Addis Ababa — African nations are entitled to a fair share of financial and other assistance from the developed world to help them cope with climate change, but they should also take the initiative to green their own economies and use land more sustainably and productively, experts told a conference on climate change and development in Ethiopia this month.
The Kenya-based Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), a coalition of non-governmental organisations, urged rich nations to commit at upcoming U.N. climate talks in Warsaw to provide climate aid equivalent to at least 1.5 percent of their gross domestic product (GDP). The group also called for the establishment of an international mechanism to protect the most vulnerable countries from losses and damage resulting from climate change.
At the Addis Ababa conference, which was attended by more than 700 delegates from 54 African countries, Carlos Lopes, U.N. under secretary general and executive secretary of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), said "principles of corrective and distributive justice should apply" at November's U.N. climate negotiations in Warsaw.
Lopes noted that per capita carbon dioxide emissions in Africa are less than 1 tonne each year. Yet while Africa accounts for just 2.4 percent of global emissions, the negative impacts of climate change estimated as a percentage of GDP are higher in Africa than in wealthier parts of the world, he added.
As a result the continent is a massive ecological creditor, Lopes said, even though countries responsible for 80 percent of global emissions do not accept this concept. The aid Africa has received for adapting to climate change so far is less than 2 percent of the total it needs, he added.
Fatima Denton, coordinator of the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC), said international funding for climate change adaptation is important for the continent. But Africans should also explore what they can do for themselves, she argued.
"We shouldn't overstate this element of culpability (of industrialised nations)," she told Thomson Reuters Foundation in an interview on the sidelines of the conference.
"I believe we (Africans) also have a responsibility to grow, to develop and look at... where we have some areas of responsibility and try to see how it can be done - how we can look at it in terms of leapfrogging technologies (for) greening our economies, and many other areas," said Denton, who is also a lead author of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the physical science of climate change.
ECA's Lopes proposed a six-point strategy for tackling climate change in Africa, which he argued should be followed in parallel with the international climate negotiations.
He suggested a new economic model based on clean technology, greater investment in climate science and production of high-quality data, expanded partnerships with other developing nations and leveraging agriculture more effectively by boosting yields and adding value to farm products, given that Africa is home to 60 percent of the world's arable land.
The conference was told in a policy brief prepared for the event by the ACPC, based on findings from September's IPCC report, that if Africa continues on its present path of increased population growth, even in the absence of climate change, it will exceed the limits of its non-marine water resources before 2025.
Including the effects of climate change on agriculture, the brief cited research projecting that yields from rain-fed agriculture in some North African countries could be reduced by up to 50 percent as soon as 2020. By 2080, Africa's semi-arid land could increase from 5 percent now to 8 percent, it added.
Sea-level rise is another risk. An increase of 48cm by the end of this century could lead to storm surges and more intense rainstorms, as well as impacting fisheries and coastal eco-systems, according to the ACPC policy document.
Human health was mentioned as another area of concern, with adults and children facing dangers from more erratic weather conditions and infectious diseases such as malaria, African tick bite fever and leishmaniasis, the brief said. These patterns are already emerging in Ethiopia, and Kenya, it added.
Solutions to Africa's climate change problems debated at the conference from Oct. 21 to 23 included making research more relevant to local needs, and adapting existing policies to cope better with climate change.
Local communities should be involved in developing climate change strategies, the negative impacts of adaptation measures considered, and regional rather than continental or international approaches to combat climate change drawn up, conference participants agreed.
LOW HOPES FOR WARSAW?
Some warned current plans to deal with climate change are not yet being fully implemented, let alone looking for new options.
Abdalla Hamdok, ECA's deputy secretary, pointed to a tendency among rich countries to weaken their commitments - including a failure by some to sign up for the extension of the Kyoto Protocol at climate talks last year.
The principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities" which was the basis of climate negotiations in the 1990s - the concept that all countries must act to tackle climate change, but in proportion with their historic greenhouse gas emissions and ability to pay - seems to be under threat from developed nations, Hamdok added.
The Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, meanwhile, raised concerns that African climate negotiators may be hobbled at November's talks by a lack of political ambition.
Mithika Mwenda, PACJA's secretary general, said a declaration made this month in Gaborone, Botswana, by a session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) watered down several key issues, threatening the chances of reaching a binding climate deal that is in the interests of the African people.
Mwenda said goals of limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and ensuring global emissions peak by 2020 and fall below 1990 levels by 2050 were omitted from the Gaborone declaration, despite being included in earlier documents.
The PACJA head also called for limits on the use of carbon offsetting by developed nations, which he said had allowed them to continue polluting by buying emission reduction credits.
And he urged climate negotiators in Warsaw to agree on an international mechanism to tackle loss and damage related to climate and change. This would contribute to "the creation of fair and equitable help for developing nations, especially in Africa, as the continent houses the most vulnerable population", Mwenda said.
E.G. Woldegebriel is a journalist based in Addis Ababa with an interest in environmental issues.