Paris Agreement on climate change: One year later, how is Africa faring?

Several African countries have begun implementing climate resilience activities


Since December 2015, when 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement on climate change, several countries in Africa have begun implementing climate resilience activities that will allow them to better absorb and adapt to harsh climatic changes.

However, an assessment of the continent’s progress in combating climate change brings to mind a popular African proverb: “A large chair does not make a king”—in other words, huge implementation challenges remain. Africa’s policy makers, however, are eager to meet these challenges, believing that achieving the objectives of the climate change deal could unlock the continent’s socio-economic potential.

Signed in late 2015, the Paris Agreement entered into force on 5 October 2016. One month later, at the COP22 (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC) in Marrakech, Morocco, world leaders formally adopted the Marrakech Action Proclamation, which recommitted parties to full implementation of the Paris Agreement. And implementation has since started.

As of April 2017, of the 143 countries that have so far ratified the agreement, 33 are in Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia. That is 60% of the total number of African countries.

Beyond the ratifications, many countries have also fulfilled a key requirement in the agreement by formulating their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The NDCs are the countries’ individual efforts to achieve climate change goals. In their NDCs, the majority of African countries indicated plans to prioritize climate proofing development activities, especially in economic sectors such as agriculture and energy.

An example of climate proofing in the agriculture and energy sectors is the restoration of ecosystems, a development that is already gathering steam on the continent. Agenda 2063—a set of aspirations formulated by the African Union (AU) to point the way to prosperity on the continent—also highlights ecosystem restoration as a way to catalyze socio-economic development.

The AU maintains that by applying ecosystem-based adaptation  in the agriculture sector in combination with clean energy, countries can add agro-value chains, spur food security and increase economic opportunities along the value chain, while simultaneously lowering carbon emissions and conserving ecosystems. 

Currently, Africa’s development challenges are many. One serious disadvantage is that more than half of its 1.2 billion population lives on less than $1.25 per day—the standard threshold for absolute poverty. Also, about 60% of Africa’s unemployed are youth. Food security is also a problem: a quarter of Africa’s population goes to bed hungry, while more than 200 million Africans suffer from severe malnutrition.

Africa’s strengths

To respond to these challenges while implementing the Paris Agreement, experts say African countries should maximize the potential of key sectors capable of boosting socio-economic development. In other words, the focus should be on agriculture, food production and clean energy, among other sectors.

Africa’s strengths lie in its immense natural resource potential and other ‘sweet spots’, including having 65% of the world’s arable land and 10% of its inland freshwater resources. The continent’s renewable energy potential can be realized through hydro as well as solar power. Harnessing these resources in a sustainable way will boost Africa’s development.

Agro-value chains in Africa, if properly harnessed, can reduce poverty two to four times faster than any other sector, according to the World Bank. The agricultural sector’s projected value by 2030 is $1 trillion, and this sector could potentially provide 17 million jobs, says the Bank.

The Paris Agreement accentuates the opportunities in Africa’s economic sectors; what remains is for countries to implement the agreement with full attention to domestic development needs.

Ecosystem-based adaptation

The UN Environment, which promotes sustainable environment through sound policies and practices, is providing technical and other forms of assistance to African countries implementing the Paris Agreement to enable them to adequately address socio-economic challenges, particularly food insecurity and unemployment, as well as macroeconomic growth. 

The Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) is one of the initiatives to power sustainable agro-industrialization. EBAFOSA is facilitated by the UN Environment supported by the AU and state and non-state actors, including private-sector partners. Ecosystems-based adaptation for food security consists of methods of agricultural production that promote conservation and sustainability through integrated management of land, water and living resources.

Many of the 40 African countries implementing EBAFOSA are successfully using a combination of policies and other operational interventions to address socioeconomic priorities, offset carbon emissions and protect ecosystems.  

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, a group of young agri-preneurs (agricultural entrepreneurs) are using clean energy to process cassava (an indigenous climate resilient crop) into flour. They then package and standardize the flour before selling it. An agri-preneur can rake in up to $4,000 weekly. This business model reinforces the overarching argument for green initiatives, which is that it can be a win-win: protecting the environment can also benefit the bottom line.

A boost for SDGs

A green initiative such as that of the Congolese agri-preneurs will contribute to Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 13 (combating climate change), SDG 7 (affordable and clean energy), and SDGs 1 and 2 (tackling poverty and boosting food security).

In Kenya, the use of information and communications technology to garner pertinent information for financing purposes is increasing agricultural production and promoting a clean energy value addition. Through EdenSys, an end-to-end agri-business management app for mobile phones and computers, enterprises engaging in EBA and clean energy agro-business activities can post their financial records online and use them to apply for loans. A number of microfinance institutions are providing these loans, which indirectly contributes to the SDGs pertaining to climate change, clean energy, the elimination of poverty and food security.

In Makueni County in eastern Kenya, the UN Environment is helping local authorities create a climate change fund. The plan is to make the fund a financing pool for climate resilience activities, particularly those focusing on ecosystems-based adaptation for food security. The fund will be the first of its kind in Africa.

Makueni County’s climate fund goal is to set aside 50% of its portfolio as collateral for loans of up to 10 times the security sum. Enterprises engaging in ecosystems-based, adaptation-driven agriculture and clean energy value addition could benefit from such loans.

While Africa may have lagged in development in the past decades, the Paris Agreement provides an opportunity to accelerate socioeconomic development. Instruments such as the global SDGs, the AU’s Agenda 2063 and the Paris Agreement are creating the policy framework and operational paths to sustainable development, experts say. 

So far Africa’s climate change implementation activities are encouraging. The questions are how much longer countries can maintain the momentum and how much support, especially financial, will come from abroad. On these, the jury is still out. 

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