African COP, African Perspectives

To commemorate the opening of the High Level Segment of the “African COP” in Durban, ECO invited African NGOs to submit thematic articles on the often
urgent challenges of climate change and the compelling opportunities for
response.  Like the continent itself, the essays here are diverse, but unite on
common ground: the readiness, given necessary and required support, to devise African solutions on the ground to the climate challenge.

Overview

Apart from ensuring plenty of air-time for adaptation and vulnerability in Africa, what can South Africa and the COP Presidency do to honor the expectations attached to being host for the ‘African COP? Could the outcome end up so poor, so far from the principles and objectives of the Convention, that South Africa would prefer to denounce rather than
defend the process?

Token reference to a 1.5° C stabilisation level is meaningless to Africa as long as we remain so far from targets that are consistent with having half a chance of remaining below 2°. At this point deciding a time-bound process for robust review of ambition and action would be more useful.

Developed countries that are historically responsible for the climate crisis must step up and pay their dues. An appropriate Shared
Vision will be a mirage if not accompanied by the means to ensure that global emissions will peak about mid-decade.

Operationalising Cancun won’t be sufficient to mobilise finance for adaptation, beyond the trickle seeping into the Adaptation Fund. With the focus now on a new fund – design, governance etc., there is too little happening to actually raise the finance.

A straightforward matter such as requesting the IMO to proceed to design a levy, to put a price on carbon consistent with its own principles and that of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities’ with a rebate system has, we hear, been made unmanageable by constraints behind a discussion of a broader framework.

Mobilising public finance is a clear imperative. There is no rationale or need to impede development of a finance-raising levy on bunker fuels by restricting discussions to sectoral approaches to mitigation. Financial transactions taxes are in the wings if not yet on stage, and Africa has a right to a portion of such resources and a myriad of opportunities to use it for green growth.

This is not, as some North Americans like to suggest, an issue of ‘guilt money’, it is an opportunity for sustainable development to the benefit of all humanity, and it is in our collective interest to enable ‘leap-frogging’ – an efficient transition to best available technology globally. Responsibility is not guilt. The Green Climate Fund is global because the benefits will be global, particularly if developing countries are allowed to access and use the funds in alignment with pressing development imperatives – should sufficient funds be forthcoming.

The right to sustainable development is not asserted to shame or assign guilt to those in economies that have grown rapidly through use of fossil fuels – it simply seeks to restore some balance, and efficient direction of resources to put all of humanity on a sustainable footing. The powerful should not be so fearful of yielding leverage over others that the entire system is so profoundly compromised that it cannot support the majority of people alive. 

And by the way: How old will you be in 2050? It seems that very few negotiators have contemplated the world even one generation from now. Do NGOs really need to repeat that about the opportunities to put in place what is required.  And is there any point when some of the needed text has already been written, but subsequently removed?

Much of the discussion in the first week has been about what we might hope to see in place at some time in the future, perhaps post-2020. After this, defending a deadline for an agreement in four years time is held out as a positive outcome!

Will there ever be a ‘make-or-break’ moment for the UNFCCC, or the processes for implementing it? Certainly it doesn’t look very good for  Qatar serving as a big step up if Durban does not produce what we need.

So here’s an idea. What if scenarios of potential COP 17 outcomes were named for trees? Perhaps a positive outcome would be a Baobab; certainly an Acacia would have to feature as nationally appropriate and offering welcome shade and resilience. What would a poor outcome be? A Welwichia – native to Namibia, far from decorative, but still providing a habitat? The vision of a long-dead and weathered log is on the horizon, but what would the alien invasive tree look like?

In South Africa, the Working for Water Programme roots out alien invasive trees.  But there isn’t a ready process for a COP Presidency to disown or defeat an unacceptable outcome, though there is precedent.

African NGOs hope to hear and see a lot more this week about what will be happening before 2015, including from the beginning of 2012. If the initial high-level sessions in Durban do not offer decisions for this timeframe, giving clear direction not just on additional institutions, but on moving money and continuing the Kyoto Protocol, African Parties should consider putting their host on notice that the outcome may face rejection.

 

North Africa

In the aftermath of the ‘Arab spring’ across the region, North Africa is spiraling upward with change in the follow-on to Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya’s revolutions. Civil society is finally rising up and vocalizing a myriad of concerns they have over issues ranging from democratization, human rights, labor and the environment. With the empowerment of the people, North African governments are cautiously listening to their demands. Yet with the rising impacts of climate change on this hot arid region, concerns will only escalate.

According to a recent World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) report, there will be a 20% decrease in water flow in the Nile River to Egypt. This is occurring in a country that is already severely affected by water scarcity and is currently below the water poverty line. The report also projects that these impacts will hit countries at a much faster rate than originally predicted, with sea levels rising almost 1 m instead of 0.5 m by 2050.  This means the delta in Egypt – the food basket of Egypt’s agricultural lands – will be inundated by up to 75%. These impacts will devastate the region and magnify the food and water security crisis for millions.

Earlier this year, the people of North Africa took to the streets to protest against increasing food prices, lack of jobs and insufficient resources.  Those challenges are already being increased by climate change. The governments of North Africa have a golden opportunity to act domestically with the creation of green jobs that will meet the needs of their people, economy, and the climate. Governments also have an important role in the global climate negotiations to push developed countries to increase their ambition targets as well as their financing capacity and deliver to address urgent concerns of the looming impacts of climate change on their people. 

 

East Africa

For poor farmers and pastoralists in East Africa, the climate has already changed and the impacts are severe, having claimed lives and livelihoods of people who contributed little to the situation. It is also certain that it will cost far more if concerted action is not taken soon.

In East Africa, climate change has amplified a chain of disasters: floods, extreme droughts, seasonal shifts and crop failure, animal diseases, water and fodder shortage, and social collapse. The current drought – the worst in decades, following the failure of both the main and short rain seasons – has reportedly affected 12 million and the real number may be far more. It has brought to famine in Somalia, claiming lives primarily of women and children, and rendering others refugees in Ethiopia. The survival of pastoralists is threatened by the death of thousands of livestock on which they are heavily dependent.

Droughts and famine in East Africa have been increasingly frequent over the last three decades. The region is and has been the leading humanitarian aid recipient. Changing this situation requires meaningful actions that will bend the global emissions curve into decline.

Over the years foreign aid has helped those who are affected by drought conditions, but such support has not extended to delivering the change desired by the people. The only thing that keeps changing is the climate and the degree of its impacts, making millions of farmers and pastoralists in the region suffer absolute poverty. Here is an appeal to the developed world which has been providing humanitarian support: real help requires implementing climate change response actions immediately. Help the people to adapt and take actions that will stabilize the climate, and the people of East Africa will find their own way out of poverty.

 

West Africa

For most African countries, increasing vulnerability to the impacts of climate change is a present danger, particularly for the rural poor, the great majority of whom are farmers. With increasing land degradation, desertification and soil erosion hitting hard at the local level and poor women and men totally reliant on natural resources for their survival, the need for adaptation support could not be more urgent.

The results of multilateral climate negotiations therefore have a huge impact on African lives. Smallholder, predominantly family-operated farms produce about 80 % of most African economies’ total agricultural output.

In Ghana for example, half of the labour force, or 4.2 million people, are directly engaged in agriculture, which is heavily dependent on rainfall. Food production fluctuates from year to year with variations in rains during and between growing seasons. In Ghana, the total area under formal irrigation is around 11,000 hectares whereas the potential area – including inland valleys – that could be developed for irrigation is estimated at 500,000 hectares.

The urgent need for a comprehensive adaptation framework, supported by adequate and predictable finance, cannot be overstated. Progress in this area has remained elusive for successive COPs. Instead, their mandate is applied in pursuit of narrow near-term interests of parties caught up in a web of diplomacy.

In Nagbere, a community in the Upper East region of Ghana, vegetable production – the only source of livelihoods for over 600 inhabitants – has collapsed due to long periods of drought. “We are not able to use very well the few heavy rains we get at certain periods during the year”, reported a local farmer in the community.

Creating resilient and sustainable societies requires substantial intervention to develop adaptive capacity of vulnerable communities and to maintain a healthy agriculture for improved food security. Timely provision of adaptation funds is critical to eradicating poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Timely adaptation measures will enable communities to take charge of their future and increase resilience. Unfortunately, in Durban we see appalling obstinacy by some of the major polluters rather than progressing the ultimate objective of the Convention.

African women, led by the late Wangari Maathai, took the simple first step step of digging a hole and placing in it a seedling. By so doing, they demonstrated commitment to adapting to their changing climate. If they could do that, why then the delay in releasing the green funds for climate change adaptation?

 

South Africa

The agreement of a further two-year phase of the Nairobi Work Programme, including specific focus areas on ecosystem-based approaches and on water, is a welcome development. This highlights the need for full consideration of the tensions between water and energy security, within the context of water scarcity in southern Africa and a heavy dependence on coal through South Africa’s dominance in the subregion and position as anchor of the Southern African Power Pool.

The Olifant’s River in SA’s Mpumalanga Province provides a classic example of the lack of ecosystem-based integrated planning.  The water of the Olifants is too polluted – almost entirely by coal mining to be used for cooling downstream coal-fired power plants. Water catchment management, with an ecosystem-wide approach, is not only a national but a regional imperative, yet the Southern African Development Community (SADC) lacks capacity to involve stakeholders in such regional planning.

Recent promotion of desalination raises additional concerns regarding overall resource efficiency and the potential for diminishing returns on investment, given the energy inputs required to ensure water supply, with current energy supply being from thirsty fossil-based processes. The concept of Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI), which is diminishing for fossil resources, but improving for renewable energy technologies, will also need to be applied to water supply. Adapting to
increasing water scarcity requires that supply should also be subject to resource efficiency standards, to optimise value derived from ecosystem services.

In this specific example we see how one output of the climate negotiations, the Nairobi Work Programme, is providing the context for making a positive contribution to sustainable natural resource management down on the ground.

 

Africa for Integrity

At this African COP, it is gratifying to see the Africa Group tabling a number of constructive proposals aiming to bring environmental integrity back to the Kyoto
Protocol.

On the issue of hot air, the Africa Group is proposing that the carry-over of surplus AAUs from the first to the second commitment period be limited to 1% of each party’s assigned amount for the first commitment period, and that parties be allowed to sell the carried-over amount, with 50% of the revenue to be transferred to the Adaptation Fund.

In the LULUCF negotiations, the group has put forward a proposal that would act to lower the free credits countries get from managing their forests. While it doesn’t fully solve the issue of unaccounted emissions in LULUCF, this compromise proposal is a step in the right direction.

These proposals may not be perfect, but they put forward compromises that take us towards environmental integrity needed at the core of global climate efforts.

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