Why Paris climate conference must draw a line in the sand to favour Africa

Mass die-in led by African civil society members at the 2014 Lima climate conference (PHOTO: ClimateReporters/Atâyi Babs)
Mass die-in led by African civil society members at the 2014 Lima climate conference (PHOTO: ClimateReporters/Atâyi Babs)

By Fariya Abubakari

A week of UN climate negotiations in Bonn ended on Friday 23rd October, 2015 and submissions where made by the African group including Ghana and Nigeria and LDCs such as Angola, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and over 100 countries worldwide.

The Least Developed countries (LDCs) consist of 48 nations and more than half are in Africa that are especially vulnerable to climate change but have done the least to cause the problem.

The African Group of Negotiators consists of climate change negotiators of every African country. One country is selected to chair the group for a period of two years. The current chair is from Sudan. The group raised concerns to be added in article 2 of the text by emphasizing on the need to minimize climate change effects in accordance with the principles of equity and common but differentiated responsibilities (CBDR) and respective capabilities.

The CBDR recognizes historical differences in the contributions of developed and developing states to global environmental problems, and differences in their respective economic and technical capacity to tackle these problems.

According to the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Osman Banyu, of Sierra Leone, differential responsibility is important in the text as it aims to promote substantive equality between developing and developed States within a regime, rather than mere formal equality. The aim is to ensure that developing countries can come into compliance with particular legal rules over time – thereby strengthening the regime in the long term.

So far 148 INDCs have been submitted and more are in the pipeline but there are fears that the current INDCs submitted are unfortunately still a race to the bottom. The level of ambition contained within the country’s climate change plans put the world on a 2.7°C pathway but the African Group is calling for a 1.5°C as anything higher will expose the continent to an irreversible changes in the climate system.

Ghana and other African nations are among the lightest polluters, but analysts say they will suffer the most from climate change in their pursuit of water, food security, and sustainable development, political and economic sustainability.

“Major emitting countries should seize the opportunity to put in place credible carbon pricing and taxation systems and to stop wasting billions on fossil fuel subsidy” said by the former UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan.

African countries are highly vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate variability owing to the high frequency and intensity of extreme climate events and the increasing risk of slow onset processes.

Emerging empirical evidence from the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC (IPCC AR5) shows increased frequency of droughts, floods, rising temperatures, sea level rise, and other weather and climate events, pose major threats on populations that derive their livelihoods from these agricultural systems.

For example, the droughts in the Gambia of the Sahel region in 2013, according to Yaffa, led to a decline of 39% in groundnut, 45% in maize, 64% in millet, and 50% in rice production, respectively.

In the Horn of Africa, the UNICEF reported in 2011 that 8.8 million people needed humanitarian support during the 2011 drought. According to the UNEP Report of 2009, droughts as a result of climate change have contributed to a reduction in the size and water levels of Lake Chad in West Africa by 95% in 2001, which resulted in an increased poverty due to its direct impact on fisheries and food security.

Other reports indicate that flood fatalities in Africa increased by a factor of ten from 1950 to 2009, and during the decade 2000-2009 have even doubled. The understanding, prediction and early warning of extreme climate events are therefore critical to climate risk reduction and sustainable development in Africa.

Long-term global targets can serve as a guideline for policy decisions on mitigation. However, under any long-term global target, the impacts of climate change are not equally distributed over countries. The evaluation of a global target for limiting global warming needs to take into account this heterogeneity and the interests of countries that take the bigger share of impacts.

Global climate change has already shown observable effects on Africa.

For example, in Ghana, increased drought and aridification, along with rising temperatures led to a decrease in water level in the Akosombo Reservoir causing major problems in the production of hydroelectric power which pose a threat to the energy sector.

In northern African countries, water resources have been affected in that the frequency of extreme events such as floods or extended droughts has increased direct consequence as there is crop loss causing starvation of human populations or livestock if alternative food sources are not available.

In fact, rainfall receipts have decreased by around 15% which threatens eastern and southern African countries dependent on rain-fed agriculture.

Developed and wealthy nations must show their commitment and support Ghana and other African countries in the implementation of these INDCs rather than the process and communication of the INDCs and must allow their policies to reflect the magnitude and urgency of actions needed to tackle climate change in Africa and more of the finance should be channeled to Africa as they are the most vulnerable when it comes to climate change.

Governments must do more in Paris, but the work does not end there. For the INDCs to succeed they must be adjusted before 2020 and reviewed in five year cycles from 2020 to ensure national actions quickly and rapidly progresses or we all face a grim and uncertain future.

 Abubakari is a climate tracker for adopt a negotiator program


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