Africa's Role at COP21

On December 12, nearly 200 countries signed a landmark climate change deal into effect. The COP21 Paris agreement pledges to keep global temperature increases "well below" 2 degrees Celsius and to pursue efforts to further limit increases to 1.5C by 2100. While individual countries' emission reduction targets are not legally binding, countries are legally obligated to review their progress every five years. In addition, the agreement included a pledge from developed countries to provide US$100 billion a year in climate financing to help developing countries reach their emission targets and better adapt to climate change by 2020, with a commitment to provide further financing after 2020.

With the current El Nino cycle driving floods and droughts throughout the region, Africa had a lot at stake in the negotiations. Despite the fact that the region produces only an estimated 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions ( AfDB , December 2, 2015), Africa is especially vulnerable to the impact of climate change due to its dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resource-based economies. It has been estimated that as much as 90 percent of Africa’s current cropped maize area will suffer due to weather-driven shocks by 2050, declining by as much as 12-40 percent. Without increased spending to address changing environments and improve sustainable agriculture, hunger and childhood malnutrition in the region could increase by more than 20 percent in the coming decades.

On the second day of the conference, COP21 delegates met at a side event entitled “Africa Day” to discuss the region’s unique challenges, and opportunities, in the face of global climate change. Central to the day’s discussions were the topics of renewable energy and land restoration. According to African Development Bank President Akinwumi Adesina, Africa loses as much as 4 percent of its annual GDP as a result of a lack of clean energy. In addition, 640 million people in the region have no access to electricity at all, and 7 million have no access to clean energy alternatives. To address these challenges and to take advantage of the continent’s potential for solar, hydroelectric, and geothermal energy, African leaders announced the launch of the African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI). The initiative aims to produce 300 gigawatts (GW) of electricity by 2030 using clean, affordable, renewable forms of energy. Solar energy and wind energy will play a leading role in the program, Adesina said, adding that “Sunshine should do more than just nourish our crops. It must light our homes. Our massive water resources should do more than water our farms, it should power our industries.”

The AfDB has planned to triple its climate change financing to US$ 5 billion per year by 2020, half of which sum will go toward renewable energy programs. In addition, during the Africa Day meetings, France pledged to double its investments in renewable energy in the region to €2 billion by 2020

With the signing of the COP21 agreement, however, some experts have expressed concern that agriculture fell through through the cracks. Warming greater than two degrees is predicted to have catastrophic effects on global agriculture, as well as other global impacts. In addition to its high vulnerability to the effects of climate change, agriculture is also a major source of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, contributing around 25 percent of global emissions. Despite agriculture’s importance as both a contributor to and a victim of climate change, however, many felt that the topic was not adequately addressed by the agreement, especially in the context of Africa.

In a recent interview ,  Estherine Fotabong, the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) Director of Programme Implementation and Coordination, states that while the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) from African countries participating in the COP21 meetings do include agriculture as a critical component, the conference’s overall negotiation text does not sufficiently deal with the issue of agriculture. She goes on to say that realistically, Africa will need to turn to development partners and the private sector to stimulate investment in climate-smart agriculture, rather than relying solely on official negotiation channels. The NEPAD Climate Fund is one such program designed to help communities throughout Africa adapt to climate change.

Akinwumi Adesina has also highlighted the negotiation’s importance to the future of African agriculture . “The danger that Africa will not be able to feed itself is a real one,” he said early in the conference. “And if we don’t have resources to adapt to climate change, Africa will not be able to unlock potential in agriculture.”


By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI