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Was Warsaw enough to address climate challenges in Africa?

Much needs to be done before the 2015 climate change conference in Paris.

Last updated: 07 Feb 2014 06:10
Richard Munang

Dr Richard Munang is Africa Regional Climate Change Head & Co-ordinator at the United Nations Environment Programme.
Joy Hyvarinen

Joy Hyvarinen is the Executive Director of the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD).
More authors: Jessica Andrews
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Africa is doing its share to combat climate change but it needs the international community's help [EPA]

The Africa Adaptation Gap report put the spotlight on the frightening climate change impacts that African countries are facing.

According to the report, Africa is already facing adaptation costs in the range of $7-15bn per year by 2020. Even if the world does manage to get on a pathway of keeping average global warming below 2°C, Africa's adaptation costs are likely to be in the range of $35bn per year by the 2040s, and $200bn per year by the 2070s - with total costs reaching 1 percent of the continent's GDP by 2100.

The report emphasises how extremely urgent emission reductions are for African countries. Expectations were low, with Warsaw widely expected to be a stepping-stone towards more substantive decisions in 2014 and 2015. However, with  24 months left to finalise a new climate change agreement in 2015, the Warsaw negotiations should have made more progress, reinforcing momentum towards Paris. Many observers noted an absence of urgency in Warsaw.

The next steps towards the future climate change agreement may call into question whether it will be possible to finalise the agreement in Paris. Countries have been invited to communicate their intended contributions to the future agreement by the first quarter of 2015, for those "ready to do so". This will leave little time to consider such contributions and the emission reductions they amount to, in advance of the Paris conference.

Wide gap

This is worrying for African countries, as the likely gap between the intended national contributions and the emission reductions required to limit warming to below 2°C, is likely to be very large. This is the challenge now: How to reconcile nationally determined contributions with the emission reductions that are required globally, to reduce the risks of catastrophic impacts?

The $7-15bn needed by 2020 to adapt to climate change impacts will go up as the world warms. In 2009, countries committed to providing $30bn in "fast start" financing between 2010 and 2012, and to provide $100bn a year by 2020 to help developing countries deal with the effects of climate change.

With uncertainty surrounding climate finance throughout the process, Africa will need to look for home-grown solutions that include information sharing and collective response.

Africa's way forward

With uncertainty surrounding climate finance throughout the process, Africa will need to look for home-grown solutions that include information sharing and collective response. Many cost-effective adaptation examples are already being shared through the Africa Adaptation Knowledge Network (AAKNet). AAKNet is a platform aimed at building a shared knowledge base intended to help enhance actions through sharing lessons, knowledge and information for adaption to climate change. 

Many African countries share similar abilities and difficulties so, Africa, more than most other regions, is in a particularly unique position to collaborate, share resources, and ultimately lead the world in employing a continental approach to respond to climate change.

Africa knows first-hand that climate hardships do not respect political boundaries. A drought in the Sahel caused more than 550,000 refugees to move into neighbouring countries to seek basic food, water and shelter, on the other hand, many countries share similar opportunities for collaboration like rich biodiversity and vast watersheds. These events will continue and will worsen if climate change is not mitigated and adaptation actions not pursued.

"Africa cannot risk failure of implementing serious adaptation measures, especially with Africa's predicted population rise of 2 billion by 2050 and the current ecosystem degradation trajectory," said Dr Terezya L Huvisa who is the president of AMCEN and the Tanzanian Minister of State for the Environment. "An African Adaptation Programme to Climate Change (AAPCC) would allow the continent to pool its resources, avoid duplication of efforts, and coordinate responses and knowledge sharing," she added. Such a programme would offer a way to better utilise regional resources, and expedite use of international funds. AAPCC could build upon the opportunities present within Africa, and provide a second, cost-effective opportunity for the continent to lead the charge against climate change.

As the Gap report showed, the scale of the adaptation challenge for Africa is overwhelming. Unless the UNFCCC negotiations achieve deep emission reductions in the short term, the continent's adaptation needs will rapidly expand. Africa needs to step up its adaptation efforts, as fast as possible. For this to be possible, financial support, technology and capacity-building are essential. Africa is committed to making the most of its own resources, including human resources, knowledge and experience, to meet the growing adaptation challenge. However, to succeed it will need the international community's support - and it is time to step up that support to meet the growing adaptation challenge.

Positive steps

Warsaw resulted in five achievements that should be applauded:

First, developed countries agreed to work to close the ambition gap (ie, the difference between what countries have pledged, what is required by science and their historical outputs) by 2020, through intensifying technical work and more frequent engagement of ministers. Advancements towards this goal will need to take place rapidly as the 2015 deadline approaches.

Africa is doing its share - some would argue more than its share - in the face of the increasing threat that climate change poses to the continent.

Second, developed countries agreed to prepare biennial statements discussing how they plan to increase climate finance to meet the $100bn per year by 2020 commitment. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) board will also begin its first ever resource mobilisation process. Developed countries were asked for "ambitious" and timely contributions to the GCF by COP 20 to be held December 2014.

Third, National Adaptation Action Plans (NAPAs) were submitted by the 48 poorest countries - a 100 percent submission rate. NAPAs are country-prepared plans that describe priority projects that the country data suggests will assist it in responding to climate change. Contributions of over $100m to the Adaptation Fund to finance projects included in the NAPAs were announced by Austria, Belgium, Finland, France, German, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland. Several other countries including Norway, UK, EU, US, Republic of Korea, Japan, Sweden, Germany and Finland also pledged to support public climate finance.

Fourth, governments have responded to developing countries' request for guidance by setting up the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). Developing countries will need to appoint coordinators and move forward with available transfers to take full advantage of this opportunity.

Fifth, "REDD +",  which is REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation) with conservation and sustainable management of forests and the enhancement of forest carbon stocks, received $280m in contributions. 

Towards Paris 2015

Africa must make the most of the progress made at Warsaw, utilise cost-effective solutions at home and efficiently collaborate if adjustment is to be enough for its growing population. This extends beyond Africa and to the rest of the world.  many African countries share similar abilities and difficulties

A potential question mark now hangs over the future agreement. If UNFCCC parties submit information about their intended contributions that does not add up to sufficient emission reductions (which is a likely scenario in current circumstances), what will be the next step? Designing an agreement that can strengthen emission reductions is already extremely challenging from a legal perspective, and doing so from a weak starting point will be even more so.

Africa is doing its share - some would argue more than its share - in the face of the increasing threat that climate change poses to the continent. The window of opportunity to keep warming to below 2°C is closing rapidly. Africa will come under increasing - possibly intolerable in some areas - pressure, unless the international community can accelerate its efforts to tackle climate change.

However, there is still time to build common ground through the UNFCCC negotiations. All countries should make this a priority between now and 2015. Steps must be taken to ensure an equitable, balanced and fair 2015 agreement. A good place to start is by mobilising the resources already available and fostering greater regional and international cooperation.

Richard Munang is UNEP's Africa Regional Climate Change Coordinator.

Follow him on Twitter: @MTingem.

Jessica Andrews is a Programme Officer in the Regional Office for Africa, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Joy Hyvarinen is the Executive Director of the Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD). 

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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