Guest Article #67

Climate Change Negotiations: Keeping Africa Safe

The UN Climate Change Conference scheduled to be held in Durban, South Africa, between 28 November to 9 December 2011, represents a critical moment in the international climate change negotiations, and a defining opportunity for African leaders to chart the course towards outcomes that curb the rising threat of climate change, implement the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol in Africa, and advance the interests and aspirations of all African countries and peoples.

The Conference is coming just when the continent is pulling out of what has been classified as one of the worst food crises of the 21st Century. While the food crises has multiple causes, it is obvious that with climate change projected to increase the frequency and severity of such extreme weather events, the challenges faced by the region will be exacerbated.

The climate in the Horn of Africa is changing. Mean annual temperature has increased by 1.0oC since 1960. This is already within the forecasted range of warming that could reduce agricultural production of some crops in certain areas by 20%. Other potentially significant adverse effects on the continent and its development are in store for the future.

The report on the emissions gap, published by UNEP, confirms that current mitigation pledges - unless strengthened - will set the world on course for global warming of between 2.5 to 5oC before the end of the century. According to the IPCC, as a result of its geographic and physical characteristics, Africa will warm around 1.5 times more than the global average. Consequently, there is great concern on the future of the continent, which is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and has a very low adaptive capacity.

The African Negotiators, through AMCEN, have consistently advanced an integrated and science-based position that reflects the latest scientific, technical and economic information, as well as the relationship between important pillars of the negotiation, the outcomes of which will together significantly influence and secure Africa's future. This position has been reiterated and includes:

  1. An adequate global temperature goal, consistent with the Cancun outcome;
  2. An adequate level of global emission reductions that takes into account the cumulative historical emissions by developed countries and the fact that per capita emissions in Africa remain low;
  3. An adequate level of Annex I emission reductions in line with recent science;
  4. An adequate level of means of implementation to non-Annex I countries to: address adaptation costs and efforts associated with (1); and address mitigation costs and efforts associated with (2) and (3) above.

Based on the foregoing, it can therefore be seen that the decisions and key messages from the fourth special session of AMCEN are not focused extensively on one topic such as adaptation, which would therefore fail to deliver progress on broader issues necessary to keep Africa safe. These include demands for major mitigation efforts by developed countries, finance to support mitigation and adaptation, and technology transfer for developing countries.

That the African Environment Ministers recognize the need to develop along cleaner trajectories was evidenced in the discussions under the theme of Rio+20 and the green economy concept. They see the green economy as viable and promising vehicle to achieving sustainable development in Africa with a potential for minimizing environmental risks. They however noted that advancing the green economy initiative requires political support, policy reforms, institutional innovations, public and private sector investment, and allocation of resources.

Poverty eradication is Africa's overriding priority with people's access to clean energy access at the center of concern. Renewable power is found in abundance on the continent. Large areas of the African continent are ideal for solar and wind installations, and geothermal energy is already exploited in some areas. Use of these renewable and indigenous resources mean the continent would be able to have more secure and clean energy supplies, that will also assist in breaking the cycle of high-carbon development that has led to the world being threatened by accelerating climate change.