Climate Africa: Resiliance and Adaptation

Climate Africa: Resilience and Adaptation

Mark Mwandosya*

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change”. Charles Darwin (1809-1882)

I would like, at the outset, to congratulate Aliu Akoshile, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief and the Team at NatureNews Africa, for making it through what has been, globally, a very difficult year. Covid 19 has caused havoc to the extent that we can only meet virtually, at least for the time being. One year of existence under the conditions of the corona virus, is something worthwhile to celebrate. Bravo Team NatureNews Africa.

The 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP26) meets in Glasgow this November 2021. The expectations are high. I must add that it depends on one’s perception of success when it comes to global negotiations on climate change. My anticipation is measured and is borne out of a long experience of participating in a number of Conferences of the Parties. I had the unenviable, yet unique task of chairing the group of 133+ countries, the Group of 77 (G77) and speaking for the G77 and China in 1997 during the negotiations, which led to the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, a multilateral instrument that was the precursor to the Paris Agreement. I worked closely with Mohammad Sanusi Barkindo (Nigeria), Bernarditas Muller (The Philippines), Rungano Karimanzira (Zimbabwe), Madeleine Diouf (Senegal), Mohamed Salem al Saban (Saudi Arabia), Zhenmin Liu (China), Tuiloma Neroni Slade (Samoa), Buruhani Salum Nyenzi (Tanzania), Eric Mugurusi (Tanzania), Verdiana Macha (Tanzania), and other delegates. My friend, colleague and fellow university alumni, Abdoulaye Bathily, was then Minister for Environment of Senegal.

Background. In 1985, scientists from across the world met in Villach, Austria under the auspices of the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), in order to discuss the effect of greenhouse gases on the climate. They concluded that climate change was plausible and its occurrence a serious probability. From then onwards, a number of studies and meetings have supported these conclusions. Policies for the reduction of greenhouse gases (mitigation), and strategies to minimise the impact of climate change (adaptation) were proposed. These efforts led to the establishment of the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 and the inception of World Climate Conferences. The United Nations took the lead in the matter and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was signed by 154 states in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil at the ‘Earth Summit’ held in June 1992.

The main objective of the Convention is, “to achieve stabilisation of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. The objective has a timeframe, that which is “sufficient to allow eco-systems to adapt naturally to climate change to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner”. Through the Convention structure, intergovernmental negotiations take place under its Conference of Parties arrangements. The main objective of these negotiations is to arrive at a global consensus on the setting of, and agreeing upon, the temperature increase beyond which the earth would be propelled into catastrophic circumstances, and how to adapt to the impacts of climate change that are now discernible.

I attended the first Conference of the Parties (COP1) to the Convention, which took place in Berlin in March to April 1995. Angela Merkel, the then Minister of the Federal Republic of Germany responsible for the environment, nature conservation and nuclear safety was the president of COP1. The ongoing multilateral discussions on climate change have resulted from the decisions taken at COP1, and specifically Decision 1 of COP1 (the Berlin Mandate). COP1 reviewed the implementation by member states of their obligations under the Convention, and found them to be inadequate in the quest to stabilise the global climate system. The Conference, therefore, decided to kick-start a process to strengthen the commitments of developed countries, through the setting of quantified limitation and reduction objectives, within specified timeframes. It was mindful of the global nature of climate change, which calls for “widest possible cooperation by all countries and their participation in effective and appropriate international response, in accordance with their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities and their social and economic conditions”. The negotiations during the subsequent COPs have centred on the review of the commitments and obligations of member states in furtherance of the objective of the Convention, and informed by science. The foregoing provides the context for COP26 meeting in Glasgow.

The industrialised world is responsible for historic emissions concentrations. The Kyoto Protocol did set quantified limitation and reduction objectives within specified timeframes for them. However, even at that early stage, it was realised that emerging nations, such China and India, were on a trajectory to overtake developed nations in ‘current emissions’. The Paris Agreement has as its goal to limit global warming to well below 2 degrees, preferably to 1.5 degrees Celsius compared to pre-industrial levels. Greenhouse gas emissions peaking before, and neutrality by 2050, is central to the achievement of the temperature goal. Unlike the Kyoto Protocol, which targeted industrialised countries only in greenhouse gas mitigation, the Paris Agreement embraces all nations, within the remit of the Convention.

Poverty reduction is the paramount objective of Africa, and developing countries in general. Climate change has become an added burden. Greenhouse gas emissions from them are minimal. According to the Brookings Institute, Africa contributes about 3.8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Consequences of climate change, however, are more marked and more severe in developing countries due to their inability to meet the costs of vulnerability and adaptation.

In the book I wrote in the aftermath of Kyoto, I referred to emissions by developing countries as ‘survival emissions’, those emissions that are absolutely necessary to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development. The Paris Agreement adopts the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities among nations by recognizing that peaking, and greenhouse gas emissions neutrality, will take longer for developing countries to achieve.

Central in the discussions in Glasgow is the authenticity of goals set by industrialised countries to attain greenhouse gas emission peaking and neutrality. The phasing out of coal is bound to feature prominently. In respect of coal, it will be interesting to hear the positions of United States, Australia, Japan, Germany, China, India and South Africa, and other coal producers and users. Low to zero-carbon technologies (and the transition to renewable energy technologies) and other solutions, which are required in mitigating climate change, should form an important part of the negotiations. It is worthwhile to bear in mind that the development and ownership of the technologies is largely the preserve of developed countries.

Developing countries comprise of a disparate group. They include, among others: India and China; highly populated, huge economies and high greenhouse gas emitting countries; and the continent of Africa. The classification also includes petroleum-producing countries, mainly members of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and associated petroleum producers. The main concern of the latter group relates to the sustainability of their economies in the light of future drop in demand for petroleum. Small island states are highly vulnerable to sea water level rise. They are, and rightly so, the conscience of the world when it comes to forcing the pace of negotiations. They are likely to demand, as they have done so often, that nations have to take drastic actions, urgently, in order to avert a looming catastrophe.

Many foreigners consider Africa to be, or think that it is a country. Perhaps it should be. It is a continent comprising of 55 countries of different sizes, geography, natural resources, and wealth and poverty levels. According to the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 46 countries are categorised as Least Developing Countries (LDCs). Of these, 33 countries are in Africa. LDCs are, “low-income countries confronting severe structural impediments to sustainable development. They are highly vulnerable to economic and environmental shocks and have low levels of human assets”. They include: Angola, petroleum producing, OPEC member and mineral rich; the Democratic Republic of Congo, mineral rich and bearer of a large forest and carbon sink of global importance; Chad, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Mali and other Sahelian countries; Burundi, Rwanda, Zambia, Malawi and other land-locked countries; Eastern and Southern African states of Mozambique, Lesotho, Tanzania, Uganda, South Sudan, Sudan Somali, and Ethiopia; and the small island states such as Cabo Verde, Sao Tome and Principe, and the Comoros.

Manifestations of long-term climate impacts in Africa are many. They include: the steady expansion of the Sahara Desert; the shrinking of Lake Chad by a staggering 95% between 1963 and 1998; the severe floods of Sudan and South Sudan; the drying up of the Lake Faguibine system in Mali; the disappearance of Maziwe Island in the Indian Ocean in coastal Tanzania; the shrinking of the glacier on Mount Kilimanjaro; and other impacts. Internecine conflicts are now more climate related than in the past, taking the form of clashes between cattle herders and farmers.

Africa has been resilient to disasters, human induced and natural. These have in the included slave trade, colonialism, internecine wars and pandemics. African populations have over centuries, shown resilience to climate variability. However, climate change, resulting from human induced global warming is upsetting life patterns and livelihood. Water scarcity and the resulting food insecurity are indicators of climate variability and climate change. Water scarcity calls for efficient management of transboundary and internal water basins. The mantra should be, ‘more produce per less drop of water’.

Adaptation to climate change has to be the priority of African governments at national and local levels. Climate change should not treated as a subject or a discipline that requires separate considerations. It should be part of sustainable development. Mainstreaming climate change throughout the entire economy is imperative. In doing so, governance, poverty alleviation, equity, self-sufficiency, self-reliance, indigenous knowledge, capacity building, and technology development and cooperation become important considerations in meeting the challenges posed by global warming and the resulting climate change.

A financing mechanism has been established through the Paris Agreement framework, in order to assist developing countries build the resilience to adapt to the impacts of climate change. Africa, however, has to be wary of the prospects of benefitting from the arrangement. Examples of developed countries reneging on their commitments are many. Through the United Nations, and the Monterrey Consensus in particular, they have committed to set aside 0.7 percent of their Gross National Product (GNP) for development assistance to developing countries, and 0.15 to 0.2 percent to least developing countries. Thus far, only a handful have done so. If the global Covid 19 vaccine and vaccination disparity and inequity is anything to go by, in order to create resilience and adaptation to climate change, Africa has no choice but to pull itself by its own bootstraps.

Let me end in the same manner I started, by congratulating Aliu and Team NatureNews Africa. It has been a singular honour to present the First Anniversary Lecture. Let us wish for ourselves Godspeed in our endeavours.

*Prof. Mark Mwandosya is Former Minister of: Communications and Transport; Water and Irrigation; and Water; and Former Minister of State: Office of the Vice President (Environment); and Office of the President (Special Duties). He is currently Chairman of Stanbic Bank Tanzania Ltd.

He delivered the NatureNews Africa First Anniversary Lecture at Shehu Musa Y’Aradua Centre, Abuja, Nigeria, on 9th November 2021.