Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs): Potential Implications for Africa

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By Al-Hamndou Dorsouma

In light of the urgency to limit the increase in global average temperature below 2 degrees Celsius, members of the international community are negotiating a new and binding climate change agreement. While the exact form and scope of the new agreement is still open to negotiation, developed and developing countries were invited to prepare their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) for the post-2020 period. INDCs are the pledges countries are invited to put forward to express what they plan to do about climate change, that would form the basis of the negotiations leading up to the Paris Agreement in December 2015. In terms of scope, INDCs are expected to include, among other elements, an economy-wide emission reduction target which defines country mitigation goals; and a set of policies and actions which measure and quantify emissions reduction impacts. Although INDCs are becoming the major building block of the proposed agreement, it remains unclear how climate change adaptation which is Africa's priority will be considered alongside mitigation, and what the implications for Africa will be.

The process of designing INDCs as national commitments to combat climate change was decided at COP 19 in Warsaw in 2013. This decision was reiterated at COP 20, in Lima in December 2014 when parties decided that INDCs should represent a progression beyond current mitigation efforts, including long-term emission reduction targets. Initially defined as national goals/targets for implementing climate action, with a focus on countries' commitments to undertake mitigation actions, INDCs are expected to be ambitious, transparent and equitable, leading to transformation in carbon-intensive sectors and industry. They have since been redefined to accommodate the integration of climate change into national priorities, such as sustainable development and poverty reduction.

It is therefore important that INDCs are prepared well and communicated in a way that demonstrates that both domestic and international stakeholders can contribute to global efforts to combat climate change.

One important aspect of INDCs is to track progress, taking into account the different levels of country economic development and the diversity of models and methodologies to monitor, report and verify progress. Ultimately, it is essential to ensure that global ambition articulated through the INDCs is adequate to achieve the international target of limiting the global average temperature increase below 2°C.

Potential implications of INDCs for Africa?

Although INDCs will form the key input to the proposed negotiating text leading up to the new agreement, there is a general impression that most African countries are unprepared to make commitments and define priorities. Moreover, there is a limited understanding on what INDCs would look like in the African context, and on the basic and key elements to be included. A major concern for Africa is about the rationale and relevance for individual African countries to make binding commitments to reduce GHG emissions, in the context of the principle of "common but differentiated responsibilities." For instance, what does the notion of "contributions" mean for Africa? What are the implications of 'contributions' African governments are expected to make when they have limited capabilities to meet basic development needs and address negative impacts of climate variability and change? To date, the concept of INDCs lacks common understanding, coherence and ownership by African countries.

Given the INDCs initial emphasis on mitigation, they may likely have implications for the African negotiating position which is centred on adaptation, finance, capacity building and technology development and transfer. INDCs do not provide enough clarity for African countries to better articulate their priorities and ensure that their expected "contributions" will get adequate and additional support from the international community. The current confusion around INDCs does not help, making INDCs unclear, complex and less relevant. INDCs are obviously a result of a compromise between the notion of "commitments" used by developed countries and the concept of "nationally appropriate mitigation actions" (NAMAs) promoted by developing countries.

Many developing countries including in Africa are presently preparing to implement Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) as part of their national efforts to address climate change. It is still not clear how these NAMAs are going to fit into the INDCs.

Without substantial support to African countries, it would be impossible for them to achieve goals and targets outlined in the INDCs. Clear alignment of INDCs with existing national initiatives such as NAMAs, National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) and the National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) is a must, if African countries are to be involved in the adoption of a new agreement in Paris. As country pledges and national goals, INDCs need to take into account national priorities, circumstances and capabilities of individual African countries.

The place of adaptation in INDCs

Climate change adaptation is part of the collective responsibility of the global community to address climate change, particularly in vulnerable regions like Africa. Adaptation is not only an issue for Least Developed Countries (LDCs). Every country, be it developed or least developed is concerned about adaptation. Therefore, the support to adaptation must be clearly set out in the INDCs. Without this support, it becomes extremely difficult for African countries to be part of the global response to climate change. Addressing adaptation in the context of African countries is an urgent development issue. And, this should be a part of the new agreement, as far as Africa is concerned. However, including adaptation in the INDCs raises some questions related to the difficulty to make binding commitments for adaptation as compared to mitigation. Finally, INDCs should make it clear that adaptation cannot be a substitute for mitigation. Adaptation needs to be seriously considered in INDCs and the new agreement in December in Paris.

As a major supporter of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) and the African common position on climate change, the African Development Bank recognises the importance of INDCs as a potential avenue to long-term sustainable development in the context of a changing climate. For a continent where poverty eradication is still a major focus, attention should continue to be drawn to the crucial realities of the socio-economic context of African countries and their capabilities to contribute and commit to international efforts on climate change. The endeavour will be challenging. The international community has an important role to support African countries and this must be explicitly reflected in the new agreement.


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