Experiences and perspective on how to drive climate action implementation in Africa

“A large chair does not make a king.” This African proverb tells us one thing: The Paris Climate Change Agreement, now ratified by 44 countries on the continent, must amount to more than promises, says Dr Richard Munang.

 The socioeconomic realities confronting the continent continue to escalate. Challenges range from food and nutritional insecurity – over  240 million people go to bed hungry and over 50% of our mothers lose children younger than the age of 5 to chronic malnutrition – to 1 million young people who are trying to enter the job market competing for just 25 000 jobs. This is a scenario that has been described by experts as “a ticking time bomb”.

The implementation of the Paris Climate Change agreement cannot be approached in ignorance of these sobering socioeconomic realities, especially given that while Africa is a negligible emitter of greenhouse gases, contributing a mere 3,6% of global net emissions, it is the most vulnerable globally to its effects.

While Africa is a negligible emitter of greenhouse gases, contributing a mere 3,6% of global net emissions, it is the most vulnerable globally to its effects.

The urgent question that must be answered now

The question that demands our answer is this: How can the implementation of signatory countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) be relevant to these most pressing needs and simultaneously ensure that NDCs actually drive the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), which is the ultimate goal. The answer lies in focusing our actions on maximising the productivity of what we call ‘Africa’s catalytic sectors’. These are the sectors capable of creating socioeconomic opportunities for the majority while simultaneously enhancing ecosystems resilience and mitigating carbon in line with climate objectives in NDCs. Development in these important sectors has the potential to ensure that the beneficial outcomes of climate action were not only environmental, but social, economic and financial too. This is what will unbridle country-led, demand-driven actions to catalyse a real shift to the low emissions development pathway.

What it takes to plan and implement a country’s Nationally Determined Contributions

The planning and implementation of NDCs is a multi-stakeholder process. It needs to involve everybody, as section 5 of the Paris Climate Change Agreement clearly states. Engaging everyone by building on their existing strengths and on what is already ongoing in the country to bridge very specific gaps at both policy and operational level is the key. For example, countries are being supported, through an inclusive framework, to establish NDCs implementation policy decision tools that inform implementation trajectories that maximise both socioeconomic and climate aims simultaneously. These tools are bridging the science-policy gaps to ensure that any policy formulated to implement a given NDC priority is backed by rigorous analysis and simulations that will inform an optimal trajectory that will maximise both climate and socioeconomic aims, as well as investment.

Read: Cape Town hard hit by climate change

Practical examples

What is needed is collaborative action between policy makers and modelling scientists. In Mozambique, for instance, a team of modellers from the University of Eduardo Mondlane is working with policy makers from the Ministries of Environment and of Forestry, Agriculture and Energy to build on pre-existing models by combining them into an enhanced model that can forecast socioeconomic and climate impacts of two NDC priorities: irrigation and agro-forestry. The models will forecast the impact of achieving these priorities through the catalytic sectors of solar-powered micro-irrigation in agroforestry farms as compared to business-as-usual scenarios of diesel- or petrol-powered irrigation. Targeting the sectors of solar-powered micro-irrigation and agro-forestry will ensure that while food security and the incomes of communities are enhanced to ensure that Mozambique achieves its leading socioeconomic priorities, energy and land-based emissions are also reduced. 

Tea pickers in Kenya’s Mount Kenya region, for the Two Degrees Up project, to look at the impact of climate change on agriculture.
Image Credit: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

In another example, Cameroon is using off-grid small-hydro to power the processing of cassava and Irish potato (which were grown sustainably and following the techniques of ecosystems-based agriculture) into varied product lines. These products are then linked to markets and supply chains across the country by using ICT mobile apps that are efficient and have a smaller carbon print than the conventional, non-digital paper processes. This integration is offsetting carbon both in energy generation and in the linking of products to supply chains. At the same time, it is building ecosystems resilience by incentivising the use of ecosystems-based-agriculture approaches. Over 500 women now have access to value-addition services and have enhanced their income stability and the food security of their community.

Read: Africa is feeling the heat: Turning the challenges of climate change into opportunities

Critical success factors and challenges

It is of crucial importance that we maximise the productivity of Africa’s catalytic sectors as we work towards our Nationally Determined Contributions. These catalytic sectors are those that are capable of creating socioeconomic opportunities for the majority while simultaneously enhancing ecosystems resilience and mitigating carbon, in line with climate objectives in NDCs.

Secondly, we must come up with innovative approaches to bridge policy and operational gaps towards maximizing productivity of the catalytic sectors mentioned above. 

Thirdlywe must leverage Africa’s greatest wealth – its human capital; its people, especially the 200 million young people – as the primary resource in driving the implementation of the NDCs. If used properly, the skills, talents, energy, passion and networks of Africa’s people – young and old alike – can bridge NDC implementation gaps. This represents a priceless resource; one that money can’t buy.

Fourthly, and most importantly, instead of kick-starting new initiatives we must build on the strengths of the inclusive, market-driven, mutually beneficial partnerships that already exist among complementary stakeholders. This has the added benefit of lowering operational risks because we would be building on established successes.       

The biggest challenge is that of duplication; where we have multiple parallel NDC initiatives on the continent. The duplication of efforts and an escalation of operational risks will result in lowered efficiency and reduced longer-term sustainability. We need to connect the dots – that is the DNA of transformational climate action that would ensure that no one is left behind.


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