Africa is the continent most vulnerable to climate change, according to the team leader of the African Group of Negotiators Expert Support (Agnes Africa), Dr. George Wamukoya, who highlights the importance of formulating a strong position for Africa to present at COP27 , currently taking place in Egypt.
An important step in this process was the 56th session of the subsidiary bodies (SB56) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that took place in the German city of Bonn from June 6 to 16, 2022. The Bonn Climate Change Conference marked the first time negotiators had met since November 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow, where the Glasgow Climate Pact was agreed.
Shedding light on the outcomes of the meeting, Wamukoya summed up the African position in four key points: developed countries must increase their climate ambition, adaptation is a priority for Africa, the climate vulnerability of the continent must be recognized and a focus on Africa is needed. . agricultural sector.
Addressing Africa’s Priorities
If countries can reduce global emissions to “net zero” by 2050, we may still have a chance to reduce global warming below 1.5⁰C in the second half of this century and avoid a global disaster in the form of tsunami waves. heat, floods, forest fires, crop failures, coral bleaching and rising sea levels.
The Conference of the Parties (COP) refers to the meeting of the 196 countries, plus the European Union, that ratified the 1992 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) treaty. The event sees the country delegations participate in days of negotiations and exchanges to adopt positions, make new commitments and join new initiatives to address climate change by achieving net zero.
The African Group of Negotiators has been representing the common interests of African nations as a bloc since the first COP in 1995 in Berlin, Germany, ensuring that Africa’s voice on climate issues is heard over competing interests.
Since 2015, the group has been supported by Agnes Africa, which provides scientific evidence to inform the African position by facilitating the exchange of ideas between experts and negotiators. The group has been working with Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation, as well as researchers from its partner program, Future Ecosystems for Africa (Fefa), to incorporate the latest science on African environments into Africa’s COP27 position.
The Bonn Climate Change Conference brought together a multitude of stakeholders from around the world to prepare for COP27.
Take responsibility for climate change
Prior to the last COP, the UNFCCC secretariat’s assessment of all updated Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), the actions pledged by each nation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, placed the global temperature rise trajectory by 2.7⁰C by the end of the century, far exceeding the 1.5⁰C target of the Paris Agreement.
Increasing the “ambition” to reduce emissions remains critical to success. But at SB56 a familiar question arose: “Who is that ambition for? developing countries or developed countries that bear historical responsibility?” Wamukoya said.
Countries can increase their ambition by committing to better NDCs and climate finance. Although developed countries pledged in 2009 to jointly contribute $100 billion a year by 2020 to support climate action in developing countries, that goal has not been met.
Indeed, vulnerable nations, including least developed countries and small island developing states, appear to be leading on climate ambition, ahead of their developed counterparts.
As for COP27, Africa’s position is that developed countries should increase their ambition. Africa currently contributes very low greenhouse gas emissions compared to other continents: just less than 4% of total global emissions.
African negotiators at COP27 will argue that the onus is on developed nations, which are responsible for 79% of historic carbon emissions, to rectify their substantial role in causing climate change.
Adaptation remains a priority for Africa
Climate action can fall into one of two categories, “adaptation”, which refers to actions taken to prepare for and adjust to the effects of climate change, as well as those anticipated in the future; or “mitigation”, which are efforts to reduce or prevent the emission of greenhouse gases.
Adaptation is a priority for Africa and other developing countries, whose vulnerabilities mean they will bear the costs of climate change despite having done little to cause it. For these nations, financing for climate adaptation is critical. Currently, less than 20% of climate finance goes to adaptation compared to mitigation actions.
“[Africa and other developing countries] they are having to use national resources that would have been used for other pressing issues (employment generation, sanitation and housing), to deal with climate change. I think that our countries will have a big challenge to carry out normal development activities while addressing climate change: we need adequate financing for climate adaptation”, emphasizes Wamukoya.
Although it was agreed in Glasgow that the Adaptation Fund would be doubled, the source of funding and how the funds can be accessed remains in question.
However, assessing climate adaptation is a much more nebulous task than monitoring progress in preventing a 1.5⁰C temperature rise. Determining indicators to track progress on the three goals (enhancing adaptive capacity, increasing resilience, and reducing vulnerability) remains challenging due to their qualitative nature.
Africa is vulnerable
“All the best available science shows that Africa is the most vulnerable continent” and therefore requires a high level of investment in adaptation to protect itself from the adverse impacts of climate change, says Wamukoya. The continent faces high levels of adverse effects from climate change, but has inadequate financial capacity to respond.
A key element of the African position is to gain recognition that Africa is highly vulnerable and needs financial support to cope with the effects of climate change. “We can only do this by showing African stories and narratives” to provide evidence to convince international negotiators of Africa’s needs, says Wamukoya.
These stories include case studies of natural disasters wreaking havoc across the continent. After passing through Madagascar, Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique on March 14, 2019, before moving inland through Zimbabwe. Severe flooding and strong winds reaching a maximum of 280 km/h swept away houses and destroyed crops. More than 1,000 lives were lost, hundreds of thousands of people were displaced, 2.6 million were left in need of humanitarian services, and damage was estimated at $2.2 billion.
Cyclone Idai may be one of the worst disasters on record in the southern hemisphere. Less than six weeks later, a second tropical cyclone, “Kenneth”, devastated the region once again, marking the first time in recorded history that two strong tropical cyclones hit Mozambique in one season. A year later, more than 100,000 Mozambicans were still living in temporary shelters.
Further north, below the Sahara in the arid Sahel region, temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster than the rest of the world. Farmers and herders here have seen their crops wither in intense droughts that burn the land until it can’t absorb the heavy rains and cause flooding. Climate change has created conditions conducive to the outbreak of social conflicts over land and water.
Securing future agriculture
Despite having 60% of the planet’s arable land, Africa remains a net importer of food. According to Agnes Africa reports, agriculture is the largest land-based economic sector for most countries in Africa, accounting for at least 20% of their GDP. The sector employs more than 50% of the continent’s labor force and contributes around 30% of the value of exports.
Africa’s agriculture is rainfed, which means that the success of this important sector depends on the weather. As a result of extreme weather events, such as those that develop in the Sahel, farmers and herders are left destitute.
Agriculture has been on the agenda of UNFCCC discussions since 2011. “Since then, we have had technical discussions to understand how agriculture plays out in the climate system,” says Wamukoya, who is a lead negotiator on agriculture.
“That roadmap that we have given ourselves came to an end last year, so this year at COP27 we must get a new position to see how we move agriculture forward.”
African agricultural investment has been received largely from official development assistance, which has been declining. “The only way we can transform our agricultural systems is by attracting climate finance from the public and private sectors,” says Wamukoya.
According to him, the goal is to develop guidance and leadership on how African agriculture should be treated, given the need to safeguard this vulnerable sector for food security.
The world is looking to COP27 to negotiate our future against the clock. Since the event takes place on African soil, this is a valuable opportunity to score climate wins for the continent.
Tatjana Baleta, a South African biologist and conservationist, is a science writer specializing in Jive Media for Oppenheimer Generations Research and Conservation, which commissioned this article.