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African priorities foregrounded in 2022 as the continent hosts two global sustainability congresses

A literal, continental shift will see global climate commitments made on African soil as African cities host two key COPs this year. It’s an opportunity for the continent to receive its deserved representation in climate and sustainability discussions and priorities.

We live in a pivotal time in history. Our actions this decade can either create cities that are resilient, limit greenhouse gas emissions and reduce the impacts of climate change, or lead to catastrophe for humankind. While many felt disappointed at the end of last year when the world failed to engage in an “emergency mode” at the UNFCCC’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26), considerable progress was still made to advance the Paris Agreement into its 2nd phase.

Most notably for our cities, the voice subnational governments came through strongly at COP26 in Glasgow. It is heartening to see how multilevel action has been explicitly featured in the Glasgow Climate Pact. The critical role of local and regional governments is enshrined into national goals, climate finance mobilisation and all UNFCCC processes.

While Africa was severely underrepresented at COP26 – with respect to both attendance and including the continent’s climate priorities in the Pact – 2022 presents the world with an opportunity to course correct as the global climate negotiations take place in Africa.

 

Two key congresses taking place in Africa in 2022

This year, several global climate negotiations will take place in Africa – bringing the focus of the continent to the fore as never before. In May, the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) will host COP15 in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire and in November, the 27th session of the UNFCCC COP will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

The hosting of both of these high-level conferences will mean that African voices will and must come through strongly.

 

Expectations for the Drought and Desertification COP15

Drought is a complex natural hazard with significant socio-economic and environmental impacts. It’s known to cause more deaths and displace more people than any other natural disaster. At the same time, land use change is the foremost direct cause of biodiversity loss with the largest relative global impact.

Africa suffers disproportionately from the negative effects of desertification and climate change. It impacts the continent’s most vulnerable populations, and contributes to food insecurity, population displacement and stress on water resources.

The UNCCD clearly emphasises that the populations who suffer directly from desertification – and who are acutely aware of the fragility of their environment – must be closely involved in decisions that influence their future.

Facilitating access to new technologies, as well as knowledge transfer in alleviating the effects of drought and desertification, are some of the major challenges that will feature at UNCCD COP15 in Abidjan.

Land matters for climate. Its rehabilitation and sustainable management are critical to closing the emissions gap and staying on target.

At the UNCCD, local and regional governments are ensuring desertification is more clearly connected to land management, resilience, nature, migration, food and urban-rural linkages. The UNCCD COP15 will build on the first two Mayors Summits in 1997 and 1999, special high level roundtable at COP13 in Ordos in 2017, and the first Local and Regional Governments Day at COP14 in Hyderabad in 2019, which paved the way for the first specific COP decision.

As the only global local government network that has been accredited to all three Rio Conventions (climate-UNFCCC, biodiversity-CBD, desertification-UNCCD), ICLEI will continue to lead the voice of local and regional governments at COP15 in Abidjan, with a view to connect the dots between many of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), as well as the Paris Agreement, the post 2020 global biodiversity framework and land degradation.

 

Expectations for the Climate COP27 

We hope to see more emphasis on loss and damage, as well as nature, food, culture and resilience at COP27 – key aspects that were largely missing in Glasgow. Given Africa’s rapid urbanisation rate, ambitious plans for cities to adapt and urbanise sustainably can also be expected to be among priorities of COP27.

From ICLEI as the Local Governments and Municipal Authorities (LGMA) Constituency focal point, Yunus Arikan believes that COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh and COP26 in Glasgow should be treated as two sides of the same coin. In other words, COP27 can be used to enhance multilevel Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and tackle COP26’s unfinished business of the climate emergency.

Africa can use this opportunity to refine the details further at the local, subnational, national and global level.

 

Multilevel collaboration leads to greater ambition 

Since 2015, more than 60% of countries at COP26 raised their ambition in their second NDCs. As Arikan says, “COP26 has been a breakthrough. The inclusion of ‘multilevel’ has opened a new door for us so that we can be stronger in the second phase of the Paris Agreement. We are determined to have COP27 be the first COP that demonstrates that multilevel action delivers on global goals.”

There is no doubt that in some areas we moved forward at COP26, with, for example, commitments to double adaptation finance by 2025 and momentum towards locally-led approaches. However, despite these promising steps in the right direction, it is evident that we need to start treating climate adaptation with the same level of urgency and seriousness as reducing emissions and the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

“Expectations for COP27 are high. Firstly, countries will need to come back to COP27 with not only stronger and more ambitious NDCs but also a stronger focus on adaptation,” says Dr Kate Strachan, the Cities and Regions Race to Resilience Lead for the UNFCCC’s High-Level Climate Champions Team. “There is still the issue of climate finance where so much more is needed. On loss and damage, the Glasgow Climate Dialogues need to move the debate forward rapidly with practical thinking of delivery and financing.”

 

The Glasgow Climate Pact is a compromise. This compromise, however, has shown us that the multilateral option remains viable and that progress has been made – even if at a slow pace.

Various pledges of reducing methane emissions, curbing deforestation by 2030, and halting the sale of internal combustion engines by 2040 should not be overlooked. It is now up to us to ensure that COP27 keeps nations accountable and puts pressure on them to revisit and strengthen their NDC targets – especially those not aligned to temperature goals.

 

There will be no global green recovery unless Africa is part of the investment package

Africa is responsible for less than 4% of global emissions, yet its population of 1.3 billion are the most vulnerable to climate change. African countries need reliable financing options and real resilience will be best achieved by turning to renewable energy pathways through just energy transitions.

Significant milestones have already been reached. Even if political action is lagging, there is global momentum on climate action which must be harnessed. To ensure real action at COP27, Africa should be built up from within.