The Paris Agreement and African agriculture

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    African countries need to focus on enhancing their adaptive capacities and reduce their vulnerability to climate change. Translating that momentum quickly into the agriculture sectors, neglected in the Paris Agreement, should be central to a holistic and comprehensive transformation of African economies.
    The Paris Agreement marks a significant step in the evolution of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and presents a unique opportunity for Parties to the Convention to strengthen the global response to climate change. The Agreement aims at combating climate change and it promotes actions and investment towards a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future. The Agreement reflects a mixed approach combining bottom-up flexibility to achieve broad participation with top-down rules to promote accountability and ambition in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Under the Agreement, developing countries have been charged with the shared responsibility for tackling the problem of climate change. To achieve this target, parties to the Paris Agreement submitted Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) indicating the unique plans individual countries intended to follow to reduce emissions. All African countries commendably submitted INDCs except Libya before the COP21 meeting. Countries’ contributions included unconditional and quantifiable emission reduction targets that can be achieved with international assistance.


    With the adverse effects of climate change becoming more frequent and intense, Africa faces increasing climate risks and adaptation needs. Under the Agreement, a global goal of enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience and reducing vulnerability to climate change has been established. The capacity of African countries to cope with the effects of climate change on different economic sectors and on human activities is expected to be significantly challenged, and potentially overwhelmed, by the magnitude and rapidity of the impacts. The Paris Agreement therefore presents greater opportunity for Africa to pursue adaptation goals. Article 7 of the Agreement establishes “the global goal on adaptation” to “protect people, livelihoods and ecosystems” with a unique focus on developing countries. It calls on countries to act to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change. The Paris Agreement specifically mentions “adaptive capacity” and states how individual countries intend to carry out measures such as resilience mechanisms, disaster risk management and innovation through relevant technologies. Each country is obliged to submit and update on their adaptation efforts every five years. African countries need to focus on enhancing their adaptive capacities and reduce their vulnerability to climate change. The Agreement binds parties to engage in adaptation planning processes and submit and update adaptation communications periodically. The Agreement obliges African countries to demonstrate commitment by planning and implementing effective adaptation actions and update and report on their adaptation progress and needs.

    The African Development Bank estimates Africa’s adaptation between US$20-30 billion per annum over the next 10 to 20 years. Therefore, there is an urgent need for Africa to focus on formulation and implementation of national adaptation plans and on ways to address loss and damage. Critical areas for adaptation include irrigation and drought management, diversification of agricultural practices, a more resilient livestock sector, better saving and lending mechanisms for farmers, and better forest-conservation practices. Africa’s adaptation strategies should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, participatory and fully transparent approach. They should take into consideration vulnerable groups, communities, ecosystems and indigenous knowledge systems as a resilience mechanism to enable communities to adapt to climate challenges.

    Agriculture omitted from Paris Agreement

    African agriculture is and will continue to be the mainstay of economic growth and transformation on the continent as it employs about 65% of Africa’s labour force and accounts for more than one-third of the continent’s GDP according to African Union and World Bank statistics. In the aftermath of the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the next logical step for Africa is to translate that momentum quickly into the agriculture sector. This should be central to a holistic and comprehensive transformation of African economies.

    Africa’s vulnerability to climate change is largely linked to its high dependence on the agricultural sector, which is heavily reliant on rain-fed systems making it particularly vulnerable to changes in precipitation patterns. Climate change is expected to impact crop production in Africa through changes in temperature and the quantity and temporal distribution of water supply. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that rising temperatures and unpredictable rains will make it harder for farmers to grow certain key crops like wheat, rice and maize. While many of the projected effects of climate change on agriculture are negative, it is possible that productivity could increase in some areas due to more favourable climatic conditions. Innovative ways of how Africa’s agricultural sector will adapt to climate change is an opportunity to bring agriculture into focus in the Paris negotiations. The INDCs is a platform for Africa to showcase how innovative adaptation can boost food production in a changing climate. Africa must aim to increase productivity and sustainable production systems to achieve food self-sufficiency. Article 4.1(e) of the Climate Change Convention calls on Parties to “cooperate in preparing for adaptation to the impacts of climate change; develop and elaborate appropriate and integrated plans for coastal zone management, water resources and agriculture, and for the protection and rehabilitation of areas, particularly in Africa, affected by drought and desertification, as well as floods”. Despite the groundbreaking success of the Paris Agreement, agriculture is not explicitly mentioned in the Paris Agreement despite efforts to push for it. This has proven a cause of concern for many African countries, considering the catalytic role agriculture plays in the socio-economic development of the continent. In spite of the exclusion of the sector, Africa has generally welcomed the Agreement as it is the first time ever that food security features have appeared in a global climate change accord or agreement. The UNFCCC has historically paid little attention to the agriculture sector. Most of the implications for agriculture will be indirect, and overall Paris outcomes are framed by general parameters. They are indirectly defined by the country-level strategies that were presented through INDCs submitted in the lead-up to Paris. As of late October 2015, 155 countries, accounting for roughly 90% of global emissions, have submitted strategies, many of which include adaptation or mitigation actions in the agricultural sector. An analysis by the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) shows agriculture is discussed in 80% of INDCs submitted by nearly 190 countries. This portrays the importance that countries attach to the agriculture sector and its influence on the climate debate. The Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological Advice (SBSTA), which is an auxiliary body of the UNFCCC, has provided a platform for agriculture to be discussed during its meetings in the run-up to the operationalisation of the Paris Agreement in 2020.

    The way forward

    For Africa to be able to address the issues pertaining to agriculture and climate change, it is imperative to promote initiatives geared at improving adaptation, increasing food productivity and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the sector. The African Union and the continent’s negotiating bodies in the global climate change discussions have emphasised that adaptation to climate change remains a priority for the continent. The Malabo Declaration of 2014 on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods provides a vision for an African-led response to the impact of climate change on the agriculture sector. The Malabo Declaration is emphatic on the need for enhancing resilience of livelihoods and production systems to climate variability and other related risks. The Malabo Declaration has envisioned that by the year 2025, at least 30% of African farms, pastoral, and fisher households will be resilient to climate and weather related risks.

    Africa needs to optimise the agro-sector through applying ecosystem-based adaptation approaches that enhance ecosystems to improve food security, incomes and job creation without further escalating greenhouse gases. For rain-fed farming systems facing increasing propensity of drought, as in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, one of the most important priorities is expanded access to irrigation, especially small-scale irrigation. Insurance instruments are important for pooling risk and responding quickly to shocks when they arise. Furthermore, the SBSTA needs to ensure that there are clear standards for comparing and assessing the agricultural components of national Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) strategies. A number of initiatives are working in this direction including the Food and Agricultural Organization which has launched the Economics and Policy Innovations for Climate-Smart Agriculture programme. On the continental front, a number of programmes and initiatives such as the NEPAD Climate Change and Agriculture Programme, driven by the NEPAD Agency, represents a galvanising and catalytic effort to bring coordination and coherence in Africa’s efforts at combating the effects of climate change on its agriculture sector: its overall aim is to meet the African Union’s vision of supporting 25 million farming households to practice CSA by 2025. Additionally, under the umbrella of the Africa CSA Alliance, the NEPAD-iNGO Alliance on CSA has been formed between NEPAD and as a grassroots implementation mechanism for providing support to at least 6 million smallholder farmers on the continent. Financing adaptation within the agriculture sector in Africa represents perhaps the single most important element for Africa to meet the challenges of climate change. Significantly, Africa has not been able to fully access all major funding opportunities related to climate change primarily as a result of capacity restraints. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) which is expected to be filled to the tune of US$100 billion per annum presents a great opportunity for Africa to access climate funds; the fund has identified climate-resilient agriculture as one of its five investment priorities. There is lots of potential, but if Africa wants to fully benefit from the GCF, it needs to develop institutional and human capacity in terms of project preparation and implementation. About the author Estherine Lisinge-Fotabong is the Director of Programme Implementation and Coordination Directorate of the NEPAD Planning and Coordinating Agency.
    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 3  (May/June 2016).
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