Who Should Pay For Climate Change


Africa has an impressive list of credentials: it is the second-largest continent in terms of land mass — 30.2m sq km — and the second-most-populous continent, with just over 1bn people or 15% of the global population. It is the only continent in the world to stretch from the northern to southern temperate zones, with vastly diverse geographic terrains — from savannas to lush forests.

It contains seven of the world’s top 12 fastest-growing countries in the world and at current rates of growth, Africa will outstrip Asia by 2050 and become the fastest-growing region of the world. But there is one category that places Africa in first place. It is a deadly category and one that Africa would fain not have anything to do with. This is the damage that climate change is wreaking on the continent.

Do not be misled by the neutral sounding ‘climate change’ label. It has been proved beyond doubt that human activities, particularly from the heavily industrialist North and Asia, have messed up the earth’s climatic patterns to such an extent that the future for many people is nothing short of catastrophic. Damage from climate change could wipe out all the gains that the continent has made so far and is expected to make this century. It affects every person on the continent and has a direct bearing on your income, your health, your quality of life and in some cases, your very existence.

In the West and to an increasing extent in Asia, the impact of climate change is being taken very seriously. In Africa, we do not seem to have fully woken up to the danger breathing down our necks. In the worst-case scenario, climate change, which is raising the temperature of the earth unnaturally, could wipe out vast areas of cropland and accelerate desertification; and the rise in sea levels could drown Africa’s islands and coastline, and devastate its fisheries.

There is sufficient evidence to show that climate change is already creating havoc across the continent – drying out sources of water, causing droughts and floods, and interfering with the traditional movements of sea life around its shores. The damage reaches deeper: efforts by governments to counter the impact of climate change will drain national budgets and leave little surplus for development. Put simply, hostile climatic conditions will not only disrupt the socio-ecological balance, but also drastically derail Africa’s future.

The worst part is that, of all the regions of the world, Africa is the most innocent in contributing to climate change. The continent emits just 3% of emissions globally but according to the African Development Bank (AfDB), climate damage as a percentage of GDP is higher in Africa than in other continents of the world.

But it is not too late. There is a determination among the more progressive industrialised nations to cut emissions to at least freeze the damage until the poison is leeched out of the atmosphere. Mitigation efforts are also under way to shield some people from the worst effects of climate change. It is an expensive exercise but vital. Climate change affects the whole world. You cannot ring fence a territory and expect to be safe. It is all or nothing. US Senator and former presidential candidate Al Gore’s outstanding documentary, An Uncomfortable Truth, spells this out in the clearest possible terms. The logical way forward is that those countries that have contributed the most to damaging the earth’s climate, and those best able to do so, should pay the most to put things right. As it happens, both are the same – the richest industrialised nations are also the ones who have caused the most damage. Everybody is agreed on the principle – that those most guilty should foot the bill. Experts have estimated exactly how much is needed and where money and expertise should be directed.

“Africa needs the equivalent of $40bn each year — $30bn in adaptation, and $10bn in mitigation — to tackle climate change,” the AfDB’s head of climate change, Anthony Nyong, told African Business. “While we do not wish to apportion blame, Africa is on the front line.” So far, he revealed, Africa has received just $132m (2004–2011) in adaptation funds.

Semantic quibbling

This, unfortunately, has been typical of the way developed-world representatives have approached the issue of funding climate change mitigation. When it comes to brass tacks, signing agreements and commuting to policy, representatives begin to look the other way. There is a lot of humming and hawing and quibbling about semantics.

There was a good deal of this during the the most recent UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP 18, hosted in Doha, Qatar, and held at the Qatar National Convention Centre. After all the work that has gone before during similar global conventions, a bold breakthrough was expected. Sadly, responsible parties, those directly causing 80% of global emissions, have rejected the notion of ecological debt. The idea of ecological reparations was mooted at the UNFCCC’s 17th summit, held in Durban, South Africa (2011) but all the talking and horse-trading ended in the usual fudge.Trevor Houser, the former aide to Washington’s leading climate negotiator, Todd Stern, pointed this out when he said: “The Durban Platform was promising because of what it did not say. There is no mention of historic responsibility or per capita emissions. There is no mention of economic development as the priority for developing countries. There is no mention of a difference between developed and developing country action.” The fudge was in evidence again in Doha. Though a ‘loss and damage’ account was tabled in Doha, the ‘parties’ – constituting delegates from representative nations – did not agree to establish it. At issue was the concept of ecological costs and debt. In everyday language, it means that those who have caused the problem should compensate those who suffer the effects of that problem. International law recognises systemic reparations, including financial compensation, as a means of redressing violations.

The International Criminal Court (ICC), for instance, created the Trust Fund for Victims, providing reparations to persons whose rights were violated, whether or not a criminal was convicted. The ICC defines reparations as “relieving the suffering and affording justice to victims not only through the conviction of the perpetrator by this Court, but also by attempting to redress the consequences”.

While climate change ‘offences’ do not fall within the same category as international criminal ones, the guiding principle is the same.

Instead, Jos Delbeke, the European Commission’s (EC) Director-General for Climate Action, deflected the issue. He told African Business, “The concepts of ‘ecological costs’ and ‘ecological debt’ are highly controversial. The concept of ‘North’ versus ‘South’ no longer holds. Therefore, as agreed at last year’s Durban conference, we need a new legally binding global agreement covering all countries – by 2015 at the latest.” On the other side, speaking to the issue of ‘polluters pay’, Dr Balgis Osman-Elasha, a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, stated, “This is a particularly important aspect of the principle which commits developed countries to provide for financial aid and technology transfer, taking into consideration that they have played the greatest role in creating the global warming problem.”

Interestingly, calculations by ecological economists at institutions such as the University of California, Berkeley in 2010, based on just six categories – greenhouse gas emissions; agriculture; exploitation of fisheries; deforestation; ozone layer depletion; and conversion of mangrove swamps – show that ‘rich’ nations owe poor nations over $2.3 trillion. The estimates were described as conservative by the authors because they exclude categories such freshwater depletion, loss of biodiversity, etc.

Africa demands more say

The good news is that while the larger issue of recompense is being thrashed out, the right to funds for adaptation (adjusting to climate damage) and mitigation (changing the causes of climate damage) has long been recognised. But how effective has this been?

Africa’s hopes depend on the Green Climate Fund (GCF), an entity of the financial mechanism of the UNFCCC, designed to transfer money from developed polluting countries to developing countries, tabled at $100bn annually. The fund was devised during the Rio 16th meeting of the UNFCCC’s Conference of the Parties (COP) to channel the proposed $100bn per annum, which had been identified during COP15, in Copenhagen. Yet, following Durban’s COP17, and Qatar’s COP18, the source of funding defined as from “a wide variety of sources, public and private, bilateral and multilateral, including alternative sources of finance” has yet to be clarified in terms of how and when resources would be mobilised, as well as the relative share of each developed nation. The Green Climate Fund was also created to provide a more equal voice for developing countries in terms of the form of climate finance (whether loans or grants; for adaptation or mitigation) and potential direct access, allowing national institutions to shape the use and outcome of the funds.

“The AfDB is therefore proposing the creation of a Green Facility for Africa (GFA) to receive and manage resources allocated to Africa from all sources, including the fast-track financing and long-term pledges made under the GCF,” said Osman-Elasha, also the Climate Change Adaptation expert at the AfDB. At Doha, the Bank’s technical report, Getting Africa Ready for the Green Climate Fund, was launched. It identified the importance of the GCF as a watershed for Africa’s climate finance.

Environmental economist John Ward, the report’s author who advises the AfDB on climate change finance told African Business: “Climate funding need not flow through multilateral bodies like the UNDP and the World Bank, but can be dispersed and implemented by national institutions, providing additional legitimacy, in terms of control, types of initiatives, and the way in which money is spent.”

Instead, the Adaptation Fund, operational since in 2007, is celebrated as a success in Africa’s climate change story, and is considered one model of choice. The AfDB acts as executive implementing agency for the Fund, assisted on an interim basis by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) as secretariat, and the World Bank as trustee.

Daouda Ndiaye, of the Adaptation Fund, told African Business that there was no particular funding set aside per continent, as the ‘first come, first served principle’ applied. Eligible countries could access up to $10m each, with $130m currently available. Yet a senior GEF climate representative for developing countries confidentially informed African Business that many African countries were not even aware of available funding. When asked why the GEF did not specifically inform governments, the representative shrugged and mentioned they were welcome to visit the website. The Fund provides access via nationally accredited entities; of the 14 national entities recognised by the Fund, six are African. Currently, the Fund has eight projects valued at $54m in Africa. In 2012, eight projects expected to avoid 6.9m tonnes of CO2 emissions a year, backed by $420m Climate Investment Funds and $1.1bn AfDB funding, were under way in Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Niger and South Africa.

Walking the fine climate line

“We did not create the problem,” said Bahijjahtu Abubakar, head of Nigeria’s Renewable Energy Programme, referring to Africa’s 3%-5% emission rate. “Nor are we being provided with remotely close to what is needed to tackle it — financial and otherwise,” she said. Briskly walking through Qatar’s vast QNCC centre, she shook her head. “Even where African countries like Nigeria do emit, how much of this is generated by careless oil companies, from gas flaring?”

But while confirming the importance of climate reparations, proposed by developing countries in the form of adaptation, mitigation, as well as ‘loss and damage’ accounts, Abubakar claimed that solutions must come from within Africa. “Unless we, as African nations, drive how, where, and when the green economy must be integrated, our economic development could be at stake,” she said. “We must be conscious of this reality.”

This was echoed by Osman-Elasha, who identified Africa’s primary challenge — taking shape over 15 years — as that of “national governments finding a combination of approaches that will allow them to address their climate change concerns while ensuring that their national development plans and strategies are not compromised.”

According to Osman-Elasha, studies confirm that poorer communities in fragile environments face the double-edged sword of poverty and the impacts of extreme climate events, ranging from drought to floods. “By 2030, 50% of the population of sub-Saharan Africa will still be without electricity. Now, what happens when climate change also negatively impacts traditional sources of energy?” she said, citing the 70% of Africans who still rely on traditional biomass. Ward, advising the AfDB on the UN High Level Advisory Group, referred to Nigeria as a “classic example” of where a major oil exporter experienced a very substantial problem of rural electrification, coupled with “carbon intensive forms of energy, such as diesel generators for urban areas”. “There does exist a very important nexus between energy security, national development and renewable energy,” he said. “The beauty of renewable energy is that you can get it anywhere in the world.” Ward stated that integrating ‘green’ into the economy would not simply reduce the impacts of climate change, but also facilitate access to vast economic benefits. “There is no point trying to separate climate change from poverty,” said Ward to African Business, calling it development in a more “hostile climate”.

Ironically, the biggest climate ‘mitigation’ loans were provided to countries such as South Africa, via the World Bank, as part of a package deal financing one of the world’s largest coal-fired projects, Medupi, emitting more C02 than 125 developing countries.

GDP of the poor

“Nature comprises around 45-90% of the GDP of the poor in some developing countries,” said Pavan Sukhdev, Head of the UNEP’s Green Economy, to African Business. “By assigning economic values to the services flowing from nature to people,” he said, “policy makers and the global economy can start to account for the costs of biodiversity loss, as well as reward responsible custodians for the benefits that natural ecosystems provide.”

Sukhdev cited the Amazon rainforest’s contributing one fifth of all global freshwater sources, returning around 20bn tonnes of water into the atmosphere, in the process nurturing around $240bn of Latin America’s agricultural economy. “[Yet] this ‘rainfall seeding’ function of the Amazon rainforest is not accounted for by the economies of the region,” he said. Africa’s examples are numerous: Africa’s tropical forests act as carbon sinks, mopping up 1.2bn tonnes of CO2 annually from an estimated 32bn tonnes emitted through human activity, according to a 2009 IPCC report.

According to scientists, placing a value on African forests’ contribution to economies would not only sustain more than 400 mammal species, 10,000 plant species, and 1,000 species of birds but — as Africa holds 30% of the world’s tropical forests — also generate a ‘return’ of more than £4bn annually for Africa, 30% of the global total of £13bn. Other sinks, aside from forests, act as pollution vacuum cleaners. Discussing the many instances of ecosystem services that have been partially or wholly neglected, Sukhdev drew attention to coral reefs, the “undersea equivalent” of rainforests, absorbing almost half of previously hidden sunken emissions. “Over 500m people across the world are directly dependent on coral reefs for their livelihoods,” he stated, referring to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report. “Globally, coral reefs provide jobs, food and tourism worth as much as $375bn each year.” But, he cautioned, the economic value of coral reefs was “severely discounted” because economic valuation systems remained blind to it.

Indeed, Sukhdev’s ‘natural capital’ report – the UNEP-hosted study The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), is widely credited with putting ‘invoices for nature’, and biodiversity, on the negotiating table. The idea has been swiftly accepted by African governments, too. In 2012, more than 10 governments signed the Gaborone Declaration in Botswana’s capital reaffirming their commitment to sustainable development and capital accounting.

“We must develop our economies consciously, with a view to the environment. Let the solution come from us,” said Abubakar.

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