Copenhagen: the african dimension


Any concerted effort to tackle climate change in Africa must focus primarily on poverty reduction and the UN’s millennium development goals (MDGs), the internationally agreed effort to halve extreme poverty and hunger and reduce major diseases by 2015. Any attempt to “seal the deal” – as the secretary-general puts it – must therefore also involve a development deal for African nations and other developing regions.

However, finalising such a deal isn’t just about responding to Africa’s vulnerabilities. It also means that we must assess how African countries can contribute to the solution.

First, we must remember that climate change is not a problem of Africa’s making: according to estimates, the continent has contributed only 3.8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Further, Africa’s potential to help tackle climate change is both largely unrecognised and unrealised. For instance, thanks to the forest cover and rich topsoil found in many countries in Africa, the region represents a major carbon storehouse. African forests take in 20% of the carbon absorbed by trees across the world.

It is now widely recognised that global temperatures should not increase more than two degrees Celsius as compared with pre-industrial levels. The world will not be able to achieve that goal without reducing emissions from land use and leveraging the untapped capacity of ecosystems to store carbon. Africa has a central role to play in that process.

The climate deal that replaces the Kyoto protocol in 2012 could result in important additional funds for developing countries. These funds could represent a primary source of development financing for the continent. Climate change management thus offers a number of “win-win” opportunities for African countries to both reduce the adverse effects of climate change and address some of their deep-rooted development concerns such as access to energy, food security and the prevention of crises and conflicts.

While these key issues should serve as the core pillars of Africa’s engagement in the negotiations, the next question is how to transform these opportunities into concrete actions and results.

Africa will require urgent support for the formulation of climate change strategies as well as upfront financing to take highly effective measures for adaptation and mitigation.

Because of the sheer impact and magnitude of climate change on the continent, African leaders at national and sub-national levels (regions, provinces and municipalities) must not only co-ordinate their responses to its effects but also ensure that they are in line with existing development plans.

With over 70% of greenhouse gas emissions influenced by local behaviours and investment choices, sub-national authorities, which are often responsible for making key decisions on the ground, will be essential actors in this process.

African policymakers are aware of the need to co-ordinate climate strategies, as exemplified by a recent declaration, signed by 30 African ministers, which speaks of “a consolidated framework to ensure coordination and coherence …of climate change initiatives and sustainable development plans in Africa at all levels.” As such, one of the immediate priorities will be the creation of a fund that would build the capacities of developing countries in preparing such low-carbon and climate-resilient strategies.

In addition, a range of resources – from grants and loans to fiscal measures and market-based instruments – will be needed for successful mitigation and adaptation on the ground. Additional aid is also urgently required to complement the new adaptation fund of the UN framework convention on climate change (UNFCCC), which is helping vulnerable countries to meet the costs of adaptation.

Market-based instruments are essential. If properly reformed, the clean development mechanism (CDM) and other carbon market schemes could play a significant role in funding a broad portfolio of renewable energy and energy-efficient options in Africa. These could represent more than 180 gigawatts of additional power generation. That is more than twice the region’s total existing capacity.

Biocarbon, the carbon sequestered and stored in the world’s trees, plants, soil and oceans, offers similarly attractive investment options that could significantly contribute to reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

The stakes and options are clear. If world leaders seal the deal – and ensure that it is a deal for development – the result could be a huge new boost in the fight for human development and environmental sustainability in Africa.

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