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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