What does the COP21 Paris Agreement mean for Africa?

17 Dec 2015

students planting trees Two members of a local association of volunteers plant a young tree in a school yard in the town of Goma, North Kivu province. 30 November 2013. Photo: MONUSCO/ Sylvain Liechti

On 12 December 2015, delegates from more than 190 nations at the 21st Conference of Parties (COP 21), agreed to the Paris Agreement, an ambitious global plan to tackle climate change.

As a next step in implementation, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will convene a high level signing ceremony on 22 April 2016 in New York, USA, and the agreement can only enter into force once it has been ratified by 55 countries, representing at least 55 percent of emissions. 

But what does this deal mean for Africa?  The top three wins for Africa in the Paris Agreement could be summarized as follows: 

A balanced and ambitious agreement on adaptation and mitigation


Under the leadership of the African Group of Negotiators, African countries successfully advocated for a balanced agreement that addresses both mitigation and adaptation in equal measure, in a departure from the Kyoto Protocol which focused significantly on mitigation.

Adaptation is critical for African countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change due to heavy reliance on the agricultural sector, and being the least contributor of global CO2 emissions.  The Agreement also urges all countries to submit adaptation needs, priorities and plans, which developed countries will support.

While the Agreement confirms a target of keeping the rise in temperature below 2°C above pre-industrial levels, the African Group in collaboration with other country groupings including the Least Developed Countries (LDCs), G77, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), and Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) were successful in ensuring that the Agreement established, for the first time, the aim of keeping global temperatures even lower, at 1.5°C.

Africa’s continental Adaptation and Loss and Damage Initiative will play a critical role in international collaboration on adaptation, as mentioned in the Agreement. Loss and damage refers to the irreparable loss and damage to territory, species, assets, etc., as a result of climate change.

Scaled-up climate financing for developing countries and differentiation of responsibilities


Africa contributes less than 4% to global CO2 emissions, and requires substantial resources to adapt to a climatic situation not of its making. The continent’s adaptation needs have been estimated at USD 7-15 billion per year by 2020 and may increase to $50 billion by 2050. The Agreement strongly recommends developed countries scale up balanced (mitigation and adaptation) financial support to developing countries, and calls on developed countries to honour the USD 100 billion per year commitment to support developing countries including in Africa and SIDSs to adapt to climate change. 

Technology transfer and capacity development


To meet the 2 or 1.5 degrees Celsius target, African countries recognize that capacity building and technology transfer will be crucial for investments in renewable sources of energy and to drive low-emission and climate resilient development.

The African Group successfully pushed for the establishment of a Capacity Building Committee, as referenced within the Agreement. This Committee will help define capacity development needs and actions for developing countries and Africa in order to meet the objectives in their respective Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) – the post-2020 climate actions countries intend to take under the Paris Agreement. This falls slightly short of the Group’s position that the capacity building facility be under the Green Climate Fund, which would directly finance and support developing countries’ capacity building needs.

While the Paris Agreement captured key African priorities as outlined above, the details of implementation will require follow-up discussions between African countries and partners.   

In addition, pledges for support to national and regional initiatives - such as on the disappearing Lake Chad, the Great Green Wall Initiative to prevent further desertification in the Sahara and Sahel, the Africa Adaptation and Loss and Damage Initiative, Africa Renewable Energy Initiative - will also require proper follow-up and coordination.

A pre-2020 road map to prepare the implementation of the Agreement in Africa is also needed focused on the country’s INDCs processes and resource mobilization activities. 

Building on its support to the Africa Group of Negotiators and to countries on INDC preparation, UNDP will continue working with countries on implementation of the Agreement, including on monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV), to underpin Africa’s continued contribution to the international discussions on targets and compliance to the Paris Agreement.

UNDP is also supporting countries to access climate financing facilities such as the GCF and to mobilise private sector resources for investments in renewable energy and mitigation initiatives. 

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