Why is COP21 important for Africa?


Climate change has significant and unequivocal implications for Africa’s development, and poses complex and changing challenges for Africa’s peoples and policy makers.  Addressing climate change has become central to the continent’s development agenda. It is proven that poorer countries and communities will suffer earliest and hardest from global warming because of weaker resilience and greater reliance on climate‐sensitive sectors like agriculture.

Over the last decade or so Africa has generally been experiencing high levels of economic growth. The implications of climate change for the sustainability of this growth, or its translation into development, are immense. The principal climate change concern for Africa is its implications for development and the wellbeing of societies and ecosystems.

In Africa, recent modelling indicates that a temperature increase of 2oC by 2050 is going to be already catastrophic for Africa. It could mean a loss of 4.7% of GNP, most of it as a result of losses in the agricultural sector. A temperature rise of 2.5oC ‐ 5oC would be worse, resulting in hunger for 128 million; 108 million affected by flooding and a sea‐level rise of 15‐95cm, among other catastrophic impacts.

Although the continent contributes only 3.8% of total greenhouse gas emissions, Africa’s countries are among the most vulnerable. Climate variability lies behind much of the prevailing poverty, food insecurity, and weak economic growth in Africa today.  Climate change will increase this variability:

  • The severity and frequency of droughts, floods and storms will increase, leading to more water stress.
  • Changes in agricultural, livestock and fisheries productivity will occur, and
  • The continent will face further food insecurity as well as a spread of water‐related diseases, particularly in tropical areas.

Some 200 million of the poorest people in Africa are food insecure, many through their dependence on climate sensitive livelihoods – predominantly rain‐fed agriculture. Temperature increases and changes in mean rainfall and evaporation are likely to become ever greater and more damaging to livelihoods through the 21st century. 

Given this background, what is the world doing about climate change and why is the Paris Conference of Parties (COP 21) so important, especially for Africa?

The UNFCCC COPs have become important spaces for the continuing global effort to refine and strengthen the international collaborative and regulatory framework on climate change and to improve global climate governance.

The COPs are attended by all governments parties, many non-state actors including  the private sector, civil society representatives as well as bilateral and multi-lateral institutions. COP 21 scheduled for Paris is particularly significant in that it will usher into existence the post-Kyoto Climate order, set to come into being by 2020. 

The evolving global climate governance regime requires that Africa develop ever more nuanced and sophisticated responses to guide the continents engagement at all levels of the climate response. While initially African participation in the COPs was fragmented and uncoordinated, it has increasingly become more organized. Recognizing that Africa stands to be most affected by climate change while contributing the least to greenhouse gas emissions, member States of the African Union have progressively begun to articulate a common position on climate change and to develop  common positions in the negotiations through a streamlined coordination mechanism involving the African Group of Negotiators (AGN), the African Ministers Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC).

The governance of climate change adaptation on the continent requires a review of the nature and trajectory of growth and development processes, the democratization of global systems to achieve equity, and the realignment of decision making processes to facilitate greater public engagement in the formulation of global and national responses to climate change.

The current treaty governing greenhouse gas emissions is the Kyoto Protocol (KP) which was adopted in Kyoto, Japan, on 11 December 1997 and entered into force on 16 February 2005. The objective of the Kyoto Protocol is to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions in order to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system, as required by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Protocol currently binds 192 countries (Parties) who are signatories to the Protocol. The Protocol is based on the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities through which developed countries are obliged to reduce their current GHG emissions on the basis that they are historically disproportionately responsible for the current levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

When it first came into force in 2005, the KP bound signatory industrialized countries to greenhouse gas emissions reductions targets for the period 2008-2012. This was called the first commitment period. The KP thus expired in 2012. However, at the Doha Conference of 2012 participating countries voted to extend the KP until 2020, and also proposed a second commitment period, known as the Doha Amendment, in which 37 countries have binding targets for the period 2012 – 2020. However, several industrialized countries who committed to emissions reductions in the first commitment period have stated that they may:

  •  Withdraw from the Protocol altogether; or
  • Not be legally bound by the Doha Amendment and its targets, or
  • Not take on new targets in the second commitment period.

Only a few industrialized states have committed to further CO2 reductions during the second commitment period than in the first period. It is not clear what the cumulative effect of these commitments would be on the goal of limiting global warming to 20C.

Thus several issues are under negotiation leading up to COP 21 in Paris in December 2015. The first is the new global climate governance framework will be required to replace the KP after 2015. Negotiations were already initiated at COP 20 in Lima in 2014 to agree on a post-Kyoto legal framework that would obligate all major polluters to pay for CO2 emissions. The key issues which have emerged after the Lima COP 20, and will constitute the post 2015 agreement at COP 21 are:

  • Pre-2020 mitigation ambition  
  • Post-2020 agreement
  • Adaptation
  • Finance
  • Technology and capacity building

Pre-2020 mitigation ambition

Scientists expect a strong increase of climate change-related risks if the global temperature rises beyond 1.5-2.5°C. As such, at COP 11 in Durban it was agreed to act to limit global warming to below 2oC.  This decision informed the voluntary mitigation targets submitted by parties at COP 16 in the Copenhagen Accord.

However, these voluntary mitigation pledges by the parties have been demonstrated to be insufficient to comply with the 1.5oC – 2oC limit. An expert study convened by UNEP in 2010 quantified the emissions gap (the gap between actual emissions and the aggregate global emissions permissible to stay within the 2oC limit by 2020).

According to the UNEP “Emissions Gap Report” of 2010 (updated in 2011 and 2012), in order to have a chance to comply with the 2oC limit by 2020   aggregate global annual emissions must not exceed 44 Gt CO2eby 2020. If all the voluntary mitigation pledges of the Copenhagen Accord are met, this would still result in in global emissions of 52 Gt CO2e. This would mean that if no additional action is taken between now and 2020, the emissions gap in 2020 would be 8Gt CO2e.  Thus the ambition level represented by the Copenhagen is already too low to achieve the desired emissions reductions.

Given the implications of global warming of 2oC and higher for Africa, there is urgent need to ensure that urgent policy is taken to increase the emissions reduction ambition BEFORE 2020. COP 21 is thus an important opportunity to develop a global framework that will increase this ambition.

It is important to note that at the COP 17 in Durban (2011), the Parties agreed to negotiate a legally binding framework until 2015, emissions mitigation obligations for all countries from 2020 onwards, and to close the ambition gap before 2020. Hence it is not enough to concentrate on post-2020 action.

It is also significant that at COP 20 in Lima, China, India, and the United States have all signaled that they will not ratify any treaty that will commit them legally to reduce CO2 emissions

Post-2020 agreement

Parties are negotiating a new climate agreement under the Convention that will be applicable to all parties.  This agreement — in the form of a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force — is to be agreed by the 2015 Paris COP and to come into effect by 2020.  The two main issues currently under discussion are in relation to:

  • the “elements” of the agreement (whether it will cover mitigation, adaptation, technology, finance, capacity and transparency, and how) and;
  •  “Contributions” (the scope and information to be provided in the “Intended Nationally Determined Contributions” or INDCs by Parties to the new agreement).  

Major issues include whether the post-2020 agreement will cover all the elements in a balanced and comprehensive manner, or focus asymmetrically on mitigation, carbon markets and transparency or “MRV" to the exclusion of adaptation, finance, technology or capacity (all of which are important to Africa). Concerns with the latter approach is that it will result in a weaker international regime than the Kyoto Protocol for developed countries, and a stronger one for developing countries, without adequate provisions for support.

The African Group is calling for a comprehensive agreement covering all elements in a balanced way, with general commitments and global objectives, specific commitments by parties, operational mechanisms and provisions on accountability, compliance and review.

On “contributions” the Group has stated that these must be in conformity with the Convention, respect differentiation between developed and developing countries and build on established Convention obligations. Developed countries should put forward contributions addressing adaptation support, finance, technology and capacity (as well as mitigation) as failure to do so will limit prospects for a balanced outcome in Paris.

For Africa, a progressive agreement in Paris should be ambitious and as close as possible to the recommendations of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report, and should include:

  • The adoption of a binding climate change agreement which addresses the key pillars of the Bali framework and is based on the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibilities
  • A strong commitment to keep temperature increased below 1.50C.
  • An emphasis on the importance of adaptation for Africa, and
  • Additional and adequate finance, including a strong commitment to capitalize the Global Climate Fund (GCF)


Parties are discussing adaptation in the context of the post-2020 agreement as well as in the ongoing discussions under the Convention, including the LDC work programme, Nairobi work programme and Cancun Adaptation Framework.  Discussions, among other things, are focusing on formulation and implementation of national adaptation plans, and ways to address loss and damage.  Most studies suggest adaptation costs in Africa will be US$ 20-30 billion per annum over the next 10 to 20 years (AfDB) 

Major issues include how to include adaptation in the post-2020 agreement in a way that has legal and political parity with mitigation, and does not involve a down-grading of adaptation discussions under a strengthened international climate regime under the Convention.  Also of concern is the low levels of finance, technology and capacity building currently available to enable implementation of adaptation actions at the national level (i.e. to support the move from adaptation planning to adaptation action).  

The African Group has recognized the need to prioritize adaptation, ensure funding of full costs, increase access to additional public, grant-based resources, expedite support for national adaptation planning, and ensure the Adaptation Committee gives direction to relevant fund mechanisms, and expedite work on implementation of adaptation plans. It has also urged operationalization of the new loss and damage mechanism agreed in Warsaw.


Parties are discussing finance in the context of the post-2020 agreement as well as under other bodies of the Convention. As well as under the Durban Platform, finance is being discussed under the Standing Committee as well as in various subsidiary bodies of the Convention.

Major issues include:

  • How to ensure full implementation of existing Convention finance commitments and avoid shifting of responsibility towards the private sector or to developing countries under the new agreement. 
  • A clear pathway for finance is required between now and 2020.
  • Efforts are also required to ensure full and early capitalization of the Green Climate Fund.
  • Efforts are also required to ensure finance in the short term to enable the preparation of Intended Nationally Determined Contributions by developing countries.

The African Group has identified finance as a priority, called for a clear needs assessment and roadmap with milestones to 2020, and emphasized that $100 billion must be a floor for finance, with larger amounts post-2020. Finance in 2014 should be $32 billion, in 2015 it should be $44 billion.  At least $15 billion should be made available by November 2014 for the GCF. There must also be clarity about long-term finance for REDD plus.

Technology and Capacity Building

Technology and capacity issues also arise in the context of the post-2020 agreement and in other work under the Convention, including the Technology Mechanism of the Convention.  

The African Group wants to ensure barriers preventing technology transfer are removed, including the appropriate treatment of intellectual property rights and removal of patents from certain climate-related technologies. They have expressed the importance of operationalizing the technology transfer mechanism, and extending the mandate of the Durban Forum on Capacity-Building

Several approaches have been suggested. The African Group's pre-2020 mitigation ambition proposal focusing on renewable energy is one topical approach currently under discussion. In this approach, Africa is in with discussion with some donors regarding the possibility of launching a global partnership on renewable energy.    

A second focus could be on the need for a “comprehensive and balanced” post-2020 agreement to meet the needs of Africa and address on the need for coverage of all the elements — mitigation, adaptation, finance, technology, capacity and transparency.  This would help to build some momentum, and counter the tendency (despite Africa’s efforts) towards narrow mitigation-centric outcomes.

A third could be on adaptation in the post-2020 period. While some initial thinking has been done about how adaptation and loss and damage would fit in the post-2020 agreement, there are clearly opportunities for further discussion in the lead up to Paris.  How can adaptation receive legal and political parity?  What specific mechanisms are required to enhance implementation of adaptation plans?  How can support be scaled up? What are Africa’s specific needs?

A fourth approach focuses on the importance of a finance roadmap, and prospects for the Green Climate Fund (GCF) in light of recent announcements of significant financial pledges (e.g. US and Japan joint pledge of $4.5 billion), and what this means for Africa. 

The ClimDev-Africa is hosting an Africa Pavilion at COP 21 where these and other relevant issues will be discussed by participants. In addition to the issues arising directly out of the negotiations, other topical issues that will be discussed in panels and roundtables at the Africa pavilion will include, inter alia, issues related to community innovations and adaptations to climate change, accounting for climate change, agriculture and food security, integration of climate information into planning and policy processes, and linkages to sustainable development processes.