Climate Change: What Should Africa Do?

Published on 31st May 2009

The AU January-February 2009 Summit called for the formulation of a common position and constitution of one delegation to negotiate on behalf of Africa and also mandated the African Union Commission to steer and coordinate these efforts. This was in realization of the challenges posed by climate change and the worrying situation of Africa as the most affected continent that remains most vulnerable and least resilient in the face of climate change. The AU Heads of State desire to seize the opportunity of the CoP15 in December in Copenhagen, Denmark to call for global attention to Africa’s unique position as the least contributor to factors responsible for climate change and as one of the world’s leading providers of carbon sinks. 


Effects of climate change               Photo:Courtesy

What is the problem?


Frequent and intermittent droughts, floods, sea-level rise and coastal erosion, among others have rudely raised climate change awareness in the last decade and made it one of the most serious threats to the existence of humanity. This is more so in Africa, a continent identified as the most vulnerable, because of our low levels of economic development. The developed North has contributed to the bulk of the problem of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, yet has been very reluctant to contribute financially and technologically towards dealing with the impacts of climate change. Africa must adapt and strive to develop sustainable pathways so that we do not repeat the dangerous trajectories of development followed by the North. Failure to do so could spell doom.


Impacts of climate change are creating additional demands on fragile economies and draining our limited resources. Many countries in Africa are constrained from meeting their national poverty reduction targets and pursuing Millennium Development Goals. The impacts of climate change spare no sector: from water, through energy, transportation, infrastructure, agriculture and food security, forestry and tourism, among others. This calls for an integrated, multi-stakeholder and multi-sectoral approach to seeking the solutions. For Africa, this implies climate proofing development; which means building more resilient infrastructure; more robust housing; an agricultural and livestock sector that is less dependent on nature; and an economy that is not dependent on the vagaries of extreme weather events.


How is the problem being solved currently?


International policy to deal with the problems of climate change is being shaped through the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol. The mechanisms set within the Convention and the Protocol for dealing with the challenges posed by climate change have so far manifested their limitations to ensure any meaningful impact. For example the protocol puts a target of green house gas reduction for the developed North at 5% of the 1990 levels, while science tells us that nothing short of 25-40% of the 1990 levels between 2010-2025, then 80% thereafter until 2045, will lead to stabilization of the green house gases at below 2 degrees centigrade, the level which, if surpassed, the whole world shall be plunged into irreversible climate chaos.


The developed North shared their commitment to mitigate climate change through emissions trading and joint implementation, where developed countries would implement programmes in less developed Eastern European countries and get credit for it and through the Clean Development Mechanism, the only financial mechanism in the Kyoto protocol where developing countries can participate.


Currently, the key mitigation instrument that African countries participate in is the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). By 2008 there were 1,186 CDM projects worldwide, but only about 40 in Africa. The CDM has failed to benefit the countries most impacted by climate change. Our countries do not have the requisite capacity to develop CDM projects and resources to pay for the upfront funding that is expected of CDM. African countries have not adequately developed the institutional frameworks, human resource base and technical capabilities to develop these programmes. So far, nothing has been done about the unequal continental and country distribution of these projects. Some solutions suggested to deal with the failures of CDM projects through various UN related agencies, bilateral and private sector investments are all outside of the convention; thus difficult to be enforced as international policy.


The question of mitigation is linked with that of technology development and transfer. Use of current, business as usual, technology would lead the same problems of unsustainable development that we currently experience. Technology transfer, from the North to Africa is constrained by limited financial commitments and intellectual property rights, while technology development is constrained by flows of investment. Our countries must explore other ways of accessing funding for technology, including bilateral and multi-lateral access to climate friendly technologies. We need to create centers for technology development and diffusion.


Adaptation is urgent to deal with the impacts of climate change. The UNFCCC has established several funds to deal with various aspects of adaptation. The Special Climate Change Fund was initiated to address the need to fund capacity building, technology transfer and climate change mitigation. This fund has never been capitalized. The Least Developed Countries Fund was designed to help the Least Developed Countries make their National Adaptation Programs of Action (NAPAs). Some limited donations were contributed, and have been used to support the development of NAPAs amongst the LDCs in Africa. Most recently, the Bali Adaptation Fund, is to be the most comprehensive fund to finance various adaptation needs, especially of developing countries. There is a glimmer of hope with this fund as it allows direct access by countries to this fund. Further, in terms of governance, majority of board members are from developing countries.  However, the fund as currently structured will not avail adequate resources, as it is to rely on share of proceeds (2%) from CDM projects.


To deal with the funding gap within the UNFCCC for adaptation, there should be international levies on all the flexible mechanisms and not just CDM. In addition, there are proposals for a cap and trade system for the emissions of GHGs coupled by auctioning of allowances. More radical proposals include having the North pay for their contributions to the GHGs and the proceeds to go directly to helping the poor from Africa adapt to climate change. In light of this, African countries need to push for clearer strategies of how to deal with the various obstacles in access to funding adaptation needs in the continent.


Solutions outside of the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Markets


Other national and international instruments outside the UNFCCC and its Kyoto Protocol deserve careful exploration. These include taxes and levies imposed on environment-damaging activities, whose proceeds can then be used to finance greener, cleaner projects. Such funding would be transitional pending appropriate regulatory and legislative mechanisms. Such initiatives can be complimented by green subsidies, helping bridge the gap between environment-friendly products and the costs in the open markets. There is also need to explore grants.


Climate-change related finances can also be sourced from commercial financial institutions, mainly in the North, involved in sustainable banking in the form of a loan/credit, repayable over an agreed duration and at an agreed interest rate (usually at lower-than-market rate). Obviously, the project that is funded in this manner would have to be cost-effective.  Others include equity, energy efficiency mortgages and green bonds.


Private sector-based sources of finances are inappropriately structured to deliver the type and magnitude of resources that would meet the financial needs of climate change. They tend to exhibit the same problems as the ODA, which does not take into cognisance the fact that most of the individuals in Africa, are victims rather than perpetrators of climate change.


Potential Solutions to the financial needs arising from climate change.


The developed North, responsible for historical emissions that have caused climate change, and is responsible for the runaway emissions that we experience currently, remains averse to compensating desperate victims of climate change. The issue of compensation remains one of the potential sources of finance and African leaders have resolved to pursue this with the necessary wisdom and diligence. At the core of it is the concern of lack of development equity.


Various proposals are being made within the UNFCCC for raising additional funds to mitigate  climate change. Some of these may impact negatively on our own industries when international bans and taxation are imposed, unilaterally, say on the aviation industry. Some could be beneficial,for example, proposals to have an international auctioning system for emission allocations, through a cap and trade system. But again, if such funds are not specifically targeted to interventions in Africa, we will be where we have always been; the most vulnerable, least beneficiary and least resilient.


Other proposals within the UNFCCC include the taxation of all flexible mechanisms to raise funds for adaptation. This envisages that taxation will be levied on emission trading systems [ETS] in the North, on joint implementation [JI] projects and also on CDM projects. While the funds would not be adequate to meet global adaptation needs, they would go much further than the current, proposed levies on CDM only to fund adaptation. In any case the global financial meltdown with collapse of prices in the carbon market has led us to believe that adaptation funding as currently structured is too vulnerable to markets to make meaningful impact.


Within the UNFCCC, we are asking our negotiators to negotiate financial mechanisms that recognize and reward our carbon sinks provided by our agro-ecosystems. There is need for expansions of eligibility of resources provided under the convention to include a full range of bio-carbon solutions beyond the current REDD initiative. Pressure should be put in the UNFCCC process so that Forestry, Agriculture and Land Use are included in the protocol and Convention’s carbon markets and CDM. Initiatives such as the Bio-carbon initiative need to be brought into the UNFCCC processes quickly. The initiative envisages that there will be credits for a forestation, reforestation, agro-forestry, enhanced natural regeneration, re-vegetation, reduced tillage and sustainable agriculture.


I wish to quote excerpts of the decision of the AU January-February Assembly of Heads of State in Paragraph 6 of their decision on climate change “APPROVES that Africa needs to be represented by one delegation which is empowered to negotiate on behalf of all Member States." Paragraph 5 “EMPHASIZES that the global carbon trading mechanisms that are expected to emerge from international negotiations on climate change should give Africa an opportunity to demand and get compensation for the damage to its economy caused by global warming and UNDERLINES in this regard the fact that despite contributing virtually nothing to global warming Africa has been one of the primary victims of its consequences” and Paragraph 7 “INVITES AU Member States to promote the Algiers Declaration within the framework of their participation in the World Summit on Climate Change, scheduled to be held in Copenhagen, Denmark.”


The African Union Commission will continue to work closely with AMCEN, UNEP, AfDB, UNECA and Regional Economic Communities, among our strategic partners in moving the continental climate change agenda.


By H.E. Tumusiime Rhoda

AU Peace Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture





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