Navigating the bumpy road from Paris

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The topic of this blog will be debated at the upcoming Maendeleo Africa Debates in New York. Please submit your comments and queries below or via Twitter using the hashtag #MaendeleoForum.

Hemingway once said, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” On April 22nd 2016 in New York, over 130 nations are expected to sign the long-awaited Paris Agreement and begin the journey to limit global warming.  This agreement reinforces the global Agenda 2030 that aims to eradicate multiple dimensions of poverty and improve people’s lives, through equitable and inclusive pathways to prosperity, within the planet’s ecological boundaries.  This is the first stop on the road from Paris where in December 2015, over 200 nations agreed to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) above pre-industrial levels. The ideal target is to keep temperature rise below 1.5°C (2.7°F). This implies significant cuts in greenhouse emission and a transformation in our global consumption and production patterns with consequences for Africa’s present and future growth trajectories.

Africa’s journey is navigated by its common Africa position on climate change which was effectively used to push for a climate change agreement that is binding, rules-based, predictable, robust, clear, enforceable and scientifically-sound.  There have been compromises from all sides in order to succeed, so this agreement does not fully address issues of historical responsibility in greenhouse gas emissions as well as loss and damage.  Still, after unsuccessful attempts in Copenhagen (2009) and Durban (2011), we now have key decisions on mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, finance, technology development and transfer, capacity development, transparency of action and support.

Yet the significance of this landmark agreement may go unnoticed by the millions of Africans whose livelihoods depend on a clean, healthy and productive environment. In Africa, mostly rain-fed agriculture accounts for two-thirds of livelihoods.   As such, if ratified and implemented, the repercussions of the Paris Agreement will be felt for generations to come. A child born in Africa today could benefit from millions of dollars invested in adapting to the effects of climate change. 

More resilient infrastructure will drive employment and growth, climate resilient and productive agriculture will feed Africa, and renewable sources of energy such as hydro, geothermal, solar and wind will provide energy and livelihoods for currently excluded communities.  However, a significant source of domestic development finance from natural resource extraction – oil, coal, forests - will be lost.  As the reliance on fossil fuel extraction and exports dwindles, revenues will fall in 16 countries in Africa that export oil and prospects will diminish in the 5 that have recently discovered oil and gas. 

So, the first bump on the road from Paris is financing.  A low carbon development pathway requires significant initial investments in energy infrastructure and productivity enhancing technology in the face of dwindling public resources.  To plug this gap, the agreement requires developed countries to mobilize at least $100 billion annually from public and private sources for developing counterparts by 2020.  African countries weak capacity to mobilize domestic resources and attract or absorb new investment from fragmented public and private external climate finance is likely to be a key stumbling block to implementation.

Second, while there is considerable flexibility for countries to determine how to cut their emissions, the agreement is clear on reporting transparently on efforts to meet climate commitments every 5 years. This includes low greenhouse gas emission development strategies by 2020.  How prepared are African cash strapped nations to design and implement comprehensive frameworks for carefully sequenced low carbon development pathways?  This is especially pertinent as African countries push towards universal access to energy for all, using a mix of energy sources including fossil fuels such as coal and renewables.

Finally, many Africans are battling the impact of climate variability and their future hangs in the balance if this agreement is not effectively implemented.  Droughts in the Sahel, floods, unpredictable rainfall, coastal degradation and the effect of El Niño has left communities vulnerable and food insecure. In Southern Africa, up to 2.5 million people are in crisis and require urgent humanitarian assistance to protect livelihoods and food consumption and in Ethiopia more than 10 million people are in need of emergency food assistance as result of El Niño related drought in 2015.

Yet many voices are excluded from the climate debate and risk being left behind.  Failing to harness the knowledge and innovation of women and men farmers and pastoralists, youth living in fragile environments, and coastal dwellers in the design, implementation and monitoring of effective human-centred responses to climate change represents a missed opportunity.  It is time to listen, act and engage better in order to build a climate resilient future that is good for people, the planet and prosperity for all.

 

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