Regional deliberations give insights into what will be top of mind for Africa at climate talks

African leaders meeting with French leader Francois Hollande at a pre-COP21 working lunch. Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

Several regions have been meeting in the run-up to the Paris climate talks to deliberate on pressing climate issues. Africa is no exception.

At a meeting in Zimbabwe, regarded as Africa’s dress rehearsal for the coming event in Paris, delegates were able to consolidate and refine their perspectives for the conference.

Delegates came from all over the continent and included representatives from the Climate for Development in Africa Programme, the UN Economic Commission for Africa and the African Development Bank. Several issues were debated, including governance, climate change, sustainable development, finance, energy, agriculture, forests, gender, youth and disaster risk reduction.

The mood of the event was best summed up by Dr Fatima Denton, Director, Special Initiatives Division.

You {developed countries} no longer have the license to emit on our behalf and we are prepared to invest in smart development by using our current atmospheric space to green our economies and build climate-resilient infrastructure.

These regional deliberations emphasise the urgency with which world leaders need to tackle the climate problem. Further insights and highlights from the regional perspectives will be crystallized at the main event in Paris. So some of the topical issues discussed at regional meetings provide a forecast of the themes likely to make up the menu for the climate talks.

Money will be a big issue

Money will be one of the thorniest issues on the United Nations’ Conference of Parties, or COP21, agenda in Paris.

Negotiations will take place to help engineer the financing that’s needed to fix the planet’s climate.

The cost of climate change adaptation in developing countries will double or triple the previous Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report ​ estimates of $70 billion - $100 billion per year by 2050, according to a United Nations Environment Programme report. This new UNEP report argues this could climb as high as $250 billion to $500 billion annually by 2050.

Another item on the agenda will be how to manage the newly created Green Climate Fund effectively. This will be a mechanism for assisting developing nations and low-lying island states to reduce their gas emissions and adapt to the impact of climate change.

Developing nations argue that the advent of the fund should not mean the end of other resources dedicated to the environment and development. Rather, more funding should be provided for climate projects. Nations are concerned that donors will simply re-channel their development aid to new areas. This ties in with the creation of more climate related jobs.

There are calls for donor nations to provide proper funding according to their share of the global economy. But traditionally donor nations opt for donations despite the commitments made.

An idea growing greater currency among developing nations is that developed countries have a moral obligation to assist developing countries financially. The belief is that emissions from developed nations do the most climate damage, but developing nations bear the brunt of the effects.

Aside from finance, there are other issues which will take centre stage at the Conference. This includes the transfer of technology in climate mitigation and adaption. A robust and transparent mechanism is needed for reporting on climate emissions and lessening the impact of climate change on vulnerable groups and agriculture.

The consequences of failure

There is already discontent with the pace and state of climate negotiations. The fear is that if the Paris talks fail to deliver concrete outcomes, not for profit organisations and ordinary citizens will become even more disillusioned and radicalised. This will result in future debates becoming more entrenched, polarised and counter-productive.

The success of Paris will rest on its capacity to aid developing nations to reduce emissions so that the world can remain within the 2℃ global warming boundary. It is imperative for all nations to agree to an institutional framework to manage pledges of aid as well as to provide for transparent reviews. There must be learning and trust among countries involved.

The current landscape of international environment and development cooperation currently looks nothing like this. It is plagued with broken promises as donor nations frequently fail to honour their financial and development related promises. This has equally affected the success of climate talks over the years.

Hopes for a hybrid approach

The hope is that a new hybrid approach to legally binding agreements versus voluntary agreements will emerge in Paris. This would allow for a healthy balance between voluntary and legally binding commitments. The trade off is between a legal treaty having few members, and a weaker one embracing more members. The second option is seen as a more successful way of achieving greater participation and keeping all top 10 emitting countries engaged in any universal climate agreement.

The 2009 climate talks in Copenhagen demonstrated that legally binding agreements are virtually impossible if the top greenhouse emitters reject legally binding targets for cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

These nations should rather opt for voluntary national targets and usher in an era of voluntary political commitments.

These commitments would not be legally binding but room would be made for more scrutiny from the the general public. Countries could then face the scrutiny of civil society at the domestic level giving it more bottom-up focus than previous agreements.