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OPINION: Former AGN Chair reflects on representing a strong African voice in climate negotiations


Emmanuel Dlamini served as the Chair of the Africa Group of Negotiators through COP19 in Warsaw, and reflects here on the challenges of representing a unified African voice in the international climate change negotiations.

The African Group of Negotiators is an alliance of African countries representing the African continent in the international climate change negotiations. Africa is beginning to have a strong voice in the negotiations that needs to be maintained and strengthened. The continent remains particularly vulnerable to climate change – high levels of poverty continue to constrain our efforts to address climate change and its impacts are undermining hard-earned development gains. It is, therefore, critical that African countries are central to addressing climate change and the UNFCCC is currently a key forum for this to take place.

The AGN undertook a rigorous process in preparing for the 19th Conference of Parties (COP) in Warsaw, Poland, from 11 to 22 November 2013. Preparations were challenging due to regional diversity in development, language, culture, geography and relative vulnerability to climate change. Despite these constraints, as the AGN Chair I managed to pull together over 50 members of the AGN for a preparatory meeting in the Kingdom of Swaziland. Another meeting of thematic lead coordinators was held in Gaborone on 13-14 October in the lead up to the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) to strategise issues related to a new global climate deal by 2015 that will come into force from 2020. These meetings highlight the issues and challenges the AGN has to manage in the international climate change talks. The work of the AGN Chair comes with a responsibility to conduct and lead these bilateral meetings, which requires significant knowledge about the international process and other parties’ positions.

Given the diversity of languages spoken on the continent, having a platform to discuss substantive issues becomes only one of the barriers the region has to scale, often against the backdrop of inadequate financial resources and limited scientific analysis. Yet, one of the key constraints to the AGN’s preparations for COPs remains a lack of funds for AGN representatives to participate at the various dialogues and meetings around the globe. Some of the COP19 delegates had to cut their participation at the conference due limited funding. These meetings, as well as a sustained presence at successive COPs, are critical as sources of knowledge and information, and for effective preparation for the international negotiations.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process is both political and technical. It is political in that we are dealing with the interests of parties in terms of economic development, which means the AGN needs to consider other parties’ positions in relation to our own. I need to go through a bulk of party submissions on different thematic issues from UNFCCC processes, and obtain technical input to support the development of regional and country positions. I have had to bring together experts to review existing material and develop supporting positions that reflect African priorities in the UNFCCC process. The science of climate change and legal matters also require expert assessment and interpretation, given their complex nature.

Africa is a large and diverse continent and without the contribution of lead coordinators I would never be able to put forward a unified and well-informed voice for Africa in the international negotiations. Lead coordinators represent the AGN in the negotiations on key issues (i.e. finance, adaptation, mitigation, technology, etc.). They help to focus the AGN to better understand the agenda items and guide the Group’s position. The coordinators also provide detailed updates to the Group, since country representation usually consists of only one or two delegates per country, where some of our partners have delegations of more than 50 per country, making it easy for them to follow each agenda item in sessions. Without using the lead coordinators to update and debrief the rest of the Group, most African delegations would never be able to follow all the meetings taking place at a UN climate change conference.

Communication is also a key challenge for the AGN. Africa’s main languages are French and English, as well as Portuguese. This requires interpretation services at all AGN coordination meetings. The most reliable mode of communication in Africa is the mobile phone, but this can be very costly. Access to the internet can be limited with low coverage in many areas. As Chair, I am expected to remain in close contact with all AGN members and the mobile phone remains the fastest mode of communication.

As 2014 begins, we are aware of the time limitations in relation to the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), the subsidiary body tasked with developing a global binding deal by 2015. The negotiations in Warsaw shifted up a gear in relation to the ADP, with parties recognising that 2015 is not far away. Our mandate going to Warsaw was to determine the key elements of a 2015 agreement. This was not conclusive, but parties have agreed to help build consensus in 2014 by combining high-level political engagements in June with more meetings for negotiators to intensify technical work. Hopefully this sets the stage to determine the elements ahead of Peru later this year.

On other matters, the African Group welcomes the Adaptation Fund meeting the $100 million fundraising target, the decision to establish an international mechanism on loss and damage resulting from climate change impacts, and the Warsaw Framework for REDD + (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation). The REDD + package is a significant step forward in providing a framework for protecting tropical forests, and provides safeguards for biodiversity, ecosystems and indigenous peoples’ territories, livelihoods and rights (read more about the international REDD + mechanism here). On technology transfer, while we welcome the third synthesis report on technology needs which should help improve understanding on enhancing the development and transfer of technologies, we were disappointed that adopting the joint annual reports of the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN) was delayed to SBI 40 and SBSTA 40 sessions in Bonn in June.

CDKN helps provide dedicated capacity to the AGN to ensure its participation in the UNFCCC process is effective and informed by adequate preparation. This requires access to information and knowledge, and the provision of technical, legal, financial, institutional and strategic guidance. The support, coordinated by BEA International, has involved facilitating, administering and coordinating activities to the office of the AGN Chair, and to other AGN members. For more information on this support, please visit CDKN’s project page.

Image: Former AGN Chair, Emmanuel Dlamini, courtesy of IISD

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