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COP26 through an Africa-Europe lens

22-11-2021

ECDPM commentary, Hanne Knaepen, 22 November 2021

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The Glasgow Climate Pact failed to capture the emergency mode that many countries, also in Africa, called for. Countries’ 2030 climate action pledges suggest a 2.4-degree trajectory by 2100, instead of the 1.5-degrees target, which is vital to avoid catastrophic damages to the planet and people.

Many are looking at the outcome of COP26 and concluding that it is either a glass half full or a glass half empty. But is it not especially half-empty for Africa? And did Europe contribute to filling the glass? Some thoughts on the wins, the losses and the way forward.


A mixed result for Africa


“Adaptation has been given serious attention. This is a form of win for Africa. It never featured in that way previously”, commented Ibrahim Mayaki, CEO of the African Union Development Agency, after COP26. This meets part of the African Group of Negotiators’ most urgent calls to focus strongly on adaptation matters. Indeed, developed countries’ commitments to adaptation doubled during the conference.

However, the final Glasgow pact “notes with concern that the current provision of climate finance for adaptation remains insufficient […].” The latest UNEP Adaptation Gap Report 2021 shows that the world must spend up to ten times more to help adapt to inevitable climate upheaval.

During the COP, the pitches by climate-vulnerable countries on finance to deal with the losses and damages of climate impacts were noted. But they were not answered. The least developed countries group (comprising 33 African countries of a total of 46 member countries) underlined its disappointment about the fact that the ‘loss and damage’ facility is not included in the final Glasgow decision.


Africa’s journey ahead


But for Africa, success in the climate negotiations is also about finding a common narrative on what a green transition means for all African countries. It’s about moving together to meet the 1.5 target. The African common position on climate change puts ‘adaptation’ and ‘loss and damage’ (together with the requirement for rich countries to reduce emissions) on top of the agenda. However, “‘energy’ is left out of the common position, simply because there is no common position on that”, I was told by an South-African colleague, present at COP26.

The dominant debate on green transition in Africa is focusing on the right to make use of oil and gas in the transition, further complicated by pressing challenges such as high population growth and rising urbanisation. But what sometimes is missing is a frank dialogue on the expansion of renewable energy in Africa. The multiple memberships of African countries, ranging from the G77 to the BASIC Group, the SIDS and OPEC, show how diverse needs and interests are.

The principles of climate justice and differentiated responsibilities are at the core of the Paris agreement, but ineffective negotiations and slow action has shown that in the end, it’s everyone’s responsibility. In my interview with UNFCCC’s Annett Möhner, she underlines the limits of the UN climate framework and the ultimate responsibility for all countries to take up action. This reality check makes us ask the difficult question of which responsibility African countries should take up, knowing that global climate finance will never meet the $1.3 trillion that African negotiators asked for?

Frankly, on top of the climate finance coming from international partners, there is no other way forward for African countries than to mobilise domestic resources to the extent possible. This mind shift is starting to happen, slowly. For example, the 2015 Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) of Tunisia appealed for support from the international community to cover all the adaptation costs. The updated 2021 NDC is more nuanced, mentioning “that the international financial partners have to play a ‘significant role’ in meeting Tunisia’s adaptation needs while underlining the importance of national and private funding sources.”

Using domestic resources for adaptation will not be easy in Africa’s poorest nations, especially in the short-run. Indebtedness across the continent is alarmingly high: in Liberia, debt was almost 55% of GDP in 2019 – and a staggering 104% in Zambia in 2020. As long as countries are constrained by debt, successfully adapting to climate change is hard to envision. Yet, other countries show what could be possible: in Bangladesh, 7,5% of the national budget is dedicated to climate action, as Saleemul Huq explained in a podcast for ECDPM.

But success is more than accelerating funding. Equally important for Africa is how it is delivered and spent. The way forward is the full integration of climate change into all government agencies. Currently, in most African countries, climate action is the responsibility of an environment ministry, undertaking action without any connection with the ministries of home affairs, trade, infrastructure or energy. Even in the process of drafting the NDCs, in many cases, not all line ministries were consulted. Yet, effective governance is key to long lasting climate action in Africa, as Hans Bruyninckx explains in this ECDPM podcast.


The missing EU bloc


At COP26, coalition-building between Europe and Africa was rare, and certainly not as evident as in previous COPs. Indeed, the EU pledged €100 million for the adaptation fund during the COP. But, the EU was also one of the blocs blocking the inclusion of the ‘loss and damage’ facility in the final Glasgow climate pact.

Perhaps the EU was better equipped to be a credible climate diplomat during previous COPs? Remember that at the Paris COP21 in 2015, the EU was hailed as one of the enabling actors behind the Paris Agreement, being one of the frontrunners in the High Ambition Coalition, joined by African and small island countries. During the Durban COP17 in 2011, Europe aligned with its African partners to make the world agree on emission targets. And, during the last COP25 in Madrid, Europe impressed the world by presenting the ambitious EU Green Deal.

But, during this climate COP, the complex, slow and divided EU has failed to meet the high expectations set out in its common position in the run-up to COP26 and its Green Deal. Nowhere is this clearer than with Africa, where ambiguities on both sides damaged trust and the possibility for cooperation among so-called equal partners. This break of trust has been aggravated by the inability to meet the delivery requirements of the vaccines, promised by the COVAX programme. The EU, together with the US, did lead a phase-out of methane, with agreed cuts of 30% by 2030, but then, enfant terrible Poland argued it should be allowed to carry on with coal until 2040. Perhaps the Portuguese and Slovenian Presidencies of the EU could have better championed the EU’s position in the run-up to COP26?

Instead of a united EU at COP26, I saw agreements and pledges taken forward by individual, or coalitions of, European countries, such as France, Germany and the UK. This led to initiatives such as South Africa receiving $8.5 billion to help ensure a ‘just transition’ for the country’s extremely coal-dependent economy. Or, to the Congo Basin Joint Donor Statement counting on a collective pledge of at least $1.5 billion, by Germany, France and others, to counter deforestation in the Central African Basin.


After COP26: where can Europe and Africa meet?


As always, finance has been at the centre of discussions: the slow and inadequate delivery of climate finance has also shown the gap between bold pledges and follow-through actions. The $100 billion by 2020 pledged first at the Copenhagen COP in 2009 is unlikely to be put in place before 2023.

Therefore, the EU’s delivery on the Paris Agreement should be fully embedded in the financial structures that make transitions possible. African observers of COP26 often talked about a ‘two-faced’ issue: while the EU publicly cares about adaptation inside the talks, most of the money goes to emission reductions. Therefore, another concrete way to rebuild trust with African partners will be for the EU to support partners dealing with the devastating loss and damage from climate change.

Hopefully, at the upcoming EU-AU Summit, to be held in February 2022, both blocs can start bridging the gap in their climate agendas. At this point, it is not clear how the COP26 results will impact the Summit. Hopefully, cooperation on adaptation finance and loss and damage will be high on the agenda, as well as supporting African nations with their green transition and especially access to energy. France, holding the EU Presidency during the Summit, will probably want to tie ‘climate change’ to security issues in the Sahelian region. A topic extremely important to assure sustainable livelihood in a region where up to 80% of the agricultural land is already degraded due to climate change and other factors.

All in all, the Glasgow Climate Pact provides a foundation – but one to urgently build upon. The EU still has twelve months to reframe the COP negotiations, together with African partners, to formalise the dialogue on adaptation and loss and damage, and reach binding commitments. Of course, a lot will depend now on how the Egyptians will lead the process towards COP27, already dubbed ‘the adaptation COP’, thereby keeping up expectations.


The views are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM.

Photo courtesy of Lesley Martin, European Union 2021 via EC – Audiovisual Service.

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ECDPM commentary, Hanne Knaepen, November 2021