Statement by Mr. Carlos Lopes UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Secretary of ECA


Third Annual Conference on Climate Change and Development in Africa (CCDA-III)  - Can Climate Change Spring Africa’s Transformative Development


Statement by Mr. Carlos Lopes UN Under-Secretary-General and  Executive Secretary of ECA


21 October 2013, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia


Your Excellency Mr. Alemayehu Tegenu, Minister of Water, Irrigation and Energy,

of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia

Your Excellency Mrs. Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Commissioner for Rural Economy

and Agriculture, Africa Union Commission

Mr. Aly Abou-Sabaa, Vice President of the African Development Bank

Your Excellencies

Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen


I am delighted to welcome you all to the headquarters of the Economic Commission for Africa on the occasion of the Third Annual Conference on Climate Change and Development in Africa, organized under the auspices of Climate for Development in Africa, ClimDev-Africa, a programme of the African Union, the African Development Bank, and ECA.

If we go back in history we all remember the time when the black-death plague killed so many people that must have thought it was the end of their world.  Important civilizations died without clear explanations for their sudden faith. The black-death was particularly acute in Europe, spreading poverty and decimating livelihoods. What came next though was spectacular transformation because less people had more resources, agriculture flourished and trade spread. With the industrial revolution came urbanization, better communications and deep change in the social fabric. For over 100 years, the UK led the industrial revolution, cotton and cotton-derived products were the number one export.

These historical episodes are all related to climate change. It was climate change variations that were at the basis of the black-death. It was the stability of climate that ensued, and that lasted 300 years, that allowed many of the human progress witnessed in the wealthiest regions of the world. Predictable winds propelled global routes. Access to water and other key resources were abundant and remained so for a long time.

Well that time is now over and we know it.

We are all certainly expecting this conference to offer a unique opportunity and space to discuss important issues deriving from striking findings and unpredictable future. In my opinion, we need to particularly look into two inter-related issues.

First, we need to persuade the skeptics of climate change in Africa, on just how vulnerable we are to it. We should do this by navigating scientific findings and hard facts that make its impact unequivocal. According to the just released report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) the last three decades have been successively warmer at the Earth’s surface than any preceding decade, since 1850. In the Northern Hemisphere, 1983–2012 was most likely the warmest 30-year period of the last 1400 years. Scientists further predict that the current pace of warming is 10 times faster than any other over the last 65 million years.

Warming across Africa is predicted at an alarming rate. We are becoming familiar with some of the effects of climate variability across the continent. For instance, the severe droughts of 2011 in the Horn of Africa and the 2012 drought in the Sahel region affected over 23 million people. There is also the example of ongoing coastal erosion and rising sea levels that threaten the very existence of Africa’s Small Island Developing States. Earlier this year, floods devastated Port-Louis, Mauritius’ beautiful capital. They were caused by 156 millimeters of rainfall that occurred in just less than two hours, resulting in major damage. The impact of rising seas and increasingly violent and frequent storms can make many tourist beaches disappear by 2050. Even our grandeur continental symbol, the Kilimanjaro, is losing its white cap.


The second issue is about leveraging the opportunities that arise from the nexus between Africa’s transformation agenda and climate change. With an average GDP growth projected to remain around 5% or more, Africa is likely to outstrip Asia by 2050. It is already the fastest-growing continent, despite an ailing global economy. Yet, Africa continues to be patronized and perceived as a casualty of climate change as opposed to a contributor to the solution.  It is as if the debate on climate was reduced to how we can adapt to what others cause, indirectly questioning whether it is time to industrialize and follow others successful path. This is wrong and this needs to be counter-argued.

The type of industrialization path Africa chooses will make a big difference. Africa possesses some of the best resource base for industrial production. Exporting the resources far away deprives Africans from jobs and the world of sustainability, given the Co2 emissions impact of current flows. Africa exports jobs precisely when it is about to become the largest reservoir of manpower, projected to surpass China or India by 2040. Shifting production closer to the source would be economically beneficial to Africa by creating sustainable employment and generating wealth, but also to producers given the increasing industrial unit value accrual in Asia. If it took UK 155 years to double its GDP during the industrial revolution and Africa has achieved the same in the last twelve, it is imperative to capitalize on growth for real transformation. That means industrialization.

As countries grow, they become cleaner, more urban, more peaceful, more efficient and better informed. This rational is based on the environmental version of Kuznets' curve which describes the relationship between prosperity and inequality in an inverted U shape. In a nutshell, at the early stages of growth, inequality tends to rise; at later stages it falls. Similarly, in the early stages of growth, biodiversity tends to suffer and in the later stages it benefits. We can see this relationship taking form in countries like Brazil and South Korea that were considered poor until recently.

As one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change, Africa’s growth momentum faces a fundamental risk.  For instance, agricultural production and food security could be severely compromised, given that more than 90 percent of Africa’s agricultural production is rain-fed and therefore highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It is estimated that by 2020, yields from rain-fed agriculture in some African countries could decrease by as much as 50 percent exacerbating food security challenges. Needless to say, this would have dire socio-economic consequences livelihoods of farmers, pastoralists and agro-pastoralists. The situation could be further compounded by acute water stress in some countries as well as intense changes occurring across the variety of ecosystems.

Rapid urbanization and a population projected to double, to attain 2.3 billion people, over the next forty years, representing about half of the globe’s total population growth, looks daunting. It could trigger competition for resources. It can expose the world to a break point with the largest and fastest urbanization seen in history. It can have devastating effects on a unique biodiversity.

All of the above need not to happen though. Africa has the largest reservoir of unused arable land, about 60%, and the lowest agricultural productivity. Copying other regions experiences and the fortunes can be turned around. Africa needs agro-business and a more efficient use of its resource base. A younger, more educated, connected and urbanized Africa liberates energies, increases women participation and allows for the IT revolution to leapfrog some of the major institutional backlogs. Industrialization can create the modern jobs younger Africans long for. They are tired of being poster children for poverty benefactors. They want to be part of transformation.

Having said this, Africa is trapped in global negotiations on climate change which on the whole are largely driven by global and external interests. To enter the solution space, Africa must firm up its own views on how to put the continents interest first. Climate change offers Africa an array of incredible investment opportunities that can reap dividends. Offering an African climate development policy can respond to the unique vulnerabilities and opportunities the continent faces, while position it to influence negotiations and outcomes.

Let me propose a six point strategy.

First Africa has the potential to leap to a new clean techno-economic paradigm. For instance, the European Commission's Institute for Energy suggests that just 0.3 % of the sunlight that shines on the Sahara and Middle East deserts could supply all of Europe's energy needs.  As Africa is not locked in any technology preferences, it can follow a green and clean energy pathway and leapfrog old carbon-intensive models and pursue a low carbon development pathway. The growing awareness of environmental degradation and climate change is giving rise to new Research & Design priorities like clean energy technologies that could be scaled-up rapidly. The continent is well positioned to absorb, adapt and build on the vast quantities of scientific and technical knowledge already available. Many African countries, such as Cape Verde, Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco, or Uganda are already investing in innovative renewable and clean energy sectors and offsetting traditional energy sources dependent on fossil fuels, biomass and forest resources. 

Second, greater investment in climate science, services and the production of high quality data is imperative for Africa. This is to facilitate the development of early warning systems and initiate much needed research on climate impact, vulnerability and adaptation; and for creating a knowledge economy.  Many global, African and national institutions are already making progress in transforming climate data, information systems and science. In fact, one of the fundamental and priority undertakings of the ClimDev-Africa programme, is to make climate information widely available. Recently, ECA with WMO, World Climate Research Programme and the University of Dar Es Salaam among others, concluded a very successful conference in Arusha. The focus was on identifying African climate research frontiers to guide research in the next decade that will contribute to climate information and knowledge, inform policy decisions, and development planning.

Third, we have to improve our institutional and policy capacity. There must be investment in mechanisms for a concerted engagement of all key players.  From climate and social scientists, to development economists, policy makers, entrepreneurs, to users of climate information, and so on. Not only would this help coordinate efforts, it would also contribute to the design of innovative multi-sectoral strategies, mainstream climate change into national development plans, and usher in a new form of deliberative democracy. To prepare for climate risks in urban infrastructure and development countries could build climate-proof urban infrastructure and development, and put transport systems on a low-carbon path, like Côte d’Ivoire, Algeria, South Africa and others are doing.

Fourth, investing in expanded South-South partnerships can help risk management. By systematically sharing experiences and lessons learned, disaster-prone countries facing similar challenges can arrive at better climate change solutions. For example, the African, Caribbean and Pacific Small Island States share similar challenges. They can step up efforts to address these challenges and establish south-south cooperation to focus on their unique challenge and incubate several options that will insulate them from current vulnerabilities and develop future opportunities.  It is essential for Africa to go beyond the sum total of individual countries capacities.

Fifth, let us leverage Africa’s agriculture. With a growing population and an ever-increasing demand for food, investments in agriculture are critical. Investing in production technologies, innovation, water use efficiency and sustainable land management are essential. The bulk of agricultural export across the continent is still predominantly in the form of primary products, with very limited value addition. Leveraging the capacity of the private sector to scale-up investment in agro processing would create jobs and diversify export commodities. Unlocking the sector’s strong multiplier effect in the economy would further contribute to increased incomes and poverty reduction.

Sixth, let us use tourism for Africa’s advantage and the world’s biodiversity wealth. According to the UN World Tourism Organization, Africa is one of the fastest-growing tourism destinations.  There is already growing recognition of the urgent need for the tourism ‎industry, national ‎governments and international organizations to develop ‎and implement strategies to face the ‎changing climate conditions. Scaling-up investments in ecotourism could ‎mitigate tourism’s ‎environmental impact like The Gambia, Kenya, Rwanda, Zambia, Seychelles and South Africa examples are demonstrating. 


Ladies and Gentleman,


Preparing for and investing in climate change is costly. But not preparing will be catastrophic; and more expensive. This leads me to reflect briefly on whether the Global Climate Change Framework is effectively concerned with Africa.

Of all the regions of the world, Africa is believed to be the one causing the least arm to climate. Africa is a green continent, not necessary in color but in attitude. Its CO2 emissions per capita are less than one ton per annum. It accounts for just 2.4 percent of world emissions. However, climate damage as a percentage of GDP is higher in Africa than elsewhere in the world. Despite the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Africa remains a creditor of a massive ecological debt. 

The UNFCCC must be congratulated for its relevance over the years and elevating climate change issues to the highest political attention. Thanks to it developed countries have committed $100bn US dollars a year by 2020 on climate finance for developing countries under the Green Climate Fund. This is good. But it is not enough.

Twenty-one years after UNFCCC establishment, global emissions have risen and major emitters are still not legally bound to reduce their emissions at the scale required to avoid irreversible climate change. Instead, those directly causing 80% of global emissions are reversing the tide by rejecting the notion of an ecological debt.  The amounts Africa receives for adaptation is negligible, in average less than 2% of the total. Economic development has not been at the forefront of climate negotiations and a ‘loss and damage’ account never been agreed. Is this compatible with the Africa we want? 

The next Conference of Parties (COP 19) will be taking place in Warsaw in November with the aim of reaching a comprehensive agreement on climate change by 2015. It presents an opportunity for the continent’s voices to influence the debate. For instance, demanding that research on ‘loss and damage’ from climate change related disasters be funded.

Going forward, climate justice will be central to the COP 19 discussions and it should be viewed from a pragmatic perspective. Many would argue that principles of corrective and distributive justice should apply. The expectations are that developed countries take the lead and bear the burden in combating climate change, because they have been the major contributors to it in the past.  I am of the opinion that climate justice is not to be reduced to a medium through which we solve problems such as wealth distribution or correcting colonial injustices. It is only a matter of time before developing nations catch up with the developed world with regards to cumulative emissions.

Climate justice is about advocating for a multi-dimensional type of justice that encompasses accountability. It is not solely concerned with equity in the distribution of environmental risk and benefits. There is a marked difference in the way climate disruption harms peoples’ lives and livelihoods across cultures, communities, disciplines, nations and regions of the globe. It involves acceptance of common but differentiated responsibilities; and the respective capabilities in relation to reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Those who have most responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, and most capacity to act, must cut emissions first. After all any well designed climate change agreement must balance costs and benefits.

Ladies and Gentleman,

Climate change was responsible for bad and good in the past. Most of it happened without humans having a clue why it was so. Now we know. To avoid the bad and aim for the good Africa can take the lead. We should not be spectators.

I thank you