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Environment: Africa's voice heard in climate change talks

Even though climate change remains a serious concern, the funds to manage the impact of this global phenomenon has become a contentious issue among the groups fighting for a reduction in industrialised countries of those gas emissions that are ruining the environment. Industrialised countries promised money in the billions of dollars but the poor countries, who are supposed to mitigate the environmental impact of poor climate conditions are not getting the money.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) 16th cooperating parties’ (COP 16) negotiations in the Mexican city of Cancun ended with a glimpse of hope. Nation The two-week climate deliberations, which were concluded in the early hours of December 11, agreed to establish a Green Climate Fund under the conference of the parties with a board with equal representation from developed and developing countries. This follows pledges made in December 2009 in the Danish capital of Copenhagen where industrialised nations, which are responsible for the biggest portion of greenhouse gas emissions, pledged $30 billion into a fast-track fund by 2012 and $100 billion per year by 2020.

Dr Lindiwe Sibanda pictureThese funds are aimed at helping developing countries like Swaziland mitigate and adapt to the changing climate. The allocation and management of mitigation and adaptation funds was a highly contentious issue with hundreds of lobby groups demanding a piece of the cake.

Gender activists demand that the adaptation funds should also focus on women, who make up 70 percent of farmers in Africa, because they no longer receive a good yield, indigenous people, on the other hand, also argued that because of climate change natural resources which they depend on are now very scarce and they need to be compensated for their loss. Children and the youth, the future inhabitants of the earth, have also joined the fray, calling for climate justice. The list of demands went on and on while negotiations went on inside the Moon Palace in Cancun.

One of the most contentious issues was the accessing of the adaptation funds which developing countries said were inadequate.

The transfer of funds to poor countries was a contentious issue in Cancun where developing countries felt there was no transparency in climate change funding since the signing of the Copenhagen Accord. As a result, on December 11, 2010 about 193 nations agreed on a framework that will create a Green Climate Fund that will transfer money from rich to poor countries.

“Industrialised nations are now changing the tune saying they are already funding climate change projects in different countries but we don’t know the criteria,” Emmanuel Dlamini, the climate change focal point in Swaziland told The Nation before the conclusion of the negotiations. Swaziland, like all African countries, was negotiating under the African Un-ion chaired by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. For now, part of the money is hosted by Global Environment Facility (GEF) but Dlamini said the problem with this institution is that it is not easy for countries to access the funds. As a result, said Dlamini, the African Group argued that UNFCCC should manage the climate change funds. “The UNFCCC is answerable to the COP and will set the rules on how to access the money,” said Dlamini, adding: “Other institutions such as UNDP, UNEP and African Development Bank (AfDB) have their own policies of operating.” In any case, he said, unlike the UNFCCC, climate change is not the core business of these organisations.

Pic of arrest of protester protesting against environmental degradationThe Cancun Agreement where member countries concurred that the UNFCCC’s should host the Green Fund is likely to limit chances that the AfDB will host funds for African countries. At a side meeting on December 09, the AfDB reaffirmed its interest in hosting the African Green Fund for easy access of funds to African countries. Speaking during the event, the president of AfDB, Donald Kuberuka, said the bank is responding to a proposal made by African heads of State and Government last December in Copenhagen to have the bank host the money on behalf of the continent which is worst affected by the impact of climate change. “We have the local knowledge in the development of the Africa because we have worked in the continent since 1964,” said Kuberuka.

Because the AfDB is a bank, Kuberuka said, the financial institution has the capacity to leverage whatever amount allocated to Africa. “For instance, with us one dollar can multiply to six dollars,” said Kuberuka. He said through the African Green Fund (AGF), the bank will combine mitigation, adaptation and development.  In a bid to support the AfDB United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) executive secretary Abdoulie Janneh said Africa should host a big chunk of the money for co.its mitigation, adaptation and development. “I’d say the AfDB should manage between 40 and 60 percent of the funding allocated to Africa,” said Janneh. Also supporting this stand was African civil society organisations which saw an opportunity for Africa to put its money where its mouth is.

According to Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda, the chief executive officer for the Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), African civil society believes that physical distance creates emotional distance.  “We need climate smart technologies to develop our agriculture and, unless we have the money managed by our own bank, we’ll not be able to get to that level,” said Dr Sibanda In fact, while agriculture contributes to the greenhouse gas emissions, this sector has also been identified as a solution to the climate change problem. Experts in agriculture, food security and climate change concurred that best agricultural practices are already producing good yields while cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions in sub-Saharan Africa. Inger Anderson, the World Bank vice president on sustainable development told agriculture, food security and climate change experts at the Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD) in December 04 that some poor African armers already embrace the “triple-win” olution as a way of adapting to the changng climate.

These practices, said Anderson, are helping sub-Saharan African farmers conserve the environment, achieve food security, nd enhance agricultural resilience to climate change.   Experts in this meeting agree that agriulture is where climate change and food security meet. While global agriculture contributes about 17 percent to the greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, Anderson said climate smart agriculture techniques will reduce emissions by 13 percent while meeting the challenge of producing enough food for the growing population estimated to nine billion by 2050. “As much as agriculture is part of the problem, it is also part of the solution,” Anderson told the side meeting.  For example, some African countries including Malawi, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Niger and Zambia are involved in agroforestry where trees are integrated into annual food crop and livestock systems. “In this way, a green cover on the land is sustained throughout the year,” said Anderson, adding: “These systems bolster nutrient supply through nitrogen fixation and water conservation, and they increase the direct production of food, fodder, fuel, fibre and income from products under these trees.” Malawi, for instance, has increased their maize yields by up to 280 percent when growing their crops under a canopy of these trees.

Bearing in mind that most small-scale African farmers, who make up the majority of people in the sector are poor and less likely to access the sophisticated modern technologies discussed in Cancun, adaptation policies should also take into account indig-enous knowledge. “In Africa adaptation has to be looked within the African context,” said Dr Josue Dione`, the director of food security and sustainable development division, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). For many years, farmers have been trying to adapt under the erratic weather patterns, although their voice were absent at the negotiations. “The challenge is that in Africa we thought only of science and technology as a way of adaptation to climate change,” said Dr Sibanda.

Dr Sibanda said African countries need to go back to the drawing board and work on adaptation strategies that will also take onto consideration livelihoods of rural communities. “We started talking about adaption in Africa before we could even do research on the opportunities that come with community livelihoods,” said Dr Sibanda.

Incorporating indigenous knowledge in climate change adaptation could go a long way but there are limitations, said Diana Liverman, from the University of Arizona. As one of the researchers in rural adaptation, Liverman said, smallholder farmers have been using indigenous knowledge to adapt under a stable changing climate. “To use indigenous knowledge at this point when the climate has drastically changed could be a challenge because it might not be able to cope with the present realities of the phenomenon,” said Liverman. Instead, she said, modern science should help advance indigenous knowledge technologies to help farmers adapt. She said some farmers might prefer to strengthen their indigenous knowledge in adaptation and funds should be made available for such purposes. “Researchers should refrain from making choices for African farmers,” said Liverma. “Others will want the modern technologies while others would like to continue with the traditional ones. What needs to happen is that adaptation funds should be availed to all.”

She said the reason why civil society organisations were in Cancun was to advocate for access to adaptation funds to help farmers back home. But scientists, researchers and policy makers should hasten their pace in finding adaptation policies because, said Sibanda, unless action is taken now, the impacts of climate change could derail the region’s revitalised efforts to transform the agricultural sector. “This could deflate the optimism this has created in achieving a uniquely African ‘Green and Rainbow’ Revolution,” said Sibanda. 

As the continent pushes forward with NEPAD’s Comprehensive Agriculture Development Programme (CADDP) which calls on the 53 member states to invest in four pillars of the sector namely: land and water management, market access, food supply and hunger and agriculture research. While Dione noted that CADDP will help enhance the agriculture sector in Africa and improve food security, he warned though that countries should come up with climate proof programmes to avoid further devastation to the environment. “Climate change in Africa is both a challenge and opportunity,” said Dione. “By using the best practices to counter the impact of climate change, we could stop importing food for our people.”

Africa’s time is finally here.

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Pic Civil society organisations marching in Cancun, Mexico.

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