DURBAN CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: With a backdrop of global financial woes and the European Union’s debt crisis, the Conference of the Parties at Durban convened with lower expectations but high stakes: deciding the future of the Kyoto Protocol. With long odds against a major breakthrough on a global mitigation policy, the Conference took important steps towards the “Green Climate Fund”.
Green Climate Fund good in principle but low on details
At the height of the Copenhagen Conference in 2009, developed countries (including the US) pledged several hundred billion dollars of adaptation funding annually to help poor, vulnerable countries adapt to climate change. At the Durban Conference this year, developing countries – such as China, India, and Brazil – said this fund was a pre-condition for their countries’ participation in a renewed Kyoto Protocol (or any mitigation effort after 2020).
Developing countries also requested fast-track money in the near term, equivalent to tens of billions of dollars. This should increase to hundreds of billions by 2020. African countries were concerned the “Green Fund” may not be an entirely new contribution, but rather the same money that they currently receive but with a new label.
By the end of the Conference, it was still in the clouds where and how the adaptation fund should be spent and on which adaptation projects. Moreover, it remains unanswered how developed countries will generate the support fund in their own countries.
Africa needs help now
African countries cannot pay the high price required for carbon mitigation efforts. But at the same time they are very concerned about the potentially large damages they must accept in the coming decades.
Many African countries already suffer from hot temperatures and scarce but highly variable rainfall. Two-thirds of the African rural population lives in unfavourable climatic conditions such as arid and semi-arid zones. Habitations in the lowlands of Africa may become threatened when sea level rises: lowland and island settlers need to plan adaptive relocation wisely.
In addition, African countries largely rely on agricultural production. Around 86% of sub-Saharan Africa’s rural population lives in countries with agriculture-based economies. Of the total land area used for agriculture, 80% is pasture that is not ideal for crop production. Two-thirds of the farms rely on animals. Irrigation is rarely adopted, with only 4% of cropland irrigated in sub-Saharan Africa.
For African residents, adaptation to climate change is a real-life challenge they must deal with now. When climate constraint is high and becomes even higher, they will have to practice a resilient system of agriculture. An agricultural system that relies solely on major crops under hot, dry, and variable climate conditions is likely to fail more frequently.
African farmers should plant and raise more heat-tolerant varieties of crops or species of livestock. In the lowland arid savannas, farmers can raise goats and sheep instead of raising beef cattle at a commercial scale. Forests provide valuable resources farmers can turn to in a warming world. They provide trees and fruits, shelter for animals, and absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.
In designing the details, remember the farmers
It remains to be seen what the Durban decisions on the Green Climate Fund mean for African countries. Promises of hundreds of billions of dollars for adaptation in developing countries first appeared in Copenhagen two years ago. By the end of the Durban conference, there was still no concrete deal on the nature, size, and sources of the fund. But the proposals and subsequent efforts by the rich countries to support vulnerable sectors and regions of Africa are both economically reasonable and ethical.
On the other hand, in adapting to climate change, governments, adaptation boards, and international trustees such as the World Bank cannot be expected to understand the full scope of measures needed. The farmers who cultivate every day in the fields will have to take these measures. When international bodies design adaptation support mechanisms, they need to remember to maintain the flexibility to accommodate farmers’ needs.