even exceed this target before the end of this year ($9.3 billion Pledged to Green Climate Fund).  

Finance, together with technology development and transfer and capacity building, is high on Africa’s climate agenda. Instead of adding to the already complex climate finance architecture, the GCF should be innovative in its approaches to channeling climate finance to vulnerable regions such as Africa.  

One way of doing this is to streamline processes for access and management of climate finance (The Green Climate Fund: An opportunity to rationalize climate finance?). The GCF should work directly with National Implementing Entities (NIEs) to increase African country ownership as well as ensure the quick disbursement of climate financing to nationally defined priority areas (Operationalising the Green Climate Fund: Enabling African Access). Accordingly, it should provide a ‘passport’ to existing NIEs while facilitating the accreditation of new ones. Similarly, the GCF should strive to build the capacities of African NIEs to manage climate funding, whilst African countries should move quickly to prepare climate project proposals that are credible enough to attract GCF financing.  

The GCF has an unparalleled opportunity to do things differently and set the trend for other multilateral financing institutions. It can do so by ensuring the adequacy, predictability, and sustainability of climate financing for the scaling-up of adaptation and mitigation efforts across the African continent (Proposal from the African Group on Draft Elements on Finance under the ADP Lima Elements on Climate Finance). This is paramount for the implementation of concrete climate programmes such as the Global Renewable Energy Partnership that is tabled by the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) (Statement on behalf of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN)).  

On their side, African countries should seek to explore other adaptation financing options to make up the GCF shortfall. In addition to the new private finance mechanisms and instruments, the recently launched BRICS New Development Bank (The BRICS Development Bank) could also serve as a sound alternative. 

The Evidence is Compelling 

Two recent major reports have provided more compelling evidence that global warming is real, adding fuel to the case for urgent climate action. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report of the 5th Assessment (AR5) outlines the risks and provides a stark warning of the bleak future we all face if world leaders fail to act on time. The Report is unequivocal about the certainty of climate-related risks (Christiana Figueres Reacts to IPCC Synthesis Report) and the urgency of reducing emissions to limit warming within the 2o C threshold.  

The Report’s findings are particularly bleak for Africa as its development sectors - water, agriculture and health - are highly exposed to the impacts of climate change (Highlight on the ‘Future Risks and Opportunities for Adaptation in Africa’). The frequency of extreme weather events, changing rainfall patterns, and rising temperatures are adding further stresses to these climate-sensitive sectors.  

Africa runs a high risk of water shortages, 18% to 22% drop in crop productivity by 2050, and increased incidence of vector and water-born diseases (IPCC Fifth Assessment Report AR5: What’s in it for Africa?). Health risks such as malaria and dengue fever will be on the rise, while a possible link is yet to be established for the recent Ebola epidemics (Media Jumps to Conclusions on Ebola and Climate Change). The impacts of climate change are likely to roll back years of hard-earned progress in Africa and to derail the continent’s upward development trajectory. 

The New Climate Economy Report, on the other hand, highlighted the necessity and the opportunities of addressing the challenges of climate change while pursuing economic growth (Seven things we learned from Lord Stern's New Climate Economy report). The report provides pointers for developing regions such as Africa as to how they can prioritize their climate actions, which should primarily address their specific challenges in terms of building their adaptive capacities as well as improving and climate-proofing their food and energy production systems (The New Climate Economy Report). 

Africa’s New Climate Narrative 

The climate narrative has long been informed by crisis and framed in apocalyptic terms. It is of course undeniable that African countries, albeit contributing the least to global warming, are hit hardest by the impacts of climate change. However, the reality is also that Africans have had to cope with the impacts of climate change for many years, and are continuing to adapt their livelihood strategies as new impacts become apparent. In addition, there is increased awareness about climate change and a greater political willingness across the continent to take a more pro-active adaptation and mitigation stance. All in all, we are at a tipping point.  

Among the climate events held in Africa during 2014, the Fourth Conference of Climate Change and Development in Africa (CCDA-IV) organized by the Climate for Development in Africa Programme (ClimDev-Africa) in early October in Marrakesh, Morocco, had put the spotlight on the urgent need to develop the agriculture sector to feed the continent. To do so, a nexus approach will prove crucial in tackling the challenges facing Africa’s main development sectors – namely agriculture, water and energy – in order to unlock the continent’s full potential (Moving against the tide, “Africa rising to seize climate change opportunities” Water, Food and Energy Security).  

According to The New Climate Economy Report (Seven things we learned from Lord Stern's New Climate Economy report), going climate smart makes perfect economic sense for Africa. By investing in climate-smart agriculture, restoring the fertility of its land and preserving its ecosystems, Africa will be able to feed itself and curb its annual food import bill, which currently stands at $35 billion (2014 African Progress Panel Report). With 60% of Africans projected to live in urban areas by 2050 (Sub-Saharan Africa – The New Frontier), the continent has the possibility to design climate-smart cities – one of the themes of the World Economic Forum held in Dubai last month –- that are cost-effective and provide a higher quality of life to its residents.  

There are vast opportunities for Africa to tap into the 90 trillion dollar investment geared towards the retrofitting of the world economy, notably in the area of urban and energy infrastructure (How to boost development and tackle climate change?). A portion of the investment has already been allocated to green investments, with over $ 1 trillion directed to the renewable energy sector while energy efficiency programs are raking close to $300 billion (Remarkable Opportunity for Global Economy in Upcoming Climate Change Talks).  

With declining costs of renewable energy systems, African countries, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and other nations are enhancing their clean energy capacity at a much faster pace than in developed countries (China, India set pace in global clean energy growth). In 2014 alone, Africa is planning to add 1.8 GW of renewable energy (Africa will add more renewable energy in 2014 than in the last 14 years combined). Using its latecomer status and its resources to its advantage, Africa looks thus set to embark on a transformative journey from a climate hotspot to a climate-smart hub. 

Closing Critical Gaps 

Amidst the evident opportunities, what is crystal clear is that Africa’s responses to climate challenges to date have been less than optimal. The translation of climate understanding to actions requires adequate knowledge, capacities, and resources, all of which are in short supply. Efforts are now being mobilized to close these critical gaps in order to advance an African climate agenda predicated on opportunity. The ClimDev-Africa program, jointly set up by the African Development Bank (AfDB), the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), seeks to address just that.  

ClimDev-Africa is designed to serve as a continental platform for climate decisions and actions. Since its creation in 2006, it has sensitized African decision makers on the many dimensions and implications of the climate challenge and the need to take action to deal with current impacts and ward off future threats. ClimDev-Africa is working hard to build a body of knowledge on climate-related issues at the continental level, strengthen Africa’s capacity in climate research and services for the production of African climate data, and enhance the continent’s influence in global climate negotiation processes. Ultimately, ClimDev-Africa is all about building resilience, improving the planning and management of climate-related disaster risks, and guiding investment and policy decisions in Africa. 

ClimDev-Africa is involved in unpacking climate concepts (IPCC Discussion Group); conducting research on the economic impacts and costs of climate change, and building the capacity of African climate services through the new Climate Development Special Fund (CDSF). The Programme is in the process of establishing a regional research consortium, the Climate Research for Development (CR4D) initiative, to coordinate the generation and sharing of climate knowledge and evidence for improved policymaking. ClimDev-Africa has been providing unwavering support to the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) and the Young African Lawyers Network (YALN) with the view of strengthening Africa’s bargaining power in global negotiations. 

Africa’s transformative agenda can only be realized if it is premised on an inclusive and sustainable development agenda. All too often, the continent’s most vulnerable sections of the population, especially women and youth, are disproportionately affected by the impacts of climate change and the risks of exclusion.  

The African Union Summit in Malabo in June 2014 (The 23rd Ordinary Session of the African Union ends in Malabo) has recognized the need to involve women and youth in climate change actions. As champions of climate adaptation and mitigation efforts, they should the ones driving the continent’s climate actions. Women, especially those living in the rural areas, are particularly vulnerable to climate change owing to their direct interactions with food systems and their use of land, energy and water resources (Climate change affects women, says Muchinguri). It is therefore essential to empower women and enhance their coping strategies for an effective climate intervention. The youth has also a critical role to play in adapting and mitigating climate change, in particular in climate data collection, analysis and dissemination using mobile technology; in the use of clean technologies and climate-smart practices to transform Africa’s agriculture and energy sectors; and in the protection, management and rehabilitation of ecosystems, land and water.  

A rapid climate response calls for scalable and flexible governance systems. To that end, Africa needs to revisit and reform its existing governance systems in order to scale up its adaptation and mitigation efforts. This applies to national and trans-boundary governance of resources (Accumulation by Dispossession, Climate Change and Natural Resources Governance in Africa), which should be equitable and transparent to ensure inclusiveness and to avoid potential conflicts. It is equally relevant to governance structures, which should adopt a more decentralized approach.  

More power should go to local governments and communities as they are at the forefront of climate change in Africa. Local governance structures are the ones making strategic choices, such as investment in urban infrastructure (It is Time to Pay the Climate Debt: Financing a Low Carbon Urban Africa), and water and land use in rural communities (Using Traditional Knowledge to Cope With Climate Change in Rural Ghana). These structures are also the ones dealing with the most vulnerable sections of the African societies – farmers, pastoralists, and fishermen - as well as marginalized groups such as women and youth. African central governments should redefine the role of these local governance structures and expand the scope of their responsibility to ensure the planning and effective implementation of national climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives. 

Lima should be more than “Paris-in-waiting” 

The scale of climate actions has yet to match the magnitude of climate challenges facing the African continent. Still, the recent developments are a positive step forward. As the world is set to thrash out a draft climate agreement in Lima ahead of the final climate compact in Paris next year, African governments need to be more ambitious and proactive if they are to influence an agreement that will have huge ramifications on the lives of millions of African citizens. As one African negotiator recently noted: “If we don’t get things right in Lima, we can forget about Paris”. 

The announcement of the US-China deal is bound to trigger a change in dynamics with respect to global alliances on climate change (US-China pact has shifted the dynamics of climate talks). The unexpected announcement has taken India, China’s traditional ally, by surprise (China’s emission cap pledge shocks India). India, a staunch defender of developing countries’ right to carbon emissions for economic growth, considers CO2 emission cuts as the primary responsibility of developed countries (Now that China and the U.S. have a climate deal, will India step up next?). As India will become hard-pressed to unveil its plan for CO2 cap, it is highly likely that the upcoming Summit in Lima will see a lot of jockeying as China and India struggle to gain support from Africa for their diverging climate agenda.   

Global climate talks should not solely focus on emission targets but should also give priority to Africa’s specific climate needs. The continent should push for greater access to and a larger share of GCF to finance Africa’s climate actions (GCF Pledging Event: Success is more than just one big number!), for bolder initiatives such as carbon pricing (Remarkable Opportunity for Global Economy in Upcoming Climate Change Talks), and for mitigation alongside adaptation. The loss and damage work stream, which only came to the fore in Warsaw in 2013, also deserves greater focus – since ways must be found to restitute Africa for the past impacts of climate change and bring back the foundational principle of ‘polluter pays’. Africa should also leverage additional climate financing from other sources to supplement the GCF pledges, which are deemed less than adequate by developing countries.  

The timing has never been as auspicious for Africa to negotiate from a strong vantage point (Negotiators could be Africa's financial leapfrog in Lima). The paradox is that although Africa’s emissions are so insignificant, it is richly endowed in fossil fuels it needs to exploit to hit the growth targets for socio-economic transformation. This could lead to significantly higher emissions in the future – unless African countries choose to implement policies underpinned by a judicious energy mix of fossil fuels and renewables.  

For this to happen, Africa will need the international community to listen, and to help put in place the necessary conditions for low-carbon transition. This provides African negotiators with strong ammunition with which to change the game – away from a reactive narrative predicated on asking for pledged resources to be committed to a proactive narrative that situates Africa at the epicenter of climate opportunity. This would put a new slant on current points of controversy – such as common but differentiated responsibility and carbon offset trading.