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Countdown to COP21 in Paris: New expectations for Africa or the same old circus?

Posted: 3 Jul 2015
Dr. Johnson Nkem discusses other possible development trajectories for Africa in response to climate change. This blog is part of a series of reflections in response to the upcoming 'Our Common Future Under Climate Change' conference in Paris.

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Climate change vigil (Credit: 250.org CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Public dialogues across different stakeholder groups in Africa (such as civil society, youth groups), are generating deep reflections on what awaits the region, following a post Kyoto climate agreement in Paris later this year. At a side event organised by the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) during the 2015 AU-ECA Conference of Ministers of Finance and Economic Planning in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, there was an interesting discussion around this topic. Panelists and participants explored the importance of alternative development scenarios and perspectives needed by Africa, both intellectually and practically, to safeguard its interests. After all, there is no one road to being ‘climate smart’ in a development process.

Dealing with burden and impacts: re-scaling commitments

Africa’s stakes are high; it bears the greatest proportion of risks and impacts posed by climate change, which incidentally is exponentially disproportionate to its share of responsibility for global warming.
The region has demonstrated a strong commitment to the global process. Most measures suggested at the international negotiations to tackle this problem have been embraced by Africa, even where there should be reservations. This is all in a spirit to safeguard and uphold the global climate negotiation process. Even with its miniscule contribution to total global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, Africa still welcomes a ‘bottom up approach’, in an appeal for voluntary contribution to the ‘Intended Nationally Determined Contribution’ (INDC), tailored to prop up the wobbling ‘top down’ approach modeled around commitments that has been repeatedly flouted with disregarded by key concerned parties to the negotiation. The INDC was a cornerstone of the Lima Call for Action during COP20 and has emerged as a key expectation of the Paris climate negotiations. This turns the spotlight downwards in search for solutions from the weak and those already weakened by the burden of climate impacts.

Regrettably, the framing of the INDC is still heavily skewed towards mitigation, as opposed to the equal weighting repeatedly requested by parties from developing countries for mitigation and adaptation. This is lamentable for Africa which bears the huge burden: to cope and adapt to the impacts of previous GHG emissions.

Means of Implementation: Finance remains a priority

Whichever path the region takes, it will need financial means to tackle the additional developmental challenges posed by climate change. This has been a highly politicized process with many ups and downs especially as it relates to adaptation.

Africa is the only global region with the greatest proportion of people living below USD$2 a day that involuntarily imposes a cap to consumption opportunities. If economic strategies have to be built around low carbon intensive pathways, how will this affect and restrict growth in terms of per capita GHG emissions in Africa? Low carbon growth is definitely a positive thing, if invested in and provided with adequate support to ensure implementation in terms of finance, capacity and technology transfer. Unfortunately, all the previous pledges in relation to support for implementation have fallen short and in some cases remained illusive promises.

Given the unpredictability of international finance flows and a growing mistrust, there are increasing calls for Africa to turn inwards, and take charge of its destiny. This has been echoed by a number of African national delegates, with the call to further mobilize domestic and regional funding for climate change in maintaining and sustaining the current economic growth trajectory in the region over the past decade. These regional commitments, which are not entirely new, are meant to co-exist alongside international funding - and there are many examples to be presented from countries within Africa already undertaking such action.

Pondering on a roadmap

Africans are increasingly asking, ‘what economic roadmap and vision for development do we want to create for ourselves given our meager emissions?’ Why don’t we flip the current status quo in the climate change narrative to, let’s say, first examine where Africa wants to go in its development trajectory and where it needs to be (as in the AU Agenda 2063), and then analyze how much temperature rise/change as a consequence. Could this be an alternative negotiating path that Africa could consider to take if the global UNFCCC negotiations do not result in something tangible?
What can really make the difference this time in order to genuinely negotiate an agreement based on the same level of shared commitments by all parties? Can Africa’s examples of boldly tackling its near zero emissions embolden others, especially developed parties?

I look forward to seeing whether the upcoming ‘Our Common Future Under Climate Change’ conference in early July 2015, drives a momentum in having these difficult, but essential discussions.

Read the latest contributions to the Eldis blog on climate change.