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FEATURE: Postcard from Addis Ababa – ‘Development first: addressing climate change in Africa’


By Lisa McNamara, CDKN Africa Knowledge Management Coordinator

When discussing climate change and Africa these frightening predictions are familiar:  millions at risk from water stress, significant reductions in agricultural productivity with serious repercussions for food security in the region, increasing heath burdens, loss of biodiversity, sea level rise affecting the growing West African urban coastal areas, and flooding and landslides becoming a familiar feature of urban and rural life. A common conception is that Africa lacks the finances, human resources and governance capacity to respond to the climate change challenge. And because of Africa’s negligible contribution to historic greenhouse gas emissions, a transition to a low carbon economy is largely irrelevant to the continent: Africa must adapt to the impacts of climate change.

The resounding message from the first Climate Change and Development in Africa (CCDA-1) Conference is that it is time to change this conversation.

The CCDA, hosted by UNECA’s African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) under the Climate for Development in Africa (ClimDev Africa) programme, was held in Addis Ababa from 17-19 October 2011. ClimDev is a joint initiative of the African Union Commission (AUC), the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and mandated by Africa Heads of State and governments. The conference marked the inaugural gathering of policy-makers, decision-makers, research organisations, civil society, business, etc. from across Africa to debate climate and development on the continent.

Although climate change represents a very serious and real threat to Africa’s development prospects, a new positive language is starting to emerge. From concentrating on  what must be done to ‘mitigate’ and adapt’ to climate change, we are starting to hear the words ‘opportunity’ and ‘development co-benefits’, with climate change increasingly been understood as a chance to ‘transform’ communities, economies and institutions. John Ashton, UK Special Representative on Climate Change, argued in the opening plenary that responses to climate change need to be built upon a ‘politics of opportunity’ rather than costs and burdens. Fatima Denton of the Climate Change Adaptation in Africa (CCAA)Programme of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) highlighted that climate change offers chances for catalysing wider institutional and economic change. African countries like Ethiopia, Guyana, Rwanda, Kenya and Ghana are not waiting for an international climate change deal: they are putting their countries on a climate resilient and low carbon development path because it makes sense for achieving energy security, economic growth and development. (Read about the work CDKN is supporting in Rwanda and Ghana.)

Framing climate change response as an opportunity has repercussions for how we communicate. Angela Kallhauge of the Swedish Energy Agency (SEA) emphasised that in order to respond meaningfully we have move to talking about the solutions to climate change and what Africa can do about it, rather than endlessly highlighting the problem. We need to answer the ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions. Participants called for Africa to ‘stop lamenting’ and ‘start acting’.

‘Development first’

For Africa, climate change and development are inextricably linked. The ‘development first’ agenda, advanced at the conference and to be taken into the Africa Pavilion at CoP 17 in Durban, maintains that socioeconomic development cannot be addressed in Africa independent of climate change. Mr Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu, the Chair of the Africa Group of Negotiators, addressed CCDA participants in a previously recorded video, emphasising that low carbon development pathways cannot be justified by poorer countries unless these align with their development.

‘Development first’ embraces the increasing global support for a ‘new development paradigm’ underpinned by low carbon and climate resilient economic growth, being  championed by players such as the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI) (read CDKN’s green growth guide and Simon Maxwell’s ten propositions on green growth).

Youba Sokona, Coordinator of the ACPC, emphasised in plenary that Africa’s development challenges coupled with climate change impacts pose a significant threat to Africa’s socioeconomic development. But low carbon development offers an alternative for meeting Africa’s development challenges, including alleviating poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), supporting energy transition, encouraging economic growth and employment, meeting infrastructure backlogs, and promoting industrial development. Through low carbon development, Mr Sokona highlighted that Africa can access global climate funds providing another source of finance for development; improve energy access by tapping its vast renewable energy potentials; reduce dependence on fossil fuels vulnerable to oil price spikes and, importantly, enter as a ‘competitive player’ in the ‘new development’ race. (Find Youba Sokona’s presentation here .)

Myung-Kyoon Lee of GGGI showed that Africa is in a particularly good position to champion low carbon growth given its early stages of economic development, low level of emissions, abundant renewable energy sources and land resources for carbon sinks. (Find Myung-Kyoon Lee’s presentation here.)

Countries like Ethiopia are already moving ahead with establishing a climate resilient low carbon economy. With the support of GGGI in Korea, Ethiopia has made climate resilient low carbon growth the foundation of its new Growth and Transformation Plan, aiming to become a middle income nation and carbon neutral by 2025. Ethiopia’s plan for a Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) to be presented at CoP 17, identifies these ‘co-benefits’ for climate resilient low carbon growth:

  • Technology transfer to clean and renewable energy sources
  • Increased income and green jobs
  • Enhanced market demand for environmentally friendly products and services
  • Capacity to obtain new and additional financial support, and carbon credits
  • Reduced or avoided emissions of greenhouse gases
  • Enhanced climate resilience, reduced adverse health impacts and improved quality of life

Solutions for Africa, from Africa

As African policy- and decision-makers, researchers, businesses and civil society presented their climate and development work, it became increasingly clear that solutions to climate change and development challenges must be shaped by Africans, and informed by Africa’s priorities. The Minister of Finance in Guyana, Jennifer Webster, reported on her country’s progress in bringing the people of Guyana along with the vision of low carbon development and climate resilience and how this has been fundamental to engaging people on the ground on the country’s low carbon development strategy. Minister Webster reported that through this engagement the ideas from the public have been inspiring, with school children, taxi drivers, miners, politicians, businesses, scientists, shop keepers, etc. all having something to say about climate change. Although not always positive, the Minister argued that this increased debate is what will sustain Guyana’s strategy in the long term. Minister Webster powerfully elucidated the challenge for Africans to forge their own climate and development solutions:

‘Solutions to climate change must be designed by communities and countries in Africa… Ultimately it is the people in societies that will determine if the development we are taking is putting their development first… Plenty of teething problems are ahead by “development first” is the only way we can make progress.’

With Durban around the corner, Africa has a unique opportunity to take these messages into ‘Africa’s CoP’, and strengthen Africa’s voice for a fair and legally binding international climate agreement.

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