Global climate talks: Africa shoots self in foot

Jeffrey Gogo Climate Story
Climate scientist Tirivanhu Muhwati believes Africa has a tendency of shooting itself in the foot when presented with good deals that can help its people cope with climate change more effectively.

The world agreed to a new inclusive climate treaty called the Paris Agreement last December, replacing the Kyoto Protocol — an emissions reduction deal that has largely failed to deliver.

The Kyoto Protocol expired in 2012 after a 5-year commitment period. Among other things, the Paris Agreement aims mainly to curb global temperature rise at 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, and to avail a minimum $100 billion per year in climate finance for poor nations beginning now.

Although it only comes into force in 2020, negotiations on how the accord is to be implemented begin in Germany in May through the next 5 years.

Speaking at the Zimbabwe Environmental Lawyers Association (ZELA) climate change workshop in Harare earlier this month, Muhwati, who was part of the Zimbabwe team of negotiators at Paris, says after 25 years of talks Africa should now know how to represent its interests at global fora better.

“The Convention is very friendly, looking at it from a developing country perspective,” said the Ministry of Environment climate scientist in reference to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) of 1992.

“Time and again we get these kind of good deals. But developing countries do not participate enough in the processes that develop modalities and procedures that put the agreements into action.

“This tends to reverse the gains achieved during negotiations for bigger agreements like the Paris Agreement. Some African countries do not send meaningful delegations to the talks; some send may be just one person; others no one at all, and often, they are overwhelmed with the amount of work needed.

“In the end, most of the outcomes are skewed in the favour of developed countries (who send bigger delegations to the talks). The issue goes down to active participation in the important preparatory meetings.”

Zimbabwe sent about 30 negotiators to the Paris climate talks last year, made up of Government officers, parliamentarians, civil society, academia and parastatal heads, says Washington Zhakata, the country’s lead negotiator.

Some industrialised countries were represented by as many as 500 delegates. The UNFCCC is the world’s first political response to climate change, laying a legal framework for the effective reduction in climate-warming gases such as carbon dioxide and methane.

Its first binding treaty, the Kyoto Protocol, signed in a Japanese city of the same name in 1997, compelled rich countries – the ones historically responsible for fuelling climate change – to cut emissions by at least 5 percent below the 1990 base year levels.

Excluding the world’s two biggest emitters, China and the USA, from committing, the protocol failed to meet even these modest targets as industrialised countries reneged on their promises, worsening vulnerability in Africa — the world’s least polluter.

Favourable deal

Describing as “favourable” a deal that has drawn mixed reactions across Africa — reactions leaning more on bitterness — Mr Muhwati said the outcome from Paris was only the beginning of a long process towards bringing the actual agreement to life.

The developing world ought to find its place in that process, a place of influence, he reckoned.

And this is the question whose answer is anything but elusive: How can Africa, and Zimbabwe, make global agreements like the Paris accord work for the man on the street?

“The most important part is not the Paris Agreement itself, but the various instruments that will come along on how the provisions of the agreement will be implemented,” Mr Muhwati said. Zimbabwe is making that path ready. Mr Muhwati said the country was developing a slew of policies that will make Paris work locally.

That includes a national climate policy, an adaptation plan, a climate change fund, an emissions reduction strategy, a communication strategy, a low carbon development strategy, and several others.

“We are looking at enhancing the country’s capacity to tap into multi-lateral funds, particularly the Green Climate Fund, with help from the UN Development Programme,” he said.

Zimbabwe, which has struggled to gain international funding, needs at least $10 billion — two and a half times as big as the annual national budget — to adapt to climate change between now and 2025, according to the climate change response strategy. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is designed to support adaptation and mitigation in developing countries, those most at risk of dangerous climate change impacts. From an annual target of $100 billion, rich countries have deposited just $10 billion into the GCF to date.

Legislator Mr Tapiwa Mashakada, who sits on the Parliament’s environment committee, told the ZELA workshop that climate change laws will have to be made swiftly, announcing what he called his 10-point climate plan.

“We need a clear legal framework,” he said. “Without that framework there is no way we can achieve our set goals on climate change.”

Mr Mashakada’s plan emphasises economy-wide emission cuts, domestic and global fund raising, clean energy, enhanced monitoring and measuring of emissions, and others — nothing new, really, but very important coming from a lawmaker.

Most of his peers are either in denial or poorly grounded in climate change, which could derail national progress on addressing the science’s deadly impacts.

Favourable? Not that much

Mr Muhwati says the agreement “upholds the principle of differentiation” on the basis that “though every country is called to contribute, the intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) are nationally determined, you determine them yourself, and no one tells you by how much you should reduce emissions.”

While on the surface this might seem true, this process was not at all voluntary. To get the world to agree to the Paris deal, Africa had given up a lot of ground. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which only bound industrialised states to cut greenhouse gas emissions — differentiation — the Paris Agreement compels all the 195 countries party to the UNFCCC to commit.

And that is reason Zimbabwe and the rest of the developing world submitted their climate mitigation plans — INDCs — to the UN ahead of Paris for the first time in the 25-years of global climate negotiations.

The INDCs were the building blocks of the Paris Agreement.

For Africa, the new all-party commitment system is not as much inclusive as it is coercive.

It is the culmination of a well-calculated process that may have started at the disastrous Copenhagen climate negotiations in 2009.

From now on, most, if not all, future climate deals will be based on the Paris treaty — and with that, differentiation — a tool that’s been a key leverage in the talks — may be lost, forever.

Africa also lost its battle to get rich countries to fund climate impacts known as loss and damage, which cannot be addressed through adaptation

The ZELA workshop aimed to breakdown the Paris Agreement by answering the question: What is in it for Zimbabwe?

It was attended by Government, civil society, media, labour organisations, climate scientists and academics.

God is faithful.

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