African Leaders Push To Tackle Climate Change Impacts Now

Written by D.A. Barber

While the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City on Sept. 23 was designed to provide momentum for a formal global pact at the UN Climate Conference in Paris in 2015, many African countries are already feeling the consequences of climate change.

Despite their economic and political differences, climate negotiators from African Union countries are focusing on how to mitigate and adapt to the impacts of climate change now occurring.

“There is an issue about; do they focus on adaptation or do they focus on mitigation,” Peter Veit, acting director of World Resources Institute’s Governance Center and project manager of the Land and Resources Rights initiative, told AFKInsider.

“There is a real interest amongst the African negotiators on issues of adaptation, obviously, because they’re going to get hit the hardest.”

“The countries with the new discoveries of hydrocarbons [oil & gas] make it very difficult to get an appropriate unified position across African countries because there are different levels of development.” Mwangi Kimenyi, senior fellow and director of the Brookings Institute Africa Growth Initiative, told AFKInsider.

“So, we should not necessarily think of an ‘African position,’ you have to look at this more as a country position.”

“It’s a question of how much the different African governments are prioritizing the issue in terms of resources,” Monde Muyangwa, Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Africa Program told AFKInsider.

According to the World Resources Institute, though the African continent contributes only about 3 percent to global greenhouse gas emissions, it would be one of the regions most severely affected by climate change.

But the impacts of climate change are already being felt in Africa, causing increased wildfires, shrinking rivers that feed hydro-power plants and an increase in water-borne diseases, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Africa also has 60 percent of the world’s arable agricultural land and climate change is acknowledged as currently threatening this land and the regions food security.

It is for these reasons African leaders are focusing on climate change from a different perspective than the large polluting countries.

One resource African climate change negotiators are particularly concerned about is the fate of Africa’s forests, which account for 17 percent of the world total and provide a “carbon sink” which help absorb global carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from polluting western countries.

According to the World Resources Institute, which hosted meetings with four African climate change negotiators during August’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, more must be done to protect the forests by securing land rights for the communities that depend upon and help to manage them.

“One of the negotiators that were there was the principle negotiator for DRC and he said ‘my country’s priorities in climate negotiations are three: REDD, REDD and REDD,’” World Resources Institute’s Peter Veit told AFKInsider.

The UN’s REDD program, which stands for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation, “is an effort to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in low-carbon paths to sustainable development.”

World Resources Institute’s July report, Securing Rights, Combating Climate Change: How Strengthening Community Forests Rights Mitigates Climate Change, notes that “legally recognized community forests store 37 billion tons of carbon – 29 times the annual carbon footprint of all the passenger vehicles in the world – and can be a key strategy for curbing climate change.”

Veit said one of the other climate negotiators at the meetings was from Tanzania, which is significant since Tanzania’s president, Dr. Jakaya Kikwete, heads the Committee of the African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change.

“And so [the negotiator] was quite delighted because his country’s done quite a bit in terms of securing legal rights over forest lands for communities,” said Veit.

Leading up to the United Nations Climate Summit, a number of other meetings took place over the summer that reiterated Africa’s concern over their current vulnerability.

At June’s 23rd African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon commended African Union Commission Chairperson Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma for the fact that on the post-2015 development agenda included being in favor of the “Common African Position on Climate Change.” That “Malabo Declaration” agreement states: “Smart choices (and) investments over the next few decades in climate resilient and low emission development pathways can contribute to vibrant societies, robust economies, and healthy environment on the continent.”

“There are a lot of so-called ‘common African positions,’ but actually I would like to see how many of these have been fully ratified by individual countries,” Brookings Institute’s Kimenyi told AFKInsider, noting that although the African Union represents African countries, there still has to be country-level discussions since each country has different regional resource issues and vulnerabilities to climate change concerning resilience and risk management.

August’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, DC, included an “official” side event on Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate presented by the National Academy of Sciences to highlight how climate change is impacting food security in Africa, and how U.S. initiatives, along with commitments by African leaders, can “bolster the resilience of people, households, communities and systems.”

But a number of other events took place during and after August’s White House Summit designed to help African countries craft a comprehensive climate change agreement to take to Paris in December 2015.

The four African climate change negotiators at the World Resources Institute meetings during the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit asked that the United States demonstrate its leadership by committing to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recommendations of a 25 to 40 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the next decade. The four negotiators also asked for more financing, capacity building and technology to their developing countries.

“There was recognition that Africa had an opportunity to contribute to mitigating climate change, even though Africa as a block tends to focus more on adaptation issues,” World Resources Institute’s Peter Veit told AFKInsider.

Veit said the negotiators understand the challenges to switch to a green economy, but are pursuing it in hopes that their growth and development “will not result in such a large carbon foot print as we have in the U.S. or in Europe, and they have committed to doing that.”

“That’s really where their mitigation focus has been on: not duplicating what the West has done in terms of emissions,” Veit told AFKInsider.

Another pre-UN Climate Summit meeting focused on yet another current climate change issue. On Aug. 20 the Woodrow Wilson Policy Center’s Africa Program hosted a discussion titled Preempting Environmental and Human Security Crises in Africa: Science-Based Planning for Climate Variability Threats. That science-based dialogue explored the nexus between water, border issues and security, with a specific focus on water issues in Lake Chad, Lake Victoria, as well as the Nile and Congo River basins.

“Even more important was their perspective on how to best frame the issue so we can get progress, rather than being bogged in issues of whether climate change exists or not,” Monde Muyangwa, Director of the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Africa Program told AFKInsider.

Africa Looks for Leadership

African climate negotiators fear climate change will undo the development strides sub-Saharan Africa has seen unless sufficient investment and leadership from countries that have historically contributed to the problem can be mobilized to make the continent more resilient. That fear extends to political stability since there have been a number of studies suggesting that climatic changes could impact state security through increased resource conflicts, radicalization and the humanitarian disasters that result from such crisis’s.

“They’re looking to the United States; they’re looking to China; they’re looking to the EU,” notes Veit. “They’re really pressing for a technology transfer; resource transfers to deal with adaptation and mitigation issues.”

At the June Climate Investment Funds (CIF) Partnership Forum, held in Montego Bay, Jamaica, some 500 stakeholders from around the world – including government representatives, civil society organizations, indigenous peoples groups, the private sector and multilateral development institutions – did come together to develop just such a framework necessary to share knowledge and deliver climate financing to the countries that need it most.

And at July’s 6th Africa Carbon Forum in Windhoek, Namibia, about 400 participants discussed the market and financial opportunities associated with the international response to climate change. Dr. Hugh Sealy, Chair of the Executive Board of the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism, told the Forum: “It’s crucial that the market and funding mechanisms on offer are right for Africa, and likewise that African governments provide a welcoming, reliable environment for investment.”

“The whole issue of climate change is not restricted to Africa, so part of the question is ‘how do you develop the necessary international partnerships and garner the necessary resources to get the action that’s required?,’” Muyangwa at the Woodrow Wilson International Center’s Africa Program told AFKInsider. “

That will no doubt be a question raised when African leaders gather Oct. 1-3 at the African Regional Workshop on Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) in Windhoek, Namibia; at the Fourth Climate Change and Development Conference in Morocco on October 8-10; and at the Global African Investment Summit on Oct. 20 in London.