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Africa ahead in confronting climate change, says Denton


Dr Fatima Denton

Dr Fatima Denton

At the African Development Week held recently in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Special Initiatives Division, Dr Fatima Denton spoke exclusively with KAMAL TAYO OROPO on the positive steps the continent has taken, which put it above the curve in mitigating the effects of climate change.

Despite emitting the least carbon dioxide, Africa is most exposed to the adverse effect of climate change. To the continent, issues of climate change are directly linked to its development.  But considering slipshod manner the continent has conducted its affairs, it’s cheering to discover that Africa is indeed ahead of others in institutionalising mechanisms for confronting, frontally, climate change.

After one of the side events during the African Development Week, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Director of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), Special Initiatives Division, Dr Fatima Denton, in a chat with The Guardian reinforced the positive steps the continent has taken, which puts it above the curve in mitigating the effects of climate change. According to her, Africa is the only region with a committee of Heads of States that are looking at issues of climate change. “No other region has an institutional mechanism like that where issues of climate change are discussed, strategic orientations are provided. The forum for Heads of States and the African group of negotiators come together to be able to define what African priorities should be in terms of climate change action,” she said.

The continent is also doing well by proposing bold initiatives, such as the African Renewable Initiative, whereby the continent is looking to further deploy renewable energy technologies. They are also looking at other sources.

In her words: “We are not just talking about hydropower but also about solar, wind and geothermal. We are a continent of paradoxes. We have huge potentials and sources of renewable energy. But we are not able to tap into them to be able to get ourselves out of energy poverty that we are experiencing at the moment. We are proposing programmes and actions that would help us plug the energy deficit. To me, that is something that is quite unique.

“We are ahead of the curve again in terms of the proposals we have put forward for the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). This is a metaphor for action. This is the time for action. In the beginning, we were in a situation whereby there was a responsibility between developed nations and developing nations. So, the burden of responsibilities in terms of reduction of carbon emissions was more on the side of the developed countries. But now we are in a position of collective responsibilities, which is saying that we are all in this together.”

With this line of thought, the impression has been created that the last UN Climate Change Conference in Paris in December, Conference of the Parties (COP21) talks, may have achieved significant success from the African point of view. The conference, according to Denton, has been moved from historic emissions and reductions from those who created the problems to now looking at it from the perspective of all stakeholders have to do something. Actions against effects of climate change are now becoming very voluntary. In that sense, many African countries have already proposed very bold commitments in terms of how they would reduce emissions in forestry, agriculture, energy, transport and others. That means that countries are already thinking ahead in terms of their growth strategies and how these could be aligned to this new model of development.

The new model of development is going from a heavy fossil fuel driven dependency to a decarbonised pathway.“We are ahead of the curve also because we have countries in Africa that have taken bold steps towards decarbonising their economy. Ethiopia is one of these countries. By 2025, it wants to arrive at a fully decarbonised trajectory. And it is using several sectors to do this –– such as forestry, energy and agriculture. So, those are the kinds of reasons I feel that give the kind of responsibility of the problems and its solutions. Africa is already quite far ahead,” she offered.

However, in terms of measuring up to the global standard in bio-energy, it has to be admitted that the continent still largely remains potential. “We have to now translate that potential into action. Other countries are doing it; we have the great Inga dam. That is one initiative that could help Africa’s access to energy. We have the renaissance dam in Ethiopia as well and that could also plug the energy deficit.

Disclosing that energy is at the heart of the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) development model, Denton who is also the Coordinator of the ACPC, stressed that without energy no one can grow industries, even achieving the sustainable development goals on the continent would be impossible.

There have been a good number of social indicators, but energy is also a primer to enable education, for example, to flourish in a big way. “Without that, we would have children that would have to sit under lanterns to be able to read and do their homework. I think there is a lot we can do if we position energy in a central place that would support industrial development and agriculture, which needs a lot of energy because it is energy-intensive. We need to intensify because the degree to which it is used is still low.

“Much of our food systems in agriculture are going to be much reliant on energy across the value chain. It would not just be about the production perspective but in terms of even how you process and package the food, store, conserve and disseminate it. All of these issues are fundamental and we have to take them into account,” she said.

However, in terms of measuring up to the global standard in bio-energy, it has to be admitted that the continent still largely remains potential

But against the backdrop of the fears that climate change services, especially data and information, on the continent are still at its rudimentary level, Denton stressed that more effort is needed in the direction of better weather observation.

Indeed, there is a need for a better information system, data banks that enable the average farmer to better prepared for external shocks, any type of weather preservation and also in terms of knowing what sort of harvest they should expect and how to take advantage of information at their disposal. “Where we are suffering deficit is that we do not have good weather observation system within the continent that would allow us to take advantage of the knowledge that would come out of the observation systems and translate into advice, forecasts, services and predictions. We don’t have those systems. Most of our meteorological services go to Nigeria and Senegal, Denton said, stressing that the linkages between the observation systems and other institutions are crucial.  “They are the foundation to adaptation and investigation. Without a good observation system, you are not going to have a good handle on weather patterns and the knowledge of what to expect,” she said.

For now, the ACPC has been in the forefront of offering support to African countries in terms of identifying their level of ambition; what is it that they want to do in terms of their INDCs. But according to Denton, “Not all countries were on the same level; not all the countries know what an INDC meant. So we had to work along with them to be able to say that the first point of departure is to say that the INDC is talking to the national development plan, exactly what you have in the book. If they are not done properly, you would have one on the one hand and the other on the other hand. Then the two wouldn’t be talking to each other.  We were trying to support them in terms of training and methodology and future development orientation. This is so that an INDC could talk to energy and forestry sectors. If you don’t have all those kinds of intersections, in many ways, it becomes a burden and your development planners wouldn’t know what to do. It would be fragmented.”

However, against the backdrop of the Economic Report on Africa, titled Greening Africa’s Industrialisation, which stated that the economic and environmental benefits stemming from greening Africa’s industrialisation make the environmental approach the only viable option for the continent’s continued development, Denton said that green initiatives offer the continent the opportunity to move from the periphery of the global economy to the centre. “Now we have an incredible opportunity to configure our own industrialisation. Africa has an opportunity to take advantage of its ‘late-runner’ status and it has huge potential to become a front-runner in this new pathway, to basically reshape its own economies and reshape it in a way that it can own.”

Although African countries’ carbon emissions are low compared to other countries, going green can boost growth, Denton continued. “This is no longer an issue of choice. We have to take this pathway because it makes good economic sense,” she said.

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