COP 21: what did Africa get from the ‘landmark deal’?

*by Pomi Ayalew

As of 2015, Africa’s CO2 emissions are estimated at less than 7% of the world total, according to the AFDB. Sub-Saharan African, with the exception of South Africa, only contributes to 2% of the world CO2 emission. However by 2080, an increase of 5 to 8% of arid and semi-arid land in Africa is projected under a range of climate scenarios. Also by 2080, due to climate change, it is likely that 75% of the African population will be at risk of hunger, according to the FAO. Africa’s population is expected to rise to at least 2.4 billion by 2050 with some of the countries doubling or even tripling their numbers and making Africa the region with the largest population growth. After months of preparation, the African Group of Negotiators went into the COP21 with the expectation and aims of limiting CO2 emission, increase Africa’s access to climate finance, and get a clear commitment for balanced implementation for both mitigation and adaptation. The question is did they get their way or did the Paris COP 21 fail Africa?

COP 21 Image

In the new climate change agreement, that has been referred as ‘the best deal to save the planet’; developing countries have been part of the coalitions that has been pushing for strong commitments for both adaptation and mitigation. Compared to the last climate agreement, the Paris Agreement takes in to account the situation of the developing world. Under the ‘same but differentiated’ action, all developing countries are to be part of the efforts of both mitigation and adaptation.

Under the mitigation decision though it highly focuses on the developed countries, developing countries have to participate in cutting down GHG emissions. By voluntarily submitting their national emission cutting plans, developing countries are encouraged to move into a green economy era. As countries’ commitment to reduce emissions is on voluntary basis, African countries will be able to define their commitment based on their priorities. Furthermore the Paris agreement encourages developing countries in to focusing their policies into adaptation efforts. These alternative policies will be supported by the provision of finance, technology, and capacity building.

In addition to the adaptation and mitigation commitment, the major gain for African countries is that of the issue of adaptation finances. The Paris Agreement states that based on the need and policies of the country, adaptation cost would be distributed in a transparent manner for developing countries. Also, the decision that developed countries agree to continue the existing commitment of providing finances for developing countries is a good step towards financing adaptation efforts. It further states that this existing finance of $100bn USD per year shall continue till 2025 and a new plan will be designed at the COP in 2025.

Furthermore on the 1st December 2015, the third day of COP 21 staged an African Pavilion. This important side event was attended by African heads of states and governments and was chaired by the French President François Hollande. The gathering identified the problem Africa faced because of climate change and the type of solution that the continent needs. Different organisations have expressed that Africa needs climate justice. In an interview given to the BBC African Business Report, African Development Bank’s President Akinwumi Adesina advocated for climate justice and the ‘polluters pay’ principles for Africa. He went on to say that polluters must bring balance and help Africa move to a renewable energy economy.

Moreover, other stakeholders have called up on the shortcoming of the Paris Agreement. Climate activists are calling the agreement weak but important. Scientists are calling it ‘just the beginning of a process’ where the global commitment ‘gets us roughly halfway’ to where the world needs to be. Legal analysts have called attention to the fact that the agreement is non-punitive for countries that fail to comply with their targets and commitments, as a major loophole. In an article published on the Guardian, Adesina said, “COP-21 is a forum where Africans went not to beg, but to make the case that they want to be a part of the solution.  We want to put Africa at the forefront of the global development agenda. In Paris, we have mobilized $10 billion in commitments for the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative. Africa comes to COP 21 not just with real ‘Asks’, but with real ‘Gives’ too.”

With the agreement adopted by all nations present, the major question that the 200+ state representatives and 40,000 negotiators in Paris needed to ask was that if we don’t move on from the fossil fuel economy: will societies be able to feed their populations? Will the poor and vulnerable be able to survive? And would the world be able to avoid new wars? – Did the Paris agreement answer all these and other questions? That remains to be seen as the Agreement comes in to action.

Furthermore what the world leaders have realized is that climate change is a collective action problem because the individual and collective incentives to reduce carbon emissions are different. There is a strong collective benefit in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And for African countries, the implementation of this agreement and the phasing out of fossil fuel economy is an issue of life and death.


*Pomi Ayalew ( is a member of the Communications Department at IPSS. She has an MA in Peace and Security from IPSS. Her interest range from climate change to gender equality. Her article was originally  posted on the IPSS website on December 18 2015.

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Looking beyond COP-21 to tackle climate change induced conflicts in the Horn

By Fana Gebresenbet*

We are now more certain of the anthropogenic causes of climate change, but what that change entails, especially for tropical Africa, is not yet concretely established. For the Horn of Africa what various circulation models have been consistently predicting was shattered by a paleoclimate study published on 9 October 2015. This study, which covered the past two millennia, has confirmed that the region’s long rains showed a steep and persistent decline in the past century, coinciding with global warming/emission of greenhouse gases. Based on this, the predictions tell that the region gets drier, thus droughts becoming more frequent and intense in the future. This increase in aridity is further exasperated by temperature increases. Despite the stochastic nature of its methodology, this study confirms of the hard days to come in our region.

Beyond its direct (and obvious) economic and public health impacts, predictions of increased aridity foretell times of more intense competition and (violent) conflict. That is what historical studies of decline in temperature (thus reduction in agricultural productivity) and war related deaths for the northern hemisphere (Europe and China) tell. And correlation between climate induced drop in productivity and conflict is not new in the Horn.

The argument advanced here focuses on what the region’s governments should do to preclude the possibility of climate change induced conflicts. There is no debate on the fact that climate change could stress the limits of societies and state institutions. However, agreeably, climate change induced conflict is not inescapable. With the right knowledge, institutions, and policy frameworks the threat could be minimized and diffused. Climate does not dictate human behavior and interactions. Short of this, the likelihood of conflict incidence and severity increases to the extent that a community/society did not put the appropriate response mechanisms and institutions in place beforehand.

Thus, governance, as well as institutional and technological innovations to deal with a forthcoming unknown future, play a crucial role to dissuade climate-induced conflicts. Hitherto attempts should be adopted at a multi-level governance framework, as climate is a multi-level commons. In fact, the global platform is becoming prominent to deal with the global phenomenon of climate change as is often visible in the triennial Conference of the Parties meetings, with the 21st underway this December 2015 in Paris, France. In these meetings, Africa has attempted to have a stronger voice by speaking as one. Through a recent creation of the most vulnerable countries, the V-20 are concerting their efforts to influence major climate financing decisions to be reached in CoP-21. Of the twenty, six are from Africa: Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda and Tanzania. Yet, is the global level, the most important level to deal with climate-induced conflicts?

Seen from the surface, it appears that climate finance has become yet another source of funds leaders of developing countries claim from the developed world. Not questioning the rationale of this position and without reducing the importance of global solutions to climate change, it would be fair to question if an external, and merely financial, solution will solve potential conflict implications of climate change. There is no debate on the indispensability of a multi-level governance scheme for climate change, with the triennial meetings, such as this year’s Paris meeting, taking the lead and regional organizations, states and civil society organizations playing active roles.

If climate change contributes to (violent) conflict, most of such conflicts will be at local levels. Decisions reached at global or national levels will not necessarily be implemented with the same spirit at local levels. As a typical example of collective action problem, if there is little trust among different local actors a free-rider problem will challenge climate deals. To tackle this problem, climate change negotiations should consider centers of power, other than the global and national, and go polycentric.

Fana Gebresenbet ( is a Lecturer at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies (IPSS), Addis Ababa University. Currently he is a PhD Candidate in the joint program of Global and Area Studies offered by the Addis Ababa and Leipzig Universities. He also worked as a research assistant in the Africa Program of the UN-affiliated University for Peace. Fana has published on issues relating to development, environmental/climate security, pastoralism, and resource conflicts.