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(Global Risk Insights) Africa seeks more equitable deal at UN Climate Summit

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Despite contributing only a fraction of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, Africa is being hit hardest by the effects of climate change. Now armed with a common approach, African leaders are pushing for a more equitable and prosperous deal in Paris.

Photo Credit: Global Risk Insights

As the UN Climate Summit in Paris enters its final week and negotiations are ramped up, leaders from developing nations will continue to push for a more equitable deal. Already officials at the conference have cleared a major hurdle, producing a draft accord on Saturday 5 December. That leaves a week for ministers to clinch a historic agreement, with many optimistic that the Paris Summit can erase the disappointment of past talks, including Copenhagen in 2009, which ended in failure and frustration.   

Yet even with a blueprint being reached, major sticking points, not least between developed and developing states, must be overcome if a positive and more equitable outcome is to be reached. That will not be easy. 

Africa, small island developing nations (SIDS), and other least developed countries (LDC’s), have all argued that their contribution to climate change has been minimal. Unsurprisingly, they demand favourable concessions when it comes to the prickly issues of climate finance, new targets for countries based on carbon dioxide stock taking, and the overall responsibilities of developed versus developing countries. These issues are referred to in the draft agreement but remain unresolved.

For its part, Africa has laid out a number of proposals that will be keenly debated this week. Now armed with a common position and an expert team of around 200 climate negotiators, both of which were sorely missing in past multilateral talks, including in Montreal in 2005, Africa has submitted three main requests. 

First, it asks for $11bn a year from the international community to help it adapt to climate change in the future; having contributed little to the problem, its leaders are loath to pick up the bill.

Second, as it aims to bring electricity to 600 million people across the continent, it is seeking an additional $55bn a year in investments until 2030 in order to help it transform its energy sector, much of which will be powered by renewables.

Finally, it urges countries to reconsider the demands they make of one another; limiting the global temperature rise to 2C by the end of the century may appear more achievable, but African leaders argue a revised target of 1.5 degrees is needed in order to avert climate disaster.

These are tall orders, to be sure. But those in Africa point to the fact that they have too often drawn the short straw when it comes to climate change.

Despite accounting for roughly 15% of the world’s population, the continent contributes less than 2.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions, says James Wan at the Royal African Society. And more often than not, it is Africa that bears the brunt of global warming, with flash flooding and crippling droughts occurring with unfailing frequency. 

Until now, the West appeared relatively unmoved by Africa’s desperate plight and moral posturing. But recent forecasts by the World Health Organization paint a devastating picture, not just for Africa.

With a likely drop in country GDP’s across Africa, widespread crop eradication amid falling rainfall, the prospect of millions being pushed back into poverty, deepening security concerns in the region, and the possible spread of disease and climate refugees, African leaders are right that the West can ill-afford to view climate change as a problem of the Global South. Whether they like it or not, the fates of Africa and the rest of the world are indelibly linked. 

Beyond such gloom, however, African officials are quick to point out the potential benefits of implementing greener alternatives now. Not only have the majority of African states committed to bigger cuts than other higher-emitting nations, but they have also proposed the prospect of a nascent energy revolution – one that would benefit both Africa and the rest of the world.

As well as possessing much of the world’s most prized natural resources, Africa is home to some of the world’s most promising renewable energy reserves. ‘The potential,’ writes Akinwumi Adesina, the President of the African Development Bank, ‘is breathtaking.’ He says the continent can source an additional 10 terawatts of solar energy, 1,3000 gigawatts of wind power, and 15GW of geothermal power. Taken together, that ‘would not just solve Africa’s own energy problems but also those of other countries near and far.’ Energy investment and further cooperation between Africa and the West will be pivotal in turning such dreams into reality.

But add to that the fact that the forests in central Africa, which account for roughly a fifth of the world’s stock, act as one of the greatest carbon sinks in the world, and it is easy to see that Africa, more than ever, can play a crucial role in helping the world reduce its greenhouse emissions. 

What does this mean for the Paris Climate Summit and Africa? Despite these lofty ideals and more consensus and cooperation than ever before, a binding resolution calling for a rise of 2C or less seems doubtful.

The past few years have seen countries favour Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), voluntary pledges. These bottom-up pledges will remain the dominant commitment by states this time around, too, not least because of the freedom they confer to those who invoke them.

Without the burden of legal obligations, states can implement initiatives and targets that suit their needs best; the downside, of course, is that there is no one at the end of the line to ensure that they make good on such promises. That means Africa’s pleas to keep any temperature rise below 1.5C will not be heeded.

Climate funding, meanwhile, will remain a thorny issue and it is doubtful Africa will receive the full $11bn per year it wants. A fairer deal for Africa thus seems somewhat out of reach, at least this time around. 

Still, some positive signs are emerging: last week, France committed over 2bn euros to renewable energy projects across its former colonies over the next five years. Other projects will no doubt follow, even if they do not meet Africa’s starry-eyed expectations. That is no reason to celebrate, of course.

But for Africa – and all those at Paris – these gradual steps must feel somewhat encouraging after the bitter disappointment of Copenhagen five years ago. 

This article was published on Global Risk Insights.

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