COP 20 in Lima: Africa at Disproportionate Risk from Climate Change

Dec 5th, 2014 | By | Category: Government Policies, International Agencies, News, UNFCCC

459371180-1024x682Today, the Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 20) begins in Lima (Peru) and is widely seen – as Elias Ntungwe Ngalame in an article for Deutsche Welle (DW) rightly notes – by environmental experts “as a crucial springboard to COP 21 in Paris” next year. Naturally, the large and powerful countries within the international system tend to dominate the front pages of international newspapers and thus the climate change agenda. Case in point is the latest US-China climate pledge, which has been widely dissected in the media. Read Breaking Energy’s take on it – entitled Long Road to Paris 2015; Longer-term National Climate Strategies – here.

Even though those big countries’ global leadership on climate issues is crucial for any meaningful progress in the upcoming international climate talks, it is important not to lose sight of the fact that “[m]any countries in Africa and Asia exhibit the dangerous combination of high vulnerability and low readiness” to climate change. The Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index identifies this disproportionate risk by looking at the “world through the lens of climate change vulnerability and readiness” by depicting 175 countries as circles in its ND-GAIN Index. “The size of a circle is proportional to that country’s vulnerability score, while the color encodes its readiness to accept adaptation investment,” ND-GAIN explains.

Note, the Green Climate Fund (Breaking Energy coverage here) could provide such necessary investment support. In his DW article, Elias Ntungwe Ngalame reminds his readers of COP 19 in Warsaw (Poland) in 2013 when African groups withdrew from the negotiations citing a lack of fair treatment from the international community. The same could happen again. It is not hard to see why. The above graphic is a reflection of climate change induced – whether human-induced or due to ‘natural’ influences on climate change – changing weather patterns and in addition to simple economic realities on the African continent.

At the center of debate remains how to fittingly comprehend the term ‘responsibility’ in an age of progressing climate change and then prescribe the appropriate policies to tackle an essentially global phenomenon. And yet, a more nuanced comprehension of ‘responsibility’ is required to do justice to all stakeholders and regions in the process. In this respect, the DW article quotes Augustine Njamnshi, coordinator of a Cameroonian NGO, telling DW in an interview: “If you look at the 1994 Kyoto Protocol, there is the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities and also the concept of historical responsibilities. If people have contributed less to a problem and are suffering the most, that is inequity. So for any negotiations to be effective, these factors have to be included.”

Thus, all eyes should be on the African Group of Negotiators (AGN), which guides and coordinates Africa’s negotiating position on climate change. According to the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the AGN consists of technical negotiators of every African country with one country selected to chair the group for a period of two years. Given that Africa as a continent is “home to close to 30% of the world’s arable land” and agriculture dominates many African economies, climate change is poised to place additional stress on what is already a very fragile system.

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