COP 21: Where lies Africa’s priorities?

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with Meeting with African Leaders John Dramani Mahama, President of Ghana, Alpha CondŽ, President of Guinea, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of Mali --H.E. Mr. Mahamadou Issoufou, President of Niger . Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria -

OVER 195 countries were represented at the just concluded United Nations climate change conference (COP21) in Paris, which was aimed at reaching a new universal climate agreement to limit the rise of global temperature. DOYIN ADEOYE, who followed the two-week event, brings the report, especially from Africa’s perspective, as well as experts ‘opinions on what lies ahead for Africa after COP 21.

Climate change poses complex challenges for Africa, and as such, addressing climate change issues has become central to the continent’s development agenda.

The realisation of a need for an international political response to climate change started more than a decade ago with the ‘Rio Earth Summit’ in 1992, where the adoption of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was birthed. And over the years, the Conferences of Parties (COPs) of the UNFCCC have become an important platform for improving global response to climate change.

With major impacts on Africa as well as its growing economies, the COP 21 could not have been timelier, as it was an opportunity to put Africa as a strategic player in the negotiations, thereby ensuring that commitments under the new agreement are favourable to the continent’s realities and solutions.

Speaking with participants at the conference, United Nations Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-moon, stressed that “Africa is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as much of its economy depends on a climate-sensitive natural resource base, including rain-fed subsistence agriculture. Disruptions in food or water supplies pose serious risks not only for African economies, but also for political stability, particularly in fragile states.”

Ahead of the convergence of stakeholders for COP21, more than 180 countries submitted voluntary climate action plans to the UNFCCC, through the development of the Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDCs), and this supposedly formed the basis of the agreement reached at the end of the conference. Through the INDCs, countries stated their national contributions to the conference, within the context of their national priorities and capabilities.

Although the African continent contributes only 3.8 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions, African countries are no doubt, among the most vulnerable.

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with Meeting with African Leaders   John Dramani Mahama, President of Ghana,  Alpha CondŽ, President of Guinea,  Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of Mali --H.E. Mr. Mahamadou Issoufou, President of Niger  . Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria -
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets with Meeting with African Leaders
John Dramani Mahama, President of Ghana,
Alpha CondŽ, President of Guinea,
Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, President of Mali –H.E. Mr. Mahamadou Issoufou, President of Niger
. Muhammadu Buhari, President of Nigeria –

Nigeria, like many other countries, has not been spared by climate change and we continue to incur considerable costs in addressing challenges of both environmental and economic nature. As stated in its INDCs, climate change poses a significant threat to the achievement of development goals of the country, especially those related to eliminating poverty and hunger and promoting environmental sustainability.

“Agriculture is one of the sectors most sensitive to climate change. Under a business-as-usual scenario, agricultural productivity could decline between 10 to 25 per cent by 2080. Also, a considerable proportion of the population is at risk of water stress, with less than 40 per cent having direct access to potable water.

“Climate change would result in increased variability in rainfall, predictably resulting in floods in many parts of the country, particularly the humid areas, with devastating consequences. Single extreme climate events have the potential to wipe out years of development. For example, the total value of destroyed physical and durable assets caused by the 2012 floods has been estimated to be N1.48 trillion (US$9.5 billion) or about 2 per cent of the rebased GDP of US$510 billion,” it stated.

These, among many other issues were highlighted, while also noting that the Federal Government’s economic growth plan, Nigeria Vision 20:2020, Economic Transformation Blueprint (2009), recognises the changing climate as a threat to sustainable growth in the next decade.

“It sees climate change as a critical challenge globally and, in Nigeria, as a potential driver of damaging and irrecoverable effects on infrastructure, food production and water supplies, in addition to precipitating natural resource conflicts. This recognition is an important first step towards a climate change adaptation strategy and action plan.”

With emissions projected to grow at 114 per cent by 2030 to around 900 million tonnes, this is around 3.4 tonnes for every Nigerian. Under a high growth scenario, with economic growth at 7 per cent, this climbs to over one billion tonnes.

At least 54 African nations adopted a unified position, calling for an agreement to limit warming to 1.5 Celsius above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century. Speaking at the leaders’ event, where over 150 heads of states and governments gathered on Monday, 30 November, President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, said that “the Post-2020 climate change agreement should enhance the implementation of the convention, including the long-term global goal of holding the rise in temperature to 1.5 degree Celsius.

“It should also reaffirm the obligations of developed country Parties to provide additional, predictable and sustainable support in terms of finance, technology and capacity building to meet the adaptation and mitigation needs of the developing-country parties,” he said.

President Jacob Zuma of South Africa also noted that for his country, its INDC includes a commitment to adapt to the adverse effects of climate change, through a set of national adaptation goals, while also noting that “the Paris Agreement should address the interests of all countries and empower everyone to contribute their best efforts, based on equity and differentiation.”

The Agreement

Eventually agreed upon on Saturday, 12 December, a day after the Convention was scheduled to end, the historic Paris Agreement sets an ambitious goal of keeping a global temperature rise at no more than 2 degrees Celsius, and to strive for a limit of 1.5 degrees Celsius if possible.

French Foreign Minister, Laurent Fabius, who also served as the President of COP 21, described the agreement as fair and legally binding.

“The Paris Agreement allows each delegation and group of countries to go back home with their heads held high. Our collective effort is worth more than the sum of our individual effort. Our responsibility to history is immense,” he said.

pic-18-president-buhari-attends-u-n-climate-change-conference-in-parisFrench President, Francois Hollande described it as “an ambitious agreement, a binding agreement and a universal agreement.”

The Paris Agreement covers all the crucial areas identified as essential for a landmark conclusion, which are Mitigation: reducing emissions fast enough to achieve the temperature goal; A transparency system and global stock-take: accounting for climate action; Adaptation: strengthening ability of countries to deal with climate impacts; Loss and damage: strengthening ability to recover from climate impacts; and Support: including finance for nations to build clean and resilient futures.

So why is COP 21 so important, especially for Africa?

The committed involvement of the United States and China has helped to step up the scale of negotiations compared to other COPs. Although, there really is not much out there to comment on Africa’s position, what is key is Africa has to increase on her capability to address adaptation to climate change in better ways. Also our perusal of Nigeria’s INDC appears acceptable. However, Nigeria has to also aggressively tackle the issue of desertification in the 11 front-line states which has been recognised as a major cause of climate change in our territory. The adverse socio-economic effects of the consequences of desertification include poverty, exacerbating conflicts and security concerns, among others. So, the development of the Great Green Wall should therefore still remain on the top burner of national discuss.

–Dr Newton Jibunoh

Founder, Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE) Africa


The experience for me was awesome, and the events we attended were all well managed despite the tragic events in Paris a few weeks before the Convention. Honestly, I think Africa was led by Nigeria, and the appointment of Amina Mohammed as the Environment Minister proved inspirational. All of Africa has to prepare for climate change; it is coming, COP21 can only minimise the impact of it. However, I believe that the transfer of capital to the developing nations to cope with and slow down the impact of climate change is critical. It is also very important that all African counties stick to the agreed reductions in emissions and even try to push further.–Lolade OresanwoChief Operating Officer, WestAfricaENRG


To achieve the projected average global temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius by the end of the 21st century, there should be a legally binding agreement to that effect, and not one which the big emitters, United States typically, would wriggle out or disregard. We have learnt after the COP at Copenhagen from United States making financial commitments and almost a decade after, providing nothing. Africa will be in for a surprise after COP21 because personally, I feel that many developed countries especially in Europe, are already significantly decoupling development from Carbon emissions. Examples are Germany, Sweden and United Kingdom. Whilst Africa expects capacity building in terms of technologies and financing, some of the countries in Europe will find it difficult to make these financial contributions, at least to the extent African countries expect. So for a country like Nigeria, I insist that the solution is at home.—Professor Chinedum NwajiubaExecutive Director, Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (NEST)


Developing countries in Africa have a lot of work to do to turn aspirations of reducing carbon emissions into reality. In the current global economic climate, a focus on more efficient use of resources can help drive the actions and behaviours that lead to a reduction in carbon emissions. The timeline for the deal on carbon emissions targets that is agreed at the end of COP21 is by 2020, so, the work towards genuine emissions reductions needs to have started.

–Ayodeji Ogunyemi

Director, Advisory Services, Ernst & Young, Nigeria

Being a part of the historic event was a good experience, and I think African countries put their cases across very well. However, from the draft agreement, it was largely written in the absence of the negotiation process. With the articles published, it is obvious that much of it is exactly as projected long before the COP21. So therefore the contributions from African countries and other developing nations have, in my view, been ignored in the substance of the agreement and just included in the non-legally binding preamble.In terms of outcomes, I do not think this is a sustainable solution for developing countries. For me, it is hard to see exactly what will be measured and the reward or penalty for not achieving the reduction in emissions. I believe African countries articulated their concerns regarding climate change very well, but they did not lobby in the lead up events enough to get those concerns into the substance of the document.Climate change is affecting Africa more than any other continent and I am a little worried post COP21 for African countries, particularly in the concept of “Technology Development and Transfer.” Looking at Articles 6 and 9 of the Agreement, one can imagine that the transfer of much needed capital will be based on conditions, and we know from experience that any financial conditions will always favour those providing the capital, i.e. developed economies.

Paul O’Callaghan