Climate Change: Why Africa must play it smart in Santiago

Climate Change: Why Africa must play it smart in Santiago
  • PublishedAugust 16, 2019

With the next climate change summit in Chile fast-approaching,  Wanjohi Kabukuru, reports on why Africa must play it smart at the negotiating table.

For Africa, the devastating effects of climate change, for which Africa is the least responsible region, are already here and threatening to get worse. 

Pledges of finance for mitigation and adaptation have remained only promises on paper. 

2015 marked a watershed of global climate change negotiations when the Paris Agreement was passed. This was after 21 years of negotiations. In Katowice, Poland last year, another significant milestone in international climate talks was achieved when delegates managed to produce a comprehensive rulebook which acts as the operational manual for the Paris Agreement by making the global pact into a “functioning multilateral system.” 

But Katowice did not flesh out everything as the crucial use of market based approaches and voluntary cooperation among parties in the implementation of their respective nationally determined contributions was deferred for COP25 slated for Santiago, Chile in December this year.

“The issue of how to better leverage private sector financing from carbon finance and market based mechanisms will be ironed out at the next set of climate negotiations set to take place in Chile later this year.” Says Aliou Dia, head of Climate Change, Disaster risk and Energy Management at UNDP Regional Office for Africa. 

Africa goes to Santiago, expecting to finalise on the deferred concerns which will bolster the implementation of the Paris agreement to fast track its eco-friendly development interests.

“Discussion in Katowice on the climate finance matters only advances on Article 9.5 of the Paris Agreement. This included information to be provided by parties in accordance with Article 9.5 regarding finance transparency, matters relating to the Adaptation Fund and setting a new collective quantified goal on finance.” Dr Sam Ogallah, a climate scientist and policy analyst says. “This has implications for African as parties to the Paris Agreement.” 

Santiago, Chile, is the venue of the Conference of Parties (COP25) starting late in November and going all the way into mid-December. Some 40,000 delegates among them Heads of States and governments from over 100 nations are expected in Chile for the four-weeks negotiations. 

The 250 acre Ciudad Parque Bicentenario where the former Santiago International Airport was located is currently being prepared to host COP25. Average daily attendance is expected to be 25,000 delegates. 

In the last eight months since Santiago was picked to host the summit, Chilean authorities have rolled up their sleeves and lobbied the world to make the Paris Agreement and the deliberations agreed in Marrakesh, Bonn and Katowice to work. 

An all binding climate agreement which had remained elusive for 20 years was achieved in Paris which finally unlocked the long running stalemate that has always been viewed as competition between the industrialized North and the developing South. 

Climate change irony

Africa goes to Santiago aware of the irony that despite being rich in biodiversity and holding the pole position of being the smallest carbon emitter in the world, the continent is regarded as extremely vulnerable to the consequences of climate change. 

Africa is still susceptible to climate related hazards such as extreme weather events including flash floods, droughts, cyclones, rising sea levels and coastal erosion among other vagaries as is seen in the Sahel and the havoc wrecked by Cyclone Idai and Cyclone Kenneth earlier in the year. 

“The Paris Agreement is one of the most definitive agreements of our lifetime. But we as Africa should go beyond hope with very clear and precise blueprints to demand that industrialised nations should work from a principle of self-enlightenment.” Ms. Fatima Denton the director of the Accra-based UN-University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA) says. 

“If the industrialised nations succeed in supporting the developing countries, that potential dividend and benefit can be enjoyed by everyone. What we are asking is not difficult and it is not rocket science.”

Equity issues, progress made on emission reductions, sustainable development corridors together with climate financing and governance are the key highlights to be revisited in Santiago when the negotiators resume. 

The continent’s lead negotiators, civil society and the policy makers are keen to make the Paris Agreement work even  given the reality of a reluctant US whose President, Donald Trump, has indicated that he will pull out of the climate pact. 

Seth Osafo, a Ghanaian lawyer and one of the Africa Group’s lead negotiators says that the continent must change tactics, embrace smart persuasive skills and negotiate for a fair deal at all times. 

“International climate change negotiations are complex processes which have also exposed Africa’s limited negotiating capacities as compared to the other advanced regions.” he says. 

“The economic interests of the North involved and the way the developed nations approach these talks are lessons for us in Africa to change our perceptions and embrace smart negotiation principles.”

Core of disagreements

Progress on adaptation, mitigation and resilience demands by Africa, Asia, Latin Americas and Small Island nations’ outweigh other concerns and have been at the core of climate change disagreements. 

Indeed much of the contention on coming up with a workable deal that suits all parties was the quest for climate compensation with the developing nations blaming the industrialised ones of unwillingness to curb high emissions and quick to slow down the progress of the developing nations by failing to provide financing to support carbon smart development pathways. 

 Owing to the lack of financial clarity, mitigation costs are higher compared to adaptation funds. Mitigation costs are expected to be around $200bn annually while adaptation funds are estimated to at $100bn per year. 

“The entire climate change discussion from an African perspective has always celebrated, ritualised and dissected the whole issue of adaptation as a priority,” says Fatima Denton says. “But we are selling ourselves short by sticking to a very rigorous almost absolutist position of putting forward an adaptation agenda without insisting on mitigation.”

But while it may seem as if the North-South divide is likely to continue even in Santiago when COP25 rolls out, strong indications show that progress will be made on financing. 

When Pope Francis released his environment encyclical Laudato Si in May 2015, he not only thrust climate change into the global development agenda but he emboldened fatigued negotiators who were almost giving up on a global climate deal. 

African policy bureaucrats and negotiators will need to adopt suave tactics as they have learnt the hard lessons of the past. Though outnumbered by their northern counterparts in the complex Santiago parley they must translate equity and unlock the “principle of common but differentiated responsibilities” for the future benefit of the continent. 

Denton calls on the continent to find persuasive leaders to carry the climate change message and banish ‘victimhood’ status as a first step to bridge the North-South divide. “At the moment we cannot win the fight by being in the blame game. We cannot stay on a narrative that hems us into a problem and a situation that keeps us immobilised. We need to turn our vulnerabilities into strengths.” 



Written By
Wanjohi Kabukuru

Wanjohi is an award-winning international environmental investigative journalist, whose specialty covers environment, geo-politics, business, conservation and the Indian Ocean marine development. Over the last 17 years Mr. Kabukuru has written extensively on energy, marine science and environmental conservation. His articles have been published in top-notch publications as African Business, African Banker, Inter Press Service (IPS), New African, BBC Focus on Africa, Mail & Guardian (South Africa), Africa Renewal, 100Reporters, and Radio France International (RFI) among numerous other publications.

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