Africa grasps renewable energy and adaptation financing at the COP21

7 December 2015

From the opening of the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21), African leaders have made strong stands for their continent’s need for energy expansion, and the minimisation of the detrimental effects of climate change. Matching responses were received from the international community in the form of substantial commitments made to a renewable energy initiative and adaptation fund.

The COP21 or the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties, has brought together negotiators of 200 countries in Paris to finalise a legally binding international climate agreement. The overarching goal of the agreement is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to limit the global temperature increase to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (See BioRes, 1 December 2015).

During previous climate negotiations, countries agreed to outline their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs), the actions they intend to take within a global agreement, by 1 October 2015.

According to some observers, Africa’s contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions is negligible, and yet, Africa faces the most immediate consequences of climate change and is severely vulnerable. The World Bank estimates suggest that the rise of global average temperatures will reduce total crop production by as much as 10 percent in the wake of droughts and floods.

Many African nations have been implementing strategies to adapt to the approaching effects of climate change, but, according to estimates by a 2013 UN Environment Program study, meeting adaptation costs in Africa by the 2020s will require a steep 10-20 percent annual increase in funding. 

“Africa’s message for this Summit is clear: we need a legally binding agreement […] that covers the issues of adaptation, mitigation, financing as well as technology development and transfer; we must commit to reduction of greenhouse emissions to achieve the adaptation goal of well below two degree Celsius,” said African Union (AU) Commission Chairperson, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma at the launch of the African Pavilion at the conference centre – the hub of African events and discussions critical to Africa’s negotiating process during the COP21.

Heads of power get behind renewable energy 

At the opening of the conference, a high level panel brought together key parties of the African policy community at the invitation of French President Francois Hollande. The panel looked at African solutions to climate change mitigation and adaptation and initiatives to implement the new climate agreement. Participants to that panel included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the President of the AU Commission Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, and representatives of several governments and international institutions, including the World Bank and the African Development Bank (AfDB).

Participants agreed that Africa’s limited access to climate finance needs to be extended if renewable energy programmes and climate resilience are to be effectively scaled up, with the best results achievable if finance is accompanied by capacity-building and technology. This could be a low-carbon answer to Africa’s dire lack of electrification, as 645 million Africans remain without electricity.

Africa is well endowed with renewable energy resources, “yet, […] the energy mix of the continent is still dominated by fossil fuels, with renewables making only 22 percent of the installed capacity, dominated by hydropower,” said Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) Carlos Lopes.

During the event, the African Renewable Energy Initiative was also announced as part as a comprehensive and inclusive effort to radically expand the continent’s use of renewable energy. The initiative is set to achieve at least 10 GW of new and additional renewable energy generation capacity by 2020, and mobilise the African potential to generate at least 300 GW by 2030, under the mandate of the African Union, and endorsed by the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change.

In response to the initiative, the French President Hollande announced that his government would spend €6 billion between 2016 and 2020 on the electrification of the African continent, with €2 billion dedicated to renewable energy.

In his speech, Hollande recalled that Africa, despite the fact that it is not responsible for most emissions, already suffers the most serious consequences of climate change.

"There is an ecological debt that the world, particularly the developed world, must settle with the African continent," he said.

The AfDB also announced at another COP21 side event that it will spend US$12 billion between 2016 and 2020 on energy programs in Africa. The majority of this will be invested in renewable energy and is expected to leverage an additional US$50 billion.

Though the event made great strides towards the integration of renewable energy in Africa, participants in the high level panel on African solutions to climate changed also agreed that a lack of priority has been put on adaptation.

Considerable investments in adaptation

The AfDB also points out in its position paper that the continent is already suffering from extensive effects of climate change and is facing further risks in the future.

“According to the second Africa Adaptation Gap Report, […] Africa is already facing adaptation costs of US$7-15 billion per year by 2020,” said Zuma at the opening of the African Pavilion.

In response to the consequences of climate change that have already arisen, US$250 million has been pledged to the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF), a fund for adaptation to climate change hosted by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), by 11 donors—Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom, and the United States—at the start of the COP21 on Monday.

The new financing will enable the GEF to respond to existing requests for support ranging from investments in new approaches to agriculture to national adaptation planning and building resilience against climate change variability and disasters.

Developed countries have announced to date a total of US$3 billion for multilateral funds dedicated to adaptation. Most of the funds approved for the benefit of adaptation projects come from the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience under the Climate Investment Funds of the World Bank.

Critics noted however at a special session discussing adaptation financing that developed country contributions to these funds remain less than optimal and, globally, adaptation remains underfunded. Luc Gnacadja, a former head of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, noted that the means to adapt to climate change must be made available to local communities, municipalities and regional and local authorities rather than just to nation states, in order for adaptation measures to be effectively implemented.

The COP21 climate conference continues until 11 December.

ICTSD reporting: “African Climate Solutions in the New Climate Change Agreement,” UNECA, 26 November 2015. “The Africa Pavilion at COP21 officially opens on a high note ‘Africa’s message for this Summit is clear’,” African Union, 1 December 2015. “Africa Launches Massive Renewable Energy Initiative,” WWF, 1 December 2015. “Africa’s climate opportunity: adapting and thriving,” African Union, 29 November 2015. “Understanding Africa’s priorities for COP 21 at Paris,” Brookings, 30 November 2015. “COP21: France to spend billions on African renewable energy projects,” The Guardian, 1 December 2015. “Africa Must Prioritize Local Adaptation,” AllAfrica, 4 December 2015.

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