COP 21 adopts Paris Agreement, but little cheer for Africa

The new climate agreement adopted in early December has laid a firm foundation for the global community to combat the impacts of climate change although there is little joy for Africa as some key expectations were not met.

African climate change experts highlighted that the Paris Agreement adopted by the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held on November 30 to December 11 in France failed to give the issue of agriculture the attention it deserves.

“Throughout the negotiations, we have been trying to introduce agriculture so that it is mainstreamed in the negotiation text,” said Estherine Fotabong, the Director of Programme Implementation and Co-ordination for the New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

The lack of attention given to agriculture in the agreement is a worrisome development considering the important role of agriculture in the developmental agenda of Africa.

The agricultural sector is regarded as an engine for socio-economic development in most African countries.

According to the African Union, agriculture accounts for about one-third of the continent’s gross domestic product, and more than two-thirds of its citizens rely directly on the sector for their livelihood.

A related item that Africa had on the list for COP 21 was the need for clarity on financing for losses and damage associated with the adverse effects of climate change.

Apart from recognising the importance of averting, minimising and addressing losses and damage and recommending for the continuation of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM),the agreement lacks clarity on how this will be financed.

Washington Zhakata, Director of the Climate Change Department in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate in Zimbabwe, said “developed countries refused to accept liability for compensation, thus resulting in lack of clarity on financing for losses and damage.”

Article 8.1 of the agreement only states that WIM for losses and damage “may be enhanced and strengthened as determined by the COP,” leaving Africa at a disadvantage as there is no guarantee that the mechanism will in future be transformed to benefit the continent.

The agreement only gives reference to small island states and developing countries without specifically mentioning Africa, a continent that has a large proportion of its population severely affected by the impacts of climate change.

This is despite the fact that Africa is the least contributor to greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, yet the continent is the hardest hit due to limited financial resources to adapt to such changes.

Zhakata said Africa preferred to be particularly mentioned in the Finance Article and vulnerability section. This was, however, not the case.

On provision of finance, Article 9 of the agreement states that “developed country Parties shall provide financial resources to assist developing country Parties with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention and that other parties are encouraged to provide such support voluntarily.”

This clause has left the continent doubtful of the commitment of developed countries to provide funding for adaptation and mitigation as it is on a voluntary basis and the commitment is non-binding. The agreement states that parties resolved to “enhance the provision of urgent and adequate finance, technology and capacity-building support by developed country parties in order to enhance the level of ambition of pre-2020 action.”

The agreement strongly urged developed countries to scale up their level of financial support, with a concrete roadmap to achieve the goal of jointly providing US$100 billion annually by 2020 for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

However, past experience has shown that developed countries have failed to live up to this commitment and the pace at which developed countries are contributing to climate financing is very slow.

African countries think that the major and historic polluters must take a fair share of responsibility not only to cut their emissions but help the victims to adapt to climate impacts.

So far accessing money from the Green Climate Fund has been a challenge since it was created due to the stringent conditions imposed by developed countries.

Although Article 9.9 of the agreement aims to ensure efficient access to financial resources through simplified approval procedures and enhanced support for developing countries, it still remains to be seen if this will be the case.

The Paris pact emphasises that “adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems.”

This should be based on and guided by “the best available science and, as appropriate, traditional, indigenous and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrate adaptation into relevant socio-economic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate.”

For Africa, recognition of Indigenous Knowledge Systems (IKS) in resilience is crucial considering that communities on the continent use IKS to adapt to floods and drought, and other climate challenges.

Parties agreed that the agreement shall be open for signature and subject to ratification from 22 April 2016 to 21 April 2017.

The agreement will enter into force after at least 55 UNFCCC parties have deposited their instruments of ratification, acceptance, approval or accession. – sardc.net

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