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COP27: Should South Asia learn from Africa?

Taking a cue from Africa, can South Asian countries conduct strategic and collective consultations to build a nest?

Rajendra Shende Nov 04, 2022
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COP27

Never in the history of the UN Climate Change Conference the African continent was so well prepared on the eve of the global meet, COP 27, that would be held at the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El Sheikh, in Egypt.  The host country proudly calls itself an African Country, being in the northeast part of the continent termed in Arabic as the Mashriq region. ‘Strategic’ is the word that perfectly describes African preparation for the more than a weeklong meeting from 7-18 November. 

While COP27 will be the 5th Climate Conference in the African continent, there have been only two in Asia and only one is in South Asia (New Delhi in 2002). There is, nevertheless, a lot to learn for South Asia from Africa’s strategic and collective preparation.  

Small island countries like Maldives are facing an existential threat. As a part of impactful theatrics, its former president Mohamed Nasheed held an underwater cabinet meeting. Nepal and Bhutan facing floods due to melting high-altitude lakes, and risking hydroelectricity. India is facing growing air and sea pollution and food crises due to extreme weather. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi demanded USD 1 trillion in COP26. Countries like Sri Lanka and Afghanistan are facing political and climatic challenges. However, South Asia did not strive for collective and consultative leadership the way Africa is engaged in now.

A determined Africa

COP is one of the myriads of complicated abbreviations used in the UN’s climate taxonomy, meaning ‘Conference of Parties’ to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change -UNFCCC. The ‘Parties’ are all the 198 countries in the world that have ratified the UNFCCC. COP serves as the formal meeting of the UNFCCC Parties to assess the progress on agreed goals and targets. It also helps Parties to enhance their targets and provide to the Parties science, technology, and policy information. 

In face of growing criticism from the vested interests of the developed countries, mainly due to the host country’s growing focus on increasing extraction of natural gas, particularly in Egypt and the Republic of Congo, the 53 African countries are determined to make COP 27 a significant success in forging partnerships to mitigate and adapt to climate change. They have reminded the developed countries of their past climate pledges and forgotten promises on funding even in the Pre-COP27 African Climate summit. 

Egypt, the host of the 27th COP, is also being cleverly criticized by the developed world for submitting its NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) very late and not being proactive for ‘net zero’ pledge. Undeterred, it has very effectively proceeded with determination to unify African countries before COP27 to have common African agenda in wake of the life-threatening impacts of climate change.  

Egypt has hit the nail on the head of the climate agenda. In African pre-summit consultations held at the beginning of October in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt took a stand that COP27, which is the 5th COP taking place in the African continent, should be ‘implementation-COP’ and not ‘Negotiation-COP’. It is a very powerful strategic approach the host country has ever taken recognizing that the era of discussion on agreed goals is long over and the window of opportunity for carbon neutral world is fast closing. 

Climate injustice

The unifying force in the African countries to develop the COP27 strategy is the result of gross climate injustice facing the continent. The dire, distressing, and dreadful facts about Africa are laid out in the WMO report released in Sept 2022, ‘The State of the Climate in Africa 2021’. It reveals that water stress and hazards of devastating droughts and floods are striking African communities, economies and ecosystems and demolishing hard almost to humiliate them.  Rainfall patterns are disrupted, glaciers on Mount Kenya, Mount Kilimanjaro and Ruwenzori that straddle the border between Uganda and Zaire are disappearing, and key lakes are shrinking. 

Rising water demand across Africa combined with limited and uncertain supplies threatens to aggravate local and regional conflicts and displacements. Extreme weather and climate change are deteriorating human health and safety, food and water security and socio-economic development. It’s not only the sub-Saharan region that is often quoted but even the richer southern tip of Africa, the Cape of Good Hope, which now appears to belie its optimistic name, with the nearby regions of southern Africa going deadly dry. 

Clearly, Africa only accounts for about 3 per centto 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions but suffers disproportionately from its impacts. This minimal share of emissions of Africa tells much of the colossal story of 75 per cent of population in sub-Saharan Africa that have no access to electricity. That also cripples the manufacturing and hence economic development of Africa. 

The story of climate injustice in Africa triggers the thought of whether such injustice in modern times could be an issue for the International Court of Justice in Dan Hague. The story of injustice gets further magnified if one considers high water stress is estimated to affect about 250 million people in Africa and is expected to displace up to 700 million people by 2030. Four out of five African countries are unlikely to have sustainably managed water resources by 2030. Adverse impacts of climate change would cost Africa USD 50 billion annually by 2050 as per World Meteorological Organisation (WMO). 

Climate justice

"Water shocks are threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and destabilizing communities, countries and entire regions," says WMO Secretary-General Prof Petteri Taalas. 

African countries along with all developing countries have already realized that COPs, year after year, have proved to be nothing but talking shops, pledge factories, and promise machines. NDCs have been found to be miserably far from what is needed to achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement of 2015 as per the UNEP annual reports called ‘Emission Gap Reports’ being published annually.  The latest report released on 27th October 2022, is titled ‘Closing Window’. It calls for the rapid transformation of societies globally, whatever it means. This is what was expected from the implementation of NDCs as per the Paris Climate Agreement. Sadly, NDCs are now called by some as ‘Non-Deliverable Cuts’ in emissions in the decorative corridors of climate conferences. 

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his tweet on 29 October stated that the “Latest UNEP Emission Gap report makes it clear, we are headed for economy-destroying levels of global heating. We need Climate Action on all fronts and we need it now. We must close the emissions gap before catastrophe closes in on us all”. 

Egypt, supported by all African countries in the Pre Cop27 summit,  has called for, the need for more funds, specifically mentioning an agreement dating back to COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009. It was agreed then that developed countries would provide to developing countries new and additional’ funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation starting from USD 10 billion in 2010 to reach USD 100 billion (€101.7 billion) in 2020 and then USD 100 Billion per year from the year 2020. 

Bizarrely, the Green Climate Fund has received from 32 developed countries only USD 10 billion as of August 2022, that too in confirmed pledges. It is not clear if those funds are actually paid in the Fund. Such pittance performance of developed countries professes nothing but gross failure principle of ‘ polluter to pay’ and associated collective responsibility to save life on the Earth. 

Following the call by developing countries, the COP26 in the UK, Glasgow noted with regret that developed country parties have not met the $100 billion goal annually. The COP also agreed in Glasgow on a ‘Climate Finance Delivery Plan: Meeting the US$100 Billion Goal’ by 2025. African countries have a unified position that would like to drive a very clear distinction between Official Development Assistance (ODA) and climate finance.

Congolese Environment Minister Eve Bazaiba, host of the pre-COP 27 summit,  called on developed countries not only to respect past financial pledges but also to endorse proposals to compensate least developed economies for climate-inflicted damage, under the ‘ Loss and Damage’ mechanism, which would be the yet another priority for African strategy. Article 8 of the Paris Agreement enshrines the importance of averting, minimizing and addressing loss and damage and the role of sustainable development in reducing the risk of loss and damage. The cost of structural damage caused by natural disasters in Africa will increase to $415 billion a year by 2030. 

‘Loss and Damage’ issue, propounded first by Small Island Countries ( SIDs) is still being deliberated if it is compensation for the damage caused in the developing countries or for the prevention of damage.   Africa looks at it as both as it feels that Loss and Damage are part of climate justice. It also shows that USD 100 Billion a year for developing countries is grossly inadequate considering the cost of loss and damage in poor countries. 

The current Chair of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) on climate change, Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of Zambia, states that another strategy for Africa would be the need to enhance Adaptation Fund. Though it is agreed to be part of the USD 100 billion per year, The latest IPCC working group report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, highlighted the annual cost of adaptation in developing countries from $140 billion to $300 billion by 2030. Africa wants to call for adaptation financing to match these figures. Adaptation Fund completes three dimensions of climate justice. 

Cue from Africa

Africa, even though collectively well prepared for COP27 faces profound challenges when they arrive in Egypt. The world is reeling under recession in the post-COVID era and is torn due to conflicts and war between Russia and Ukraine. It is next to impossible to get all the funding expected by them from developed countries. 

Deputy UN Secretary-General Amina Mohammed of Kenyn, during the African summit, warned that "all indicators on climate are heading in the wrong direction." COP26 will be known for promises and pledges. Egypt and the rest of Africa want COP27 to be known as COP for implementing all these pledges. Africa wants to follow its well known proverb that ‘A Chattering Bird Builds No Nest’.

Taking a cue from Africa, can South Asian countries conduct strategic and collective consultations to build a nest? 

(The writer is Chairman, TERRE Policy Centre, Pune and a noted environmentalist. Views are personal. He blogs at www.rajendrashende.com/www.rajendrashende.blog)

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Rajendra Agrawal
Sat, 11/05/2022 - 04:25
Dr Shende . You have brought out the present position of climate change which is very disappointing. No solution seems to be in sight in the present situation of conflicts in the world. There is no will of developed countries to mitigate the effects of climate change. But every Ona has to put efforts to have better climate in future.
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