COP25 Stalled – Africa Cannot Afford To Fail

December 18, 2019
All eyes were on Madrid for COP25, but the global community was largely dysfunctional, divided and distracted.  Big polluters spent more time obstructing progress, while others such as Brazil and Australia looked for regressive loop holes. While the voice of Southern nations, indigenous peoples and youth was the loudest, it fell on deaf ears.  There is a depressing conclusion: significant, coordinated climate adaptation finance for Africa and other developing countries is not going to materialize anytime soon.

While the African group of nations should continue to fight for climate finance at COP26 next November 9-19, in Glasgow Scotland, the reality will be that the United States is expected to officially withdraw from the Paris Accord on November 4, 2020; the United Kingdom will be struggling in post-Brexit mode; and Germany will be preparing for post-Merkel elections in 2021 – all of which provides plenty of space for Russia, Brazil, China and India to continue delaying tactics on emissions reduction.

So what can African countries do in the meantime?  They can design and implement smart policies that addresses climate adaptation to the extent possible. Given that Africa accounts for so little of global emissions they can do little to mitigate the impacts, but rather can only adapt to them.  This may include incentivizing changes in agricultural practices, mitigating investment against sea level rise, and protecting the most vulnerable. The African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET) is preparing its third in a series of African Transformation Reports, which will look at transformative policies for climate – as well as other complex issues such as innovation, demographics and integration.  Global warming looks exceedingly likely to exceed two degrees Celsius, given the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) latest report. Even if it doesn’t, Africa can still expect a reduction of 10 percent in crop production and a 40-80 percent reduction in arable land by 2050.  That would mean an estimated 43 million additional people could be pushed below the poverty line by 2030 as a result of climate change. The number of climate migrants could reach 86 million by 2050, compared to 40 million in South Asia.

Given these realities, policymakers need to think hard – but quickly – about policies that promote climate justice, i.e. safeguarding the rights of the most vulnerable people and sharing the burdens and benefits of climate change and its impact equitably and fairly. Africa has made exceptional gains in reducing poverty and must ensure policies are in place to retain that progress.

Additionally, governments need to invest in, and incentivize, climate smart agriculture.( This may in some instances include investing in technology and innovation, but can also be as simple as sharing data and information on agricultural management practices.

While the international community is largely failing to plan for large scale climate adaptation financing, the private sector can do so if the business environment, good governance and infrastructure is in place. In fact, governments can partner with the private sector in different parts of the value chain—production, post-harvest handling, processing, and marketing—where the business case for climate smart agriculture practices show potential to create farm-level incentives.

The global south has committed to bring robust climate plans to COP26, but it is not clear that COP26 will agree on a new global carbon market which could allow nations to adopt more rigorous objectives for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Hence the global south – and Africa in particular – needs to move ahead with climate policy that protects the poor, leverages new technologies and approaches and incentivizes the private sector.


Rob Floyd is Director and Senior Advisor at ACET, heading the Washington DC office. He supports ACETs efforts to develop strategic partnerships, enhance its profile and deepen the ACET business model.

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