INDCs: Prospects for Africa in implementation of the Paris Agreement

31Oct2016
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By Al-Hamndou Dorsouma

In December 2015, in view of the need to keep the increase in global average temperature below 2 ° C or 1.5 ° C, the international community adopted the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. The Agreement is historic, because for the first time it brings developed and developing countries together around a common goal of long-term climate action through countries’ planned contributions, known as Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Each country’s INDC specifies the country’s targets for emissions reductions for its entire economy, defines objectives to mitigate the effects of climate change, and offers a set of policies and measures that assess and quantify the impact of the emissions’ reduction. When each country ratifies the Agreement, it will submit a more final Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). NDCs are supposed to be ambitious, transparent and fair, and lead to a transformation in relevant sectors and carbon-intensive industries. Importantly, these commitments must also integrate climate change in national development priorities, like sustainable development and poverty reduction.

What about Africa?

All African countries have submitted their INDCs except Libya, and by October 2016 14 African countries had already ratified the Agreement and submitted their NDCs. With the Agreement ready to go into force in November 2016 and the global community considering how best to implement the Agreement, African nations must ensure that any implementation plan offers real opportunities for green growth in Africa, particularly by highlighting climate change adaptation, the continent’s urgent priority.

If INDCs are a major contribution to national and international efforts against global warming, the general impression is that most African countries are not yet prepared to implement them. At the same time developed countries do not seem willing to provide the required resources to developing countries as provided for by the Paris Agreement in the form of financing, capacity building, technology transfer, and development.

Moreover, once ratified by the countries INDCs become binding targets for countries in their efforts to contribute to mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, as these will be periodically monitored through the global stock take set up under the Paris Agreement[1].  A major concern arises in Africa: is it meaningful and relevant for African countries to advance and implement binding commitments under the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities"? What human, financial, institutional and technological means they will have to do this? What are the implications and opportunities for African governments, who do not even have the means to meet the basic needs of their populations, in a context of multiple crises, including the climate crisis? Given the current level of preparation of African countries, will their respective NDCs be sufficient and pragmatic enough to reach the goals set in the Paris Agreement?

In the pre-Paris negotiations, the common African position favored adaptation, financing, capacity building, development and technology transfer, but in fact the INDC process focuses more on mitigation than adaptation. Also, the pledges by African countries are not clear enough to help them better articulate their priorities for adaptation and mitigation and to ensure that they receive sufficient and adequate support in terms of funding, capacity building, and technologies. Currently the criticisms against the INDC process are that it is unclear, complex, and not as relevant and ambitious as the Paris Agreement objectives, and these limitations are not likely to help the public to understand. The INDCs are obviously the result of a compromise between the concept of "commitment" originally used by developed countries and the concept of "Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions" (NAMAs) on the table leading up to the Paris Agreement.

Many developing countries, including African countries, were preparing to implement NAMAs as part of their efforts at the national level in the fight against climate change. Currently, it remains unclear how these measures in NAMAs will integrate the commitments made in the INDCs.

It is clear that without substantial support, African countries will not achieve the objectives and targets defined in their INDCs. If we want Africa to effectively contribute to efforts against climate change, their INDCs must be brought in line with their existing national initiatives, such as NAMAs, National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs), and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). Because they are commitments and set national goals, INDCs must also take into account the priorities and realities of each African country.

What place for adaptation in INDCs?

Adaptation to climate change is a collective responsibility of the international community, which should support vulnerable regions such as Africa, whose responsibility in global greenhouse gas emissions is very limited, but which suffers the brunt of the negative impacts of climate change – not only in the Least Developed Countries but throughout Africa. Therefore, support for adaptation should be clearly stated in the INDC process as it gets revised. Without this support, African countries can hardly participate in the global response to climate change.

In the African context, considering adaptation is an urgent development issue and should be part of the continent’s INDCs. However, it seems very difficult to take binding commitments on adaptation, compared with mitigation. Finally, INDCs should make clear that adaptation is not a substitute for mitigation, because both are complementary. It is crucial that adaptation and its funding are truly reflected in INDCs.

For a continent where poverty eradication remains a major goal, we must continue to focus attention on the crucial realities of the socio-economic context of African countries and their ability and commitment to contribute to international efforts to fight against climate change. Thus, African countries are challenged to translate their INDCs into real investment plans, able to catalyze climate-related action in each country. The task is huge and the international community has a key role to play in supporting African countries in the framework of the Paris Agreement.

The major challenge of the COP22 in Morocco in November 2016 is to take courageous decisions in favor of the implementation of the Paris Agreement, and translate them into concrete commitments. Regarding Africa, this remains a major challenge.

With strong support from the African Group of negotiators and as a strong supporter of the African Common Position on Climate Change, the African Development Bank (AfDB) recognizes the importance of INDCs and their transformation into NDCs, in that they open a path for sustainable development across the continent, despite the challenges posed by climate change.


[1] The Global stock take requests Parties to provide information on the “overall effect of the nationally determined contributions communicated by Parties”. The first global stock take will take place in 2023 and every five years thereafter (Article 14 of the Paris Agreement).

Categories: Al-Hamndou Dorsouma


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