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Africa must be bolder in climate talks

A cook on the job at a restaurant at the Nairobi City Park market, Kenya Siegfried Modola/IRIN
A cook on the job at a restaurant at the Nairobi City Park market, Kenya
Africa needs to assert itself at the UN climate talks, especially to source money to help its farmers adapt to a changing climate. This was the message from African scientists and policymakers, who met in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in October, a month ahead of the UN climate change conference in Warsaw.

One of their recommendations urged delegates to "step up efforts to ensure that different negotiation tracks make available funds to support Africa's adaptation and mitigation programmes".

Funds to adapt, and for agricultural support, have been Africa's main agenda at the talks, but these issues have not really made headway in discussions to reach a new climate deal under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and this was the case in Warsaw.

Not that Africa’s negotiators were wanting in effort. Swaziland, which chairs the Africa group at the negotiations, time and again called on rich countries for details on money, technology, and efforts to build capacity to deal with climate change.

Africa, extremely vulnerable

The UN Environment Programme released a report in Warsaw, called Africa's Adaptation Gap, which describes the continent as a global "vulnerability hot spot".

"I am just a scientist, a technician. I am informed by science and we negotiate with that mind-set, but other factors come into play, [like] political interest"
One of Kenya's negotiators pointed out that a possible two-degree Celsius hike in global temperature actually meant a three-degree Celsius hike for African countries, which would be unable to adapt. He also called for clear targets on support for adaptation, and loss and damage, on account of a changing climate.

Scientific studies covered in the report say a warming trend in Africa has been observed since the 1960s. By the end of this century, monthly summer temperatures across Sub-Saharan Africa are projected to increase by between four and six degrees Celsius above present day temperatures, and between five and seven degrees Celsius over North Africa. Droughts are expected to become increasingly likely in central and southern Africa.

Except for Egypt, all countries in Africa depend on rains to grow food. A warming climate would have dire consequences for food security and the health of everyone living in the continent.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that in the period 2010-2012, about 23 percent of the continent's population was undernourished, which means that many African residents are not healthy or resilient enough to face the impact of climatic shocks.

The report's authors say even if the global temperature hike is held below two degrees Celsius by the end of this century, the continent's adaptation costs will still be enormous. Africa will need an estimated US$35 billion a year by 2050; and $200 billion a year by the 2070s.

Emmanuel Dlamini, chair of the African group, and Pa Ousman Jarju, from Gambia, who served as chair of the Least Developed Countries group at the UNFCCC talks until end of 2012, defend Africa's performance. "We have worked very hard - it is not the end of the issue," says Dlamini.

Agriculture is caught in a tense stand-off between two positions at the UN climate talks. Some countries see agricultural issues playing a more prominent role in reducing global warming. These participants emphasize the need to reduce agriculture-related emissions.

Developing countries argue that they need more money and better technology to help their farmers adapt to the impact of climate change, including frequent droughts, flooding and higher soil salinity.

As a compromise, developing countries have been calling for a work programme – a sort of in-depth study – examining all aspects of the issue. But an agreement on the agriculture work programme was also considered impossible, so a workshop on the issues was organized in Warsaw.

The report of this workshop is expected to be released by March 2014. "We have to wait for the report, and then we will take it forward again," says Dlamini, dismissing suggestions that the issue might be a lost cause. He admits that, ultimately, positions are driven by politicians, who take over negotiations in the last week. "I am just a scientist, a technician. I am informed by science and we negotiate with that mind-set, but other factors come into play, [like] political interest."

A July 2013 study by Globe International, an international organization comprising national parliamentarians from over 70 countries, says stronger positions on climate change issues within countries empowers their negotiators at the international forum under UNFCCC, and encourages negotiators to brief their country legislators before, during and after climate talks. Dlamini admits that if ordinary people understood what was happening at the talks, they might put pressure on politicians for stronger positions, for instance, on agriculture. 

But that is not the case in reality. Dyce Nkhoma, chair of the Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) Unit at the South African Development Community (SADC), says even DRR officials, who are fighting climatic shocks on the ground, are kept out of the loop at the climate change talks as far as domestic positions are concerned. "They [negotiators] need to consult with everyone."

The Globe study notes that the UK Parliament, under pressure from civil society, had managed to raise the emission reduction target from 60 percent to 80 percent lower than 1990 levels by 2050 in the government's proposed Climate Change Bill, and had also forced the inclusion of emissions from aviation and shipping.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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