Authors: Ede Ijjasz Vasquez, Aloysius Uche Ordu, Simeon K. Ehui, Kanta Kumari Rigaud
Affiliated organization: Brookings
Type of publication: Report
From COP26 (Glasgow) to COP27 (Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt): What to expect at Africa’s COP
Despite progress towards the shared goal of addressing climate change, COP26 did not sufficiently put the world on track to successfully tackle the problem. The outcomes especially fell short of what Africans had hoped for. On the positive side, the Glasgow Accord kept the “1.5°C warming goal alive,” and countries have been asked to come to COP27, to be held in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, with more ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution (NDCs). A new agreement on global carbon trading was achieved, adding a much-needed tool to the fight against climate change. Negotiators reached other significant agreements in Glasgow, notably 65 countries committed to phasing out coal power, more than 100 countries agreed to slash methane emissions, and 130 countries— representing over 90 percent of the world’s forests—pledged to end deforestation by 2030.
On the other hand, developed countries failed to reach the $100 billion annual funds promised in Paris to developing countries for climate action by 2020. The current NDCs are estimated to reach a warming trajectory of 2.4°C—almost an entire degree above the goal. The discussion on climate “loss and damage”—what damage is caused by climate change and which parties should pay for it—made some modest progress, and the Glasgow Accord called to start a dialogue to discuss funding arrangements. Such an announcement is a major step given that many major powers had previously opposed even using the words “loss and damage” in climate-related negotiations.
The evident lack of urgency contrasts sharply with the projections from the Sixth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for Africa. Lifethreatening temperatures above 40°C (104°F) are projected to increase by 10 to 140 days a year, depending on the scenario and region. The continent will see drier conditions in most regions, with more droughts but also more flooding. With the rise in sea level (as much as 0.9 meters by 2100 under high-warming scenarios) and more frequent flooding, a current 1-in-100 year flood event will become 1-in-10 or -20 years by 2050, and 1-in-5 years to annually by 2100, even under moderate warming. With rapidly growing cities in low-lying coastal areas in Africa, the damage to property and livelihoods more generally, exacerbated by climate change, will be compounded. In other words, under the projected warming trajectory of 2.4°C, the impacts of climate change could make many parts of Africa uninhabitable. Policy change, financial transfers, and decisive and transformational mitigation measures by the largest-emitting countries are critical. The narrative is clear and remains consistent: Africa’s historical and current emissions of greenhouse gases are minimal; still, the region will suffer some of climate change’s most severe consequences if not adequately addressed.
Even if the world remains under 1.5°C warming, Africa will need to adapt to the new reality of a rapidly changing climate. Thankfully, COP26 did result in some positive steps regarding climate adaptation. The developed world recognized the need to increase funding for adaptation support: The Glasgow Accord “urges developed country Parties to at least double their collective provision of climate finance for adaptation to developing country Parties from 2019 levels by 2025.” Africa was already moving toward a similar goal: The African Development Bank and the Global Center of Adaptation launched a $25 billion program to finance accelerated adaptation in the region earlier in the year.
Africa has great opportunities to help the world fight climate change but cannot do it alone. The protection and sustainable management of its forest and marine resources can provide essential carbon sinks. In fact, the Congo Basin—the world’s second-largest rainforest and which absorbs 1.2 billion tons of CO2 each year—also has vital mineral reserves needed for the clean industries that underpin the net-zero commitments of countries worldwide. The energy, transport, and urban infrastructure that is yet to be built in Africa over the next two decades will either lock the region into a high-emission economic development trajectory or support the global climate goals if adequate additional resources to finance the extra costs of decarbonization are provided at the level and speed needed.
Third, Africa needs a decisive push to build capacity in climate change action, not only in ministries of the environment but throughout society. The engineers and urban planners need to incorporate climate considerations in designing and constructing Africa’s infrastructure
First and foremost, the world needs to show at COP27 that progress and firm commitments—not only pledges—are moving the needle towards the 1.5°C warming level. As noted above, Africa absolutely cannot afford a 2.4°C warmer world: At that level of warming, adaptation measures in many parts of the continent may not be technically feasible or financially viable. This point highlights the importance of the other significant opportunity presented by COP27: Leaders must further raise the level of action, speed, and ambition toward climate adaptation, especially for Africa and vulnerable countries in other regions.
As leaders and negotiators descend on Sharm el-Sheikh in 2022, they should focus on four distinct opportunities for decisive, urgent climate action. First, OECD countries and international financial institutions must increase their levels of concessional and private funding for adaptation, including a larger proportion of grants, rapidly and significantly. Second, leaders should increase their focus on the development and scaled-up rollout of adaptation technologies. Climate mitigation technologies receive most of the funding, attention, and support compared to adaptation technologies. At COP27, global leaders must push for a greater balance with adaptation technologies, including the localization and scaling-up of existing African solutions, including multi-hazard early warning systems combining earth observing systems and artificial intelligence with locally trusted communication channels in Africa. Importantly, the scaling up of climate-smart agriculture technologies and practices can tackle the malnutrition and stunting challenge of the region through more productive and resilient food systems. At the same time, climate-smart agricultural technologies can help store carbon in the soil and reduce the pressure on land-use change by improving efficiency and reducing food waste.
Third, Africa needs a decisive push to build capacity in climate change action, not only in ministries of the environment but throughout society. The engineers and urban planners need to incorporate climate considerations in designing and constructing Africa’s infrastructure. African farmers need the best data and knowledge to make informed decisions to increase productivity in the face of a rapidly changing climate that is already impacting their crops. Low-income urban households and rural communities need to know what actions to take to better protect their lives and livelihoods against more frequent and intense climate shocks.
At Sharm el-Sheikh, at the Africa COP, the world must take advantage of the opportunity to fulfill its responsibility together with Africa. A prosperous future of hundreds of millions of Africans will depend on the decisions and actions taken at COP27. A green and resilient path for Africa’s development cannot wait.
Climate migration—deepening our solution
Migration linked to climate change—often presented as a devastating picture of the plight and flight of vulnerable Africans—is becoming a daily feature on the 24-hour news. While these graphic images are worth a thousand words, they are far removed from the complexity of the factors at play. The narrative often precludes a focus on long-lasting sustainable solutions.
Sub-Saharan Africa has always been a region with high levels of mobility. For example, the Sahel pastoralists were the “original climate adaptors,” migrating seasonally with their herds for water and pastureland. But with the effects of climate change—e.g., increased water scarcity, reduced pasture availability, and shifts in harvesting seasons—migration patterns have been disrupted, causing frequent tensions between farmers and pastoralists. Moreover, gender norms leave women without adequate tools or the capacity to adapt to climate change, as well as impede their ability to leverage migration for risk reduction. Furthermore, the growth and development needs of the youth—already facing a dearth of good jobs—are harmed by additional challenges created by the changing climate. Across Africa, more than half the 375 million young people entering the job market in the next 15 years will be living in rural areas.
The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) State of the Climate in Africa 2020 report notes that the East and Horn of Africa region saw 1.2 million new disaster-related displacements, largely caused by floods, storms, and droughts. The convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic with the locust outbreak in East Africa in 2020 amplified the impacts on poverty and food insecurity there
Without a focus on climate-smart productive jobs in the rural economy, youth will increasingly migrate to urban areas, as current climate-sensitive livelihoods become increasingly untenable due to crop productivity losses and water stress on pastoral and other livelihoods. Policies to address such obstacles already exist: As an example, investment in a solar-powered Kilishi (a highly demanded local meat delicacy) factory in northern Nigeria enabled a shift from use of firewood to cleaner meat drier domes and fuel-efficient kilns, conserving forests and bringing prosperity to the local community, while creating employment opportunities for the youth who would have otherwise migrated to cities in other states. The project has successfully attracted youth back from Abuja, the capital city, where they were performing menial jobs with low wages.
Migration and displacement numbers have been rising in recent years. In Mali, for example, climate change is compounding tensions surrounding land use and access to natural resources by changing where and when rain falls, where food and fodder can be grown, and where people can live. The World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) State of the Climate in Africa 2020 report notes that the East and Horn of Africa region saw 1.2 million new disaster-related displacements, largely caused by floods, storms, and droughts. The convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic with the locust outbreak in East Africa in 2020 amplified the impacts on poverty and food insecurity there. The interaction of these factors with the fragility and conflict in the Horn of Africa highlights the increasingly complex and interconnected drivers of mobility and immobility, with direct and devastating impacts on livelihoods. The urgency to understand how these issues will unfold in the future is critical.
The urgency and benefits of climate adaptation for Africa’s agriculture and food security
Food and nutrition security in Africa is off track: In 2020, more than one in five people in Africa faced hunger—more than double the proportion of hungry people in any other region. In fact, the continent remains a net food importer at an annual cost of $43 billion. Food security in Africa demands urgent and serious attention. Climate change is already stalling progress by interacting with multiple other stressors and shocks, including inequality, degrading natural resources, conflict, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
A 3°C warming trajectory will cause catastrophic disruption to African food systems within the next 30 years. In fact, under a 3°C warming scenario, Africa is expected to lose up to 30 percent of current growing areas for maize and banana and 60 percent for beans by 2050. Many more millions of Africans will suffer from hunger. By 2050, the 282 million of Africa’s population who are undernourished today is expected to rise to 350 million. A 1.5°C trajectory provides more options for adaptation of African food systems, but still demands urgent action. Current national pledges put the world on a 2.4°C trajectory even if they are fully achieved.
We need a whole food system approach
Leading adaptation options for food systems are well-defined and build on evidence and experience, including in Africa. Among these options, the priorities for public sector investment in Africa are fivefold: Research and extension, land restoration, water management, infrastructure, and climate information services. Some of the adaptation practices have long-term African experience to build on.
Notably, a modern approach to climate adaptation needs to move beyond purely agricultural solutions into whole food system approaches. Problems with agricultural production can be addressed not only through on-farm solutions, but also through entire value chains and through policy incentives for consumers and food businesses.
The costs of failure
Financing adaptation to climate change in the agriculture and food system in Africa will be more cost-effective than financing increasingly frequent and severe crisis response, disaster relief, and recovery pathways. In fact, the costs for adaptation action in Africa are about $15 billion (0.93 percent of regional GDP). This number is a fraction of the cost of inaction, which could rise to more than $201 billion (12 percent of GDP). There will also be significant regional variations in the cost of inaction. For instance, West and East Africa could lose up to about 15 percent, and Southern Africa up to about 10 percent of their GDPs by 2050 if adaptation measures are not taken.
A 3°C warming trajectory will cause catastrophic disruption to African food systems within the next 30 years. In fact, under a 3°C warming scenario, Africa is expected to lose up to 30 percent of current growing areas for maize and banana and 60 percent for beans by 2050
The agricultural financing gap in many African countries surpasses government budgets and available donor funding. Climate finance flows from multilateral development banks to the agriculture sector in Africa increased from $433 million in 2015 to $2 billion in 2018 and then declined to just over $1 billion in 2020. Moreover, the financing gap for climate adaptation is at risk of widening in the future due to fiscal drain on resources from the COVID-19 pandemic. Low-income countries are especially hard-hit as they bear a disproportionate weight of climate disasters.
Agriculture and food are the leading sectors for synergies across development and climate action, delivering simultaneously on the Sustainable Development Goals, national growth and food security goals, and climate adaptation and mitigation. The time to act on adaptation action in agriculture and food systems is now.
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