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Africa’s big adaptation ask at COP26

In the picturesque Cape Verde islands, which will be among the hardest-hit African countries as global temperatures increase, policymakers and scientists from across Africa gathered this month to hammer out a unified African position on climate change.

This is important because world leaders are gathering in November at COP26 – the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow – to figure out how to respond to this existential threat to life on Earth.

The African Group of Negotiators (AGN) on Climate Change, an alliance of African states, will represent and negotiate the continent’s common agenda.

At the very top of this agenda is how to pay for all the changes we will have to make to adapt to a changing climate: from changing rainfall patterns cutting crop yields to the damage done from flood waters rushing through dense settlements, and myriad other impacts.

Developed countries, whose enormous carbon footprint is why the world is in this crisis to begin with, have repeatedly promised to help out. At COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, they pledged to mobilise $100-billion a year by 2020 to support vulnerable developing countries in tackling climate change and its impacts. This commitment was reaffirmed at COP21 in Paris in 2015.

But the money never arrived.

“The promise has not materialised, and even if it were to materialise, the $100-billion per year would still be grossly inadequate,” says a statement adopted by African delegates in Cape Verde.

That’s why the AGN will be demanding that COP26 delivers on this promise. In fact, the negotiators are going even further, arguing that at least 50% of all available climate funds should go towards climate change adaptation in Africa.

Home to 17% of the global population, Africa contributes less than 4% of global emissions. Already Africa is experiencing warming of 1.8°C, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.

This is costing the continent between 3% and 9% of annual GDP as countries are forced to pay for adaptation measures themselves, the AGN’s research has shown.

The funding gap

There are other barriers that prevent African countries from accessing the funds necessary to finance adaptation measures. The Covid-19 pandemic has hit local economies hard. 

“Africa is facing a nearly $500-billion gap to finance its recovery [from Covid-19],” said Linus Mofor of the Africa Climate Policy Centre. This places a huge additional burden on African treasuries, which are already overstretched.

Meanwhile, most African countries find it difficult if not impossible to access private climate financing (which makes up 56% of all climate financing).

“Private sector funding flows where there is a security of investment, high returns and where the market is structured appropriately to allow them to invest,” explained Jean-Paul Adam, the director for technology, climate change and natural resources at the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

Other public funds are not necessarily tailored towards the needs of African countries.

The $8.85-billion Green Climate Fund, for example, has until recently been skewed towards financing climate mitigation efforts – in other words, projects that reduce carbon emissions – rather than climate adaptation measures, which help countries deal with the impact of a changing climate.

Given that Africa’s carbon emissions are already so low, it is in the adaptation category that the continent needs help.

“Africa presents unique challenges, but also unique opportunities for climate resilience,” concluded Adam. “The challenge lies in ensuring that investments needed for growth and development gaps can happen and do so fast enough to leave no one behind. We need the resources upfront.” 

This article first appeared on The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.

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Sophie Mbugua
Sophie Mbugua is a journalist based in Nairobi, Kenya, who writes about food and agriculture, climate change and gender issues.

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