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Climate change mitigation: What’s in for Africa?

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by Mário Marques

Climate change mitigation refers to efforts towards reducing and preventing the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG), with the view to limiting the magnitude of future global warming. The term may also include actions to remove GHGs from the atmosphere through, for instance, increasing the capacity of carbon sinks such as reforestation.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was established to cooperatively work to prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system while coping with inevitable impacts of climate change. Mitigation efforts are implemented through various types of policies, strategies and initiatives with the aim of mitigating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The most illustrative examples of these include the Kyoto Protocol’s market mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the mechanism for Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+), the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs), and Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Among these mechanisms, some are connected to Africa and bear a great deal of importance to the continent. For instance, the international carbon market of the CDM (a flexible mechanism to the Kyoto Protocol) has meant additional finance, technology transfer and capacity building for Africa in the form of 242 CDM projects. Even though Africa accounts for a small portion (2.9%) of the total CDM pie of implemented projects (due to a set of reasons derived from the lack of institutional capacity, risky investment environment and general low abatement potential), they represent a good starting point as well as providing invaluable lessons on opportunities for mitigation through learning-by-doing.

It is a fact that the CDM has been unsatisfactory for Africa, but on the other hand this leaves a unique window of opportunity for the continent. There is a considerable untapped potential that could be explored if parties do agree to extend the CDM for the next global climate change agreement at COP21, especially now that the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) – the biggest source of demand for Certified Emission Reductions (CERs) – has instituted a ban on CDM offset credits from projects in non-Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in that are registered post-2012 period. Indeed, the general perception is that the CDM will be prolonged if such an extension would mean increased participation on the part of LDCs. On the other hand, Africa is demonstrating interest in having the CDM featured in a future climate deal, as long as adequate reforms that will ensure more benefits for the continent are put in place. For CDM to work in Africa, there is a need to take into account Africa’s mitigation specificities, including further consideration of GHG emissions-intensive sectors in Africa such agriculture, forestry and land use practices.

With regards to NAMAs, the term was first used in the Bali Action Plan (COP12 in 2007) and concluded in the 2013 negotiations at the Doha Conference (COP18). This initiative holds great importance for Africa too as it is expected to catalyse climate finance, technology transfer and capacity building from developed countries) to the developing and least developed countries. NAMAs are predicted to feature in the next global climate treaty as a stepping stone to support the most vulnerable in their efforts to mitigate emissions.

Yet in its infancy under the UNFCCC process[1], the REDD+ and more broadly the Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) provisions are perceived by the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) as holding a key role in achieving the UNFCCC’s ultimate goal – a rise in average global temperature of no more than 2 degrees Celsius by 2100. Supporting this argument are several studies that point out that land use change (including deforestation and forest degradation) accounts for 17% to 29% of global GHG emissions.

Created to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation and enhance carbon sinks, REDD+ is a mechanism that has been under negotiation by the Parties to the UNFCCC since 2005. Receiving much attention in the Bali negotiations (COP 13) in 2007, the first major decision adopted covered approaches to stimulate actions and a call for demonstration activities. Consequently, in the following years, several initiatives and programmes were set up such as the UN-REDD Programme, the Forest Carbon Partnership Facility (FCPF) and the Forest Investment Program (FIP) that further build on the wider concept of REDD+ as a climate change mitigation solution.

Recently, at COP19 efforts to further develop the previously scarce and vague provisions for REDD+ under the UNFCCC were made. Negotiators achieved what was considered to be a positive outcome, with several actionable decisions, namely, “work programme on results-based finance; modalities for national forest monitoring systems; presenting information on safeguards; technical assessment of reference (emission) levels; modalities for measuring, reporting and verifying (MRV)” (UNFCCC, 2013)[2].

Additionally, conceived during the most recent negotiation sessions (COP20) and stated in the ‘Lima Call for Climate Action’ text is the new INDCs’ initiative. This measure is perceived by the AGN as an integral part of the next UNFCCC negotiations as standing for the climate actions that parties intend to take under the future universal climate treaty.

However, for Africa it is not yet clear how this initiative applies given that it is mostly liaised to climate change mitigation measures. Under the UNFCCC, Africa is not expected to set out emission targets due to the principle of “Common But Differentiated Responsibility (CBDR)”. This is because historically Africa is the continent which has contributed the least to atmospheric pollution and which, currently, contributes the least to the global emissions (4%) (African Development Report, 2012)[3].

What next?

Lima (COP20) was indeed a high-profile event on the path towards a new global agreement, but it fell short of expectations on progress ahead of COP21. Fortunately, it was not the last chance to lay the groundwork for a new deal in the future. Climate change is playing a key role in diverse international meetings from now until the end of COP21 in December 2015, the official deadline for a new agreement.

[1] UNFCCC process: The process by which decisions are made through negotiations that affect how the world responds to climate change.

[2] UNFCCC, 2013:

[3] African Development Report: Towards Green Growth in Africa (2012). African Development Bank Group.


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