Windows of opportunity for Africa

May 17, 2017

When Morocco hosted the first climate change summit since a global emission reduction deal was struck in Paris a year ago, the country was determined to make the COP22 summit one that reflected the priorities of the African region.

During the November summit in Marrakesh, some of the world’s most vulnerable countries led on delivering the goals of the Paris Agreement. Morocco acted as an advocate for other African countries, who walked in with clear demands.

These countries called upon world leaders to put agriculture at the core of the climate debate, including agreeing on concrete plans to support Africa’s smallholder farmers. Despite having the lowest emission rate world at barely 3 percent of the global total, Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change.

High exposure to desertification in the Sahel region and to flooding in coastal cities in west Africa are just two examples. With warming of 1.5 to 2°C, drought and aridity will make an estimated 40 to 80 percent of agricultural land unfit for growing maize, millet and sorghum by 2030-2040.

But Africa is also vulnerable because of its low adaptive capacity, compounded by poverty and lack of infrastructure.

At COP22 discussion of erratic weather patterns, floods and droughts - which have plagued developing countries at an increasingly alarming rate, as demonstrated by the severe droughts throughout southern Africa in 2016 - fed into debates on topics including agriculture, economies, traditional farming ecosystems and deforestation.

Mobilising finance remains an absolute priority. African nations need sufficient predictable financial flows to adapt to climate change, and support to develop their infrastructure on many fronts. This includes data collection, climate diplomacy and research. Aid money can only go so far.

While donations from the US, UK and Germany were forthcoming, the trends of those contributions have yet to match the commitment developed countries made in Paris to provide $100bn yearly of climate adaptation funds to least developed countries, starting in 2020.

These funds are supposed to flow to vulnerable island nations and the poorest nations in Africa to protect agriculture, shore up coastal defenses and spur renewable energy.

Despite these challenges, the overwhelming consensus on the need to carry forward the Paris Agreement goals on carbon reduction was clear. Last year in Paris, almost 200 countries agreed to limit global warming to “well below 2°C” while aiming for a safer guardrail of 1.5°C.

Each country submitted a climate plan (a Nationally Determined Contribution or NDC) to stay below this target. However analysts say there is still a substantial gap between these plans and the long-term temperature goals of the Paris Agreement.

There are also concerns that a new US administration under Donald Trump, a climate sceptic, will not honor environmental commitments made by the Obama administration. This could in turn affect the resolve of other major polluters such as China, which was a positive force during COP22 and has shown itself more open to tackling climate issues in recent years.

Nevertheless all countries at the summit sent out strong political signals about raising ambitions while getting on with the job of cutting emissions. However, clearly one year since the Paris Agreement is not long enough for governments to bring forward tougher carbon cuts.

The more realistic focus at COP22 was on reinforcing existing plans. Countries agreed that 2018 will be the next major meeting under the Paris Agreement, and also that they will get the rulebook for it ready that year too.  

At NEPAD, as implementing arm of the African Union and its member countries, our work builds on Marrakesh outcomes to reinforce programs on climate finance, capacity building and development. We will focus particularly on the region’s youth, land restoration and agriculture productivity.

The key is to find creative ways of reducing emissions while not jeopardising economic growth, poverty eradication or food security.

The 4 per 1000 Initiative, for example, demonstrates that maintaining soils through smart agriculture can play a crucial role in food security in high climate risk areas.

The fight against global warming has so far largely focused on the protection of forests and reforestation. In addition to forests, we must encourage more plant cover in all its forms to store more carbon in the soil.

A 0.4 percent annual growth rate in soil carbon can significantly contribute to limiting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. and achieve the long-term objective of limiting the average global temperature increase to the 1.5°C to 2°C threshold.  

Just as resilient cities require a holistic approach, so does climate resilience. As the world strives to limit global warming, we need to prepare for significant changes to communities and economies.

We need, in parallel, a continuous high-level dialogue and implementation of tangible actions. Globally the trajectory is to shift to low-carbon, resource-efficient, socially just and green industrialisation.

Africa, as a latecomer to industrialisation, can determine its own path. The region can leverage lessons from past industrial transformations while tapping into new technologies in order to develop a model for low-carbon development that can inspire the rest of the world.


Dr Ibrahim Assane Mayaki, a former Prime Minister of Niger, from 1997 to 2000, is the Chief Executive Officer of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

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