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Africa’s chief climate negotiator: We must have tangible and actionable climate decisions for a successful COP27

By Franck Kuwonu || Africa Renewal
Science & Environment Mr. Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of Zambia center, Chair of the African Group of Negotiators on climate change, at a recent climate change meeting in Bonn, Germany.
JUL 1, 2022 LISTEN
Mr. Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of Zambia (center), Chair of the African Group of Negotiators on climate change, at a recent climate change meeting in Bonn, Germany.

The 27th UN Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP27) will be held in Egypt during 7-18 November 2022. Amid unmet climate commitments, lingering disruptions due to COVID-19, and the finance, energy and food challenges created by the war in Ukraine, Africa Renewal’s Franck Kuwonu, talks to the current Chair of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) on climate change, Mr. Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of Zambia, about Africa’s priorities and what a successful COP27 would look like for the continent. These are excerpts:

What are Africa’s priorities in the lead-up to COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt?

For the African Group, COP27 should be about advancing implementation of the National Determined Contributions (NDCs), including adaptation and mitigation efforts and delivery of finance to enhance implementation.

COP26 concluded the remaining guidance on implementing the Paris Agreement on climate change, therefore, we need to advance the implementation of our climate actions.

For instance, we would like to see the conference reach a concrete decision on the global goal for adaptation. The latest IPCC Working group report on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, highlighted the annual cost of adaptation in developing countries from $140 billion to $300 billion by 2030. We are calling for adaptation financing to match these figures.

Mr. Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of Zambia, Chair of the African Group of Negotiators on climate change. Mr. Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of Zambia, Chair of the African Group of Negotiators on climate change.

Is Africa devising a new common position on key issues or you are sticking with the one used for COP26?

After every COP, we prepare and update the African Group Position following the decisions of committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC). It should be noted that some agenda items we have worked on through the years may require reiterating of African views. For example, we will continue calling for global goal for adaptation to be operationalized and guide the adaptation efforts of countries. We will also reiterate the importance of delivering the $100 billion a year by 2020 goal that was not met by developed countries.

How does the crisis in Ukraine impact Africa’s priorities?

The concern is that the Russia-Ukraine conflict is directly contributing to the exacerbation of the food price crisis, bringing to the fore the need for food supply chains resilience. The soaring food prices combined with the impacts of climate induced droughts could create an even grimmer outlook for food security in coming years.

In addition to the food crisis, the scramble by many countries to find alternative sources to energy they used to get from Russia appears to be a setback for the climate agenda as new investments are being made in fossil fuels and new supply routes being created.

Diversion of attention from climate obligations in terms of climate finance, is another area of concern. But as we go back to the negotiations, our hope is that it shouldn't affect the outcome, as the multilateral process is guided by its rules and guidelines, irrespective of the geopolitical situation and should not make us lower our expectations.

Will it make negotiations easier or difficult this time round?

The current situation is difficult. However, the negotiations under the UNFCCC are guided by the Paris Agreement obligations, and we are committed to collectively enhancing and progressing our work under the UNFCCC. All the IPCC reports call for urgent climate action, and the Africa Group will continue to call for urgent climate action, accordingly.

What are the lessons, if any, that Africa learned from COP 26 in Glasgow that will be useful at COP27?

COPs are multilateral processes that are guided by the UNFCCC. Africa has and will continue to stress the importance of multilateral process, and COP27 will strengthen the multilateral efforts guided by the UNFCCC.

Many promises were made at COP26, including meeting the $100 billion financing gap by developed countries. How is that going?

Following the call by developing countries, the COP26 noted with regret that developed country parties have not met the $100 billion goal annually. The COP also agreed on a ‘Climate Finance Delivery Plan: Meeting the US$100 Billion Goal’ by 2025.

The African Group will continue calling on developed country parties to meet their obligation and work with other parties to ensure the swift implementation of the climate finance delivery plan.

One of the issues is that we need to agree that the $100 billion is climate finance. The danger is that our partners would want aid given to Africa and other developing countries to count as climate finance, even when it’s not related to climate.

So, we would like to drive a very clear distinction between Official Development Assistance (ODA) and climate finance.

Generally speaking, why should Africans care about climate change? How should we explain this to the ordinary person?

The reality of climate change has dawned on us for quite some years now. Particularly for our rural communities who depend on natural resources for their livelihoods.

Probably, someone in the urban centres such as Lagos, Johannesburg or Cairo may want to be academic about it because the only thing that they see is the erratic rain patterns, with no direct consequence on their daily lives, because after all, they get their water from the taps. But for rural communities across the continent who must get all their resources from mother nature, the reality is very stark.

For instance, streams or rivers which used to be their lifeline are drying up and can no longer sustain them. As a result, agricultural productivity is going down. These people can barely harvest enough crops to take them to the next season.

These are things that these people can see. The only thing that can be done is to explain to them that their traditional coping mechanisms may no longer be adequate and therefore, they need support with additional tools.

But even to those who want to be academic; the urban dwellers for example, and to those who may not pay a lot of attention to the weather patterns, you can demonstrate to them that in most of their countries, load shedding is frequently happening because not enough electricity is generated due to water levels going down. It doesn't matter where people are, climate change affects everyone.

So, we should all care because climate change is impacting Africa’s economy as well as the development trajectory, and its adverse impacts are costing lives. The recent flooding in South Africa and its impact on people’s lives and the economy is another example.

Climate campaigners have been stressing that Africa contributes just 4 per cent of global gas emissions, yet it is highly threatened by the climate crisis. Does this argument resonate with the developed world?

It still does and we will continue pushing it. The African Group supports the need to consider this negligible contribution, and the adverse impact the continent is facing. It is important that campaigners bring to light African interests and support our agenda of sustainable development.

Africa cannot continue along the same traditional path which will simply be untenable and costly.

However, what is also true is that Africa cannot continue along the same traditional path which will simply be untenable and costly. For example, in the energy sector, we can no longer continue with the fossil fuels in the long term when the entire world is changing. We must adapt and change. In terms of our development trajectory, it must be low carbon development and one that will be sustainable.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect efforts to address the climate crisis in Africa?

The pandemic has had a severe impact on the health and the economy of Africa by contracting the GDP of the continent by up to 3.4%, with an estimated loss of between $173.1 billion and $236.7 billion for the years 2020–2021.

This has exacerbated the adverse impacts of climate change and reduced the capacity of African countries to adapt to climate change.

In terms of our development trajectory, it must be low carbon development and one that will be sustainable.

On the other hand, because of disruptions and the inability to meet in person, most countries were not able to update their NDCs on time.

In the larger scheme of things, however, COVID-19 has taught us the virtue of countries working together in tackling challenges. If we can apply the same model of cooperation to ensure that response to climate change is at that scale and resources quickly mobilized and made available to countries, that would be probably one of the lasting legacies from COVID-19.

What would be your idea of success for Africa at COP27?

We have a few expectations for COP27, but clear decisions on implementation of climate action will constitute success at COP27. We must have a lot of tangible, implementable outcomes. We must have decisions that people can point to and say: this is being implemented.

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