Since December 2015, when 195 countries signed the Paris Agreement on climate change, several countries in Africa have begun implementing climate resilience activities that will allow them to better absorb and adapt to harsh climatic changes.
However, an assessment of the continent’s progress in combating climate change brings to mind a popular African proverb: “A large chair does not make a king”—in other words, huge implementation challenges remain. Africa’s policy makers, however, are eager to meet these challenges, believing that achieving the objectives of the climate change deal could unlock the continent’s socio-economic potential.
Signed in late 2015, the Paris Agreement entered into force on 5 October 2016. One month later, at the COP22 (Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change UNFCCC) in Marrakech, Morocco, world leaders formally adopted the Marrakech Action Proclamation, which recommitted parties to full implementation of the Paris Agreement. And implementation has since started.
As of April 2017, of the 143 countries that have so far ratified the agreement, 33 are in Africa, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Somalia, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia. That is 60% of the total number of African countries.
Beyond the ratifications, many countries have also fulfilled a key requirement in the agreement by formulating their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The NDCs are the countries’ individual efforts to achieve climate change goals. In their NDCs, the majority of African countries indicated plans to prioritize climate proofing development activities, especially in economic sectors such as agriculture and energy.
An example of climate proofing in the agriculture and energy sectors is the restoration of ecosystems, a development that is already gathering steam on the continent. Agenda 2063—a set of aspirations formulated by the African Union (AU) to point the way to prosperity on the continent—also highlights ecosystem restoration as a way to catalyze socio-economic development.
The AU maintains that by applying ecosystem-based adaptation in the agriculture sector in combination with clean energy, countries can add agro-value chains, spur food security and increase economic opportunities along the value chain, while simultaneously lowering carbon emissions and conserving ecosystems.
Currently, Africa’s development challenges are many. One serious disadvantage is that more than half of its 1.2 billion population lives on less than $1.25 per day—the standard threshold for absolute poverty. Also, about 60% of Africa’s unemployed are youth. Food security is also a problem: a quarter of Africa’s population goes to bed hungry, while more than 200 million Africans suffer from severe malnutrition.
To respond to these challenges while implementing the Paris Agreement, experts say African countries should maximize the potential of key sectors capable of boosting socio-economic development. In other words, the focus should be on agriculture, food production and clean energy, among other sectors.
Africa’s strengths lie in its immense natural resource potential and other ‘sweet spots’, including having 65% of the world’s arable land and 10% of its inland freshwater resources. The continent’s renewable energy potential can be realized through hydro as well as solar power. Harnessing these resources in a sustainable way will boost Africa’s development.
Agro-value chains in Africa, if properly harnessed, can reduce poverty two to four times faster than any other sector, according to the World Bank. The agricultural sector’s projected value by 2030 is $1 trillion, and this sector could potentially provide 17 million jobs, says the Bank.
The Paris Agreement accentuates the opportunities in Africa’s economic sectors; what remains is for countries to implement the agreement with full attention to domestic development needs.