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Africa sets a high bar for climate action

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Africa could lead the way in 2019 to a strong global response to the call at COP24, in Katowice, for updated and strengthened nationally determined contributions (NDCs) by 2020 to close the mitigation and adaptation gap.

African countries met in Accra, Ghana in late March for the Africa Climate Week, with the theme “Climate Action in Africa: A Race We Can Win”. Since the race against climate change is a marathon and not a sprint, we can’t be sure yet who will win, or indeed if there will be any winners, but African countries certainly got off to a running start.

The discussion of creating second generation NDCs by 2020 was front and center at the meeting, and one of the key objectives was to demonstrate real international support for stepping up climate action.

More than a dozen African countries reported that they are already working on updating their NCDs. Countries gave a number of reasons for this – the first versions of NDCs were done quickly in time for the Paris Agreement deadline and did not capture the situation on the ground or have sufficient consultations with stakeholders; they were not sufficiently aligned with government plans and potential for private sector funding and lacked implementation plans and financing mechanisms; and new opportunities and low-cost technologies have emerged since the first versions. There are also potential synergies between mitigation and adaptation that can be better planned and exploited. The meeting also recognised that there are very few African countries that have established monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) tracking mechanisms for future tracking of NDC implementation process.

At the same time, there was recognition that Africa’s emissions were a small part of global emissions; Africa’s main priority was adaptation, for which less private sector funding is available; and funding support for implementation from developed countries has been limited. So African countries were called on to take the opportunity presented by the 2020 NDC update to align targets in NDCs with existing national plans and strategies for easy of funding and implementation.

Despite the challenges, African countries and institutions appear determined to step up their efforts to combat climate change. With the death toll still rising from Tropical Cyclone Idai in Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi it was clearer than ever that increasing resilience and prevention of climatic disruptions is a matter of survival for many. Many African countries recognised the immediate challenges paused by climate change which is increasingly affecting rainfall patterns, water sources and food productivity leading to slow growth in economy.  Countries therefore emphasized the need to protect the existing water sources, forests and planting of more trees to serve as natural sinks for carbon dioxide. It was clear to all that the window for remaining below a 1.5°C or 2°C increase in global temperatures is rapidly closing and humans have a little more than a decade to significantly reduce accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the atmosphere to avoid catastrophic climate impacts.

Africa Climate Week will be followed by Latin America & Caribbean Climate Week (LACCW) in Salvador, Brazil on 19-23 August, and the Asia Pacific Climate Week (APCW) on 2-6 September, in Shenzhen, China.

Organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) along with a range of development banks, United Nations (UN) agencies and local and other organizations, this year’s series of Climate Weeks is building momentum towards the Climate Summit to be convened by UN Secretary General António Guterres (UNSG) in New York on 23 September. Here, leaders of the world’s governments are asked to come with plans and solutions to the climate challenge, in line with limiting warming to 1.5C:

“I am calling on all leaders to come to New York in September with concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45 per cent over the next decade, and to net zero by 2050.” António Guterres, UN Secretary General

Africa’s determination to strengthen its response to climate change, despite being responsible for only 2 per cent to 3 per cent of global CO2 emissions from energy and industry, raises the bar for other regions and countries. Those countries with much greater responsibility, resources and capacity to address climate change, especially developed countries but also emerging economies, have a much greater obligation to get their emissions trajectories on a pathway in line with the Paris Agreement climate goals. And financing from developed countries must be sharply increased, while all countries must ensure that financing from all public and private sources is in line with our long term climate goals.

If the Africa Climate Week is any indication, and with an unprecedented mobilization by youth and a range of other actors around the world, this year could still hold some positive surprises on the climate front. If Africa can win the race against climate change, so must others.

Dr Isaiah Owiunji is based at WWF-Uganda.

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