African countries are expected to speak with one voice at COP27 in Egypt this month. What are the top concerns and demands that African negotiators will bring to the climate conference?
John Asafu-Adjaye: At the top of Africa’s agenda at Sharm el Sheikh will be a push to unlock the pledges that were made by the wealthy countries at COP15 in Copenhagen. This includes the promise to pay $100 billion each year to help developing countries adapt to climate change and undertake mitigation efforts. Africa’s overall target is $1.3 trillion between 2020 and 2030. This covers the costs of adaptation, mitigation, and compensation for losses and damages caused by climate change. Of course, despite repeated promises, these funds have not materialized. There will also be a push for technical assistance, to help African countries access more climate finance. A final priority focus will be on ensuring a just transition for developing countries. Africa is going to make a strong case that there is a need to balance the priorities of energy access with climate change mitigation and adaptation. About half of Sub-Saharan African people, about 600 million, do not have access to electricity today. To solve this energy access deficit, there will be a strong push for the use of gas as a transition fuel. This of course has become a big issue in the last year due to the war in Ukraine, which has affected the flow of gas to European countries. Now European countries are looking to Africa as an additional source of natural gas supplies. Africa is going to make the case that they should also be allowed to use gas as a transition fuel.
What about the mitigation targets that countries have set before – have they become a secondary concern?
Asafu-Adjaye: For African countries, clearly adaptation is going to be at the top of the agenda. And this is because in the past adaptation has not received as much finance as mitigation. In fact, 60% of the past climate finance has been for mitigation. But 44 out of the 55 countries on the continent have submitted their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) – and these are very, very ambitious NDCs, which shows a strong commitment on the part of African countries to contribute their part to a low-carbon emission transition. Meeting those targets, however, will depend on the level of external finance that is unlocked. Ghana, for instance, has committed to finance 25% of its carbon reduction targets unconditionally using domestic sources of finance. But that means, of course, that 75% will have to come from outside. And a lot of this will have to come from multilateral institutions such as global climate funds. So far, these have not been able to deliver what is needed, and it is very likely that African leaders will push for reform of these funds. Countries have complained of long procedures, a lack of flexibility in the processes, and also a lack of technical assistance. So I think that African countries are going to say: if you want us to do our best in terms of mitigation, then you really have to come up with a lot more funds.
We have seen in the past that wealthy countries have failed to deliver on their climate financing promises repeatedly. How can they finally be held to account?
Asafu-Adjaye: Because this conference is being held in Africa, there is a real opportunity for the African position to be taken more seriously. Even leading up to the conference, there are some signs that this is already happening. At a September meeting in Senegal of African and Western environment ministers, US Special Climate Envoy John Kerry agreed that African countries should be allowed to develop local gas resources, albeit as a short-term measure. It seems that both the US and Europe have begrudgingly accepted the African position that developing countries need to use fossil fuels as part of the just transition. Looking at COP27, I expect a firm commitment to the amount of finance made available and an agreement on technical assistance. The global carbon trading mechanism will also kick off, which will be of great benefit to African countries. In terms of accountability, loss and damage compensations still pose a major challenge. At COP26, the wealthy and most polluting countries agreed in principle to the idea of compensating less developed countries for loss and damages due to climate change, but there was no agreement on the amount – and it looks unlikely that this issue will be fully resolved in the near term.
How can African countries benefit from the improved global carbon trading mechanism?
Asafu-Adjaye: Currently, only about 2% of trading on the carbon market comes from Africa. With the exception of some of the Northern African countries such as Morocco and Tunisia, along with South Africa, most African countries are not trading carbon at all. Carbon market participation requires verification of your carbon stocks, which needs a lot of technical expertise to map, and most countries are not ready for that, meaning that very few African countries will be trading right away. But eventually, African countries will become major suppliers of carbon credits to the international markets. On the continent, we have huge stocks of green carbon in the form of standing forests, as well as blue carbon. And there are great prospects for developing renewable energy resources, especially solar panels. So there are good opportunities, but a lot of still needs to be done. I look at it as a medium-term prospect. Maybe in the next five years, African countries will be ready, but in the meantime, if we know that carbon trading has started, there will be an impetus to try to develop local resources and take advantage.
How can African countries collaborate more closely beyond COP27 on climate adaptation and mitigation?
Asafu-Adjaye: A lot can be done through regional collaboration, both on adaptation and mitigation. A lot of countries have submitted their NDCs, but some sub-Saharan African countries are lagging behind due to a lack of capacity to develop national adaptation plans. And some of the Northern African countries have fared much better. Collaboration between the North and the South could be a win-win situation in terms of sharing expertise and experiences to help each other complete adaptation plans. These kinds of knowledge exchanges should also be deployed in other areas, including upgrading the renewable energy infrastructure and using the African Continental Free Trade Area to trade carbon credits.
What kind of research will you be conducting at ACET in the area of climate and agriculture in the coming years?
Asafu-Adjaye: Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) has long been a major focus of ACET research in this area. CSA leverages technological innovations to increase productivity while building resilience, helping African countries turn climate risks into opportunities. Examples include the use of drought- and heat-tolerant crop varieties, using new farming techniques such as conservation agriculture, and solutions like digital agriculture technologies. These technologies allow smallholder farmers to gain access to market and weather information and to credit and insurance services, all on their mobile phones. This drives the modernization of the agricultural sector, increases productivity, and thereby stimulates overall growth and growth with DEPTH. Properly implemented, it strengthens the entire agricultural value chain and builds new linkages between the agriculture and industrial sector, by providing inputs for agro-processing and manufacturing. This approach could help the recovery, as well as create jobs and boost economic growth. Going forward, we hope to do a lot more work on digital agriculture technology. Since there is no one-size-fits-all solution, we hope to undertake multiple multi-country studies, to look at challenges and opportunities countries face so we can develop solutions to enhance climate adaptation and improve productivity in the sector.