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COP 21: what did Africa get from the 'landmark deal'?

COP 21: what did Africa get from the 'landmark deal'?
December 16, 2015

Climate change is increasingly a 'security' problem, and there has been speculation that climate change may increase the risk of violent conflicts. Climate change increasingly destabilises human security in the present day and will increasingly do so in the future by reducing access to, and the quality of, natural resources that are important to sustain livelihoods. Climate change is also likely to undermine the capacity of states to provide the goods and services that help people to sustain their livelihoods. In certain circumstances these direct and indirect impacts of climate change on human security may in turn increase the risk of violent conflict.

Scientists paint a dark image when connecting climate change to violent conflict. Gwynne Dyer (2010) argues that "an increase of as little as two degree celsius in average global temperature – which is almost inevitable – would heat global politics to boiling point and trigger massive conflict over scarce food and water." While in an interview given to IPSS, one of the members of the African Group of Negotiators for COP 21, said, "Climate Change is or will be directly linked to violent conflicts within the continent. If the world doesn’t act now, it will be too late to prevent what happens in the near future."

The multidimensional aspect of the impact of climate change and the fact that climate change is a collective action problem have pushed world governments to come up with an international agreement that will cap GHG (Green House Gas) emissions which will be able to limit the global warming at 2°C of pre-industrial times. The highly-anticipated 21st Conference of Parties began on the 29th November 2015 and after two weeks of negotiations; the 200+ countries have adopted the 'Paris Agreement' on the 12th December 2015.

Africa's changing role in the Climate Change negotiations: from Kyoto to Paris
The world has been negotiating on climate change for the past 20 years. In those 20 years, we have witnessed the creation of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the signing of the Kyoto protocol, and now the Paris agreement. The first two monumental agreements have shaped the climate change negotiations in the past 20 years. The UNFCCC was established in 1992 in Rio and the Kyoto Protocol was signed in 1997 and came in to effect in 2005, but expires in 2020.

The failure of the last big climate change convention, the Kyoto Protocol, was a major let down for the world at large and for Africa in particular. It has been criticised in being a top down approach. It also did not have the backing of all the member states. The Kyoto Protocol was not signed by two of the largest GHG emitters: the USA and China. In the past 10 years, the USA and China have been in a competition of who will sign first, till the very end. It has also been seen as going easy on the developing world, stating that they can pitch into the reduction of CO2 emissions, but were not required to actually reduce emissions.

African countries, in the Kyoto negotiations and the ones after that until the Copenhagen UNFCCC, have taken a passive role. However, a change was seen in the COP 15 with a unified African voice under the leadership of key developing countries' leaders. This united voice was not only African, but also the voice of the developing world. Africa’s participation in the UNFCCC negotiations has recently been boosted by concerted effort to have an African Common Position for each session of the global climate talks. These efforts were crystallised in Decision No. Assembly/Dec. 457(XX) of the coordination mechanism of the Committee of African Heads of State on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) taken during the 2011 Malabo Summit authorising the Climate for Development in Africa (ClimDev-Africa) Programme, to organise and manage Africa's participation at all COP events.

The Common African Position, in the pillar four, addresses the African countries' position for the effective response to climate change. The common position promises to implement the targets set by the Kyoto protocol and urges the developed countries to honour their commitment in accordance to the protocol. It also calls for the effective use of the Green Climate Fund as promised under the 'loss and damages' climate change adaptation finance.

COP 21: major points of the agreement
The Paris Climate Conference of Parties (COP 21) has gathered for one major goal: to create a legally-binding agreement between all the countries to lower emissions sufficiently to keep global warming below the 2°C. The limits agreed in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol will expire in 2020, so it was essential that a new binding agreement was reached. Anything short of the 2°C benchmark would have been considered a failure. However in this aspect, the Paris Agreement has succeeded in gaining the approval of the 200+ nations that the agreement may officially target to limit global warming to 2°C, but countries must also aim for the 1.5oC goal.

There are major points that the Paris Agreement has reached. This deal requires any country that ratifies it to act to curtail its greenhouse gas emissions in the coming century, with the goal of peaking greenhouse gas emissions 'as soon as possible' and continuing the reductions as the century progresses. Countries will aim to keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C (3.6°F) by 2100 with an ideal target of keeping temperature rise below 1.5°C (2.7°F). This deal also requests that all signatory nations submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDS). Currently, nations who are responsible for more than 90% of global emissions have come up with their targets or INDCs. These include all of the major developed and developing countries, though their contributions vary. In the case of developed countries, this refers to actual cuts in emissions, but for developing countries, a range of targets including limits on emissions compared to 'business as usual'.

Another major point that the Paris Agreement makes is that the need to review national implementation of activities every five years. Yet, there is no question of punitive restrictions if a country doesn't meet its targets. And among the many other issues that were in dispute was money. While rich countries promised they would give $100bn by 2020 to the developing world back in 2009, the cash has been slow in coming. As of 2015, out of the promised $100bn USD only about 4% of the money has been distributed among the developing countries.

Nevertheless, the Paris Agreement enhances this commitment by stating that the collective financial contribution of $100bn USD per year from the developed world for mitigation and adaptation actions be continued till 2025. In addition, it recognised the need to reward developing countries for their action towards building a carbon neutral economy by establishing result-based payments for alternative polices. Furthermore, it enhances the need for technology transfer and capacity building.

The Paris Agreement will come into effect in 2020. Yet in an effort to ensure as possible mitigation efforts in the pre-2020 period, it recognises the need for all the Kyoto signatory states to implement the Doha amendment to the Kyoto Protocol and for countries to implement the mitigation pledges under Cancun Agreement. 

COP 21: what did Africa get out of it
As of 2015, Africa's CO2 emissions are estimated at less than 7% of the world total, according to the AFDB. Sub-Saharan African, with the exception of South Africa, only contributes to 2% of the world CO2 emission. However by 2080, an increase of 5 to 8% of arid and semi-arid land in Africa is projected under a range of climate scenarios. Also by 2080, due to climate change, it is likely that 75% of the African population will be at risk of hunger, according to the FAO. Africa's population is expected to rise to at least 2.4 billion by 2050 with some of the countries doubling or even tripling their numbers and making Africa the region with the largest population growth. After months of preparation, the African Group of Negotiators went into the COP21 with the expectation and aims of limiting CO2 emission, increase Africa's access to climate finance, and get a clear commitment for balanced implementation for both mitigation and adaptation. The question is did they get their way or did the Paris COP 21 fail Africa?

In the new climate change agreement, that has been referred as 'the best deal to save the planet'; developing countries have been part of the coalitions that has been pushing for strong commitments for both adaptation and mitigation. Compared to the last climate agreement, the Paris Agreement takes in to account the situation of the developing world. Under the 'same but differentiated' action, all developing countries are to be part of the efforts of both mitigation and adaptation.

Under the mitigation decision though it highly focuses on the developed countries, developing countries have to participate in cutting down GHG emissions. By voluntarily submitting their national emission cutting plans, developing countries are encouraged to move into a green economy era. As countries' commitment to reduce emissions is on voluntary basis, African countries will be able to define their commitment based on their priorities. Furthermore the Paris agreement encourages developing countries in to focusing their policies into adaptation efforts. These alternative policies will be supported by the provision of finance, technology, and capacity building.

In addition to the adaptation and mitigation commitment, the major gain for African countries is that of the issue of adaptation finances. The Paris Agreement states that based on the need and policies of the country, adaptation cost would be distributed in a transparent manner for developing countries. Also, the decision that developed countries agree to continue the existing commitment of providing finances for developing countries is a good step towards financing adaptation efforts. It further states that this existing finance of $100bn USD per year shall continue till 2025 and a new plan will be designed at the COP in 2025.

Furthermore on the 1st December 2015, the third day of COP 21 staged an African Pavilion. This important side event was attended by African heads of states and governments and was chaired by the French President François Hollande. The gathering identified the problem Africa faced because of climate change and the type of solution that the continent needs. Different organisations have expressed that Africa needs climate justice. In an interview given to the BBC African Business Report, African Development Bank’s President Akinwumi Adesina advocated for climate justice and the 'polluters pay' principles for Africa. He went on to say that polluters must bring balance and help Africa move to a renewable energy economy.

Moreover, other stakeholders have called up on the shortcoming of the Paris Agreement. Climate activists are calling the agreement weak but important. Scientists are calling it 'just the beginning of a process' where the global commitment 'gets us roughly halfway' to where the world needs to be. Legal analysts have called attention to the fact that the agreement is non-punitive for countries that fail to comply with their targets and commitments, as a major loophole. In an article published on the Guardian, Adesina said, "COP-21 is a forum where Africans went not to beg, but to make the case that they want to be a part of the solution.  We want to put Africa at the forefront of the global development agenda. In Paris, we have mobilised $10 billion in commitments for the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative. Africa comes to COP 21 not just with real 'Asks', but with real 'Gives' too."

With the agreement adopted by all nations present, the major question that the 200+ state representatives and 40,000 negotiators in Paris needed to ask was that if we don't move on from the fossil fuel economy: will societies be able to feed their populations? Will the poor and vulnerable be able to survive? And would the world be able to avoid new wars? - Did the Paris agreement answer all these and other questions? That remains to be seen as the Agreement comes in to action.

Furthermore what the world leaders have realised is that climate change is a collective action problem because the individual and collective incentives to reduce carbon emissions are different. There is a strong collective benefit in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And for African countries, the implementation of this agreement and the phasing out of fossil fuel economy is an issue of life and death.

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