There is a fundamental unfairness implicit in climate change. The poorest and most vulnerable countries, which are the least to blame for the increase in green house gas emissions, are the most affected and least able to adapt. The threat to Africa, in particular, is extreme. Measures are, therefore, needed to protect the most vulnerable communities against climate destruction. We need to build the resilience of these communities as well as African economies.
Waiting will make matters worse in terms of human suffering, economic costs and damage to the ecosystem assets. This underlines coping with climate change as one of the most important and urgent challenges facing all governments as well as regional and international bodies.
The financial crisis, with all its associated problems, may actually be an opportunity for taking on actions to effectively respond to climate challenge.
As we prepare for Copenhagen in December 2009, where measures to deal with the global climate challenge will be agreed, we must make sure that the interests of the most vulnerable and least developed countries are not forgotten.
The global effort, as a central pillar of response to climate change, offers Africa an opportunity, in terms of providing a platform for strengthening and establishing new regional and international partnerships, even in the business sector. There is plenty of room for cooperation and joint efforts.
Adapting to climate change and reducing emissions are, of course, interrelated; the less the emissions are reduced, the greater the effects and costs for the affected countries. In this partnership, developed countries must support developing countries in building resilience and adapting to the effects of climate change. The question is; how can this be achieved?
Industrialised countries have a special responsibility to take the lead and make sufficient cuts in emissions. Most of those cuts should be made at home and will require significant additional investments in clean technology. But considerable additional investments will also need to be made in developing countries. A key element in the negotiations leading up to Copenhagen is how sufficient support can be mobilised to enable developing countries make these investments.
Over the past few years, one of the key sources for additional private investment in clean technology in developing countries is the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). The protocol allows industrialised countries to make investments to reduce green house gas emissions where the impact of the investments is greatest. This is a win-win and cost-effective solution. It has helped to transfer investments and technology from developed to developing countries. It also allows entry into the international carbon market.
So far, a total of 1,450 CDM projects have been registered, resulting in the reduction of 270 million tonnes of green house gases. Most of these projects are in Asia. Very few are in Africa.
This regional disparity is one of the main weaknesses of the CDM, but also one that can and has to be corrected for African countries to meaningfully benefit from it. In addition, greater domestic capacity and institutional support in Africa are needed for the project, but the requirements are far from insurmountable. The necessary reform of the CDM, to make it administratively less burdensome, while ensuring its integrity, should facilitate this further.
Joint efforts between the developing and the developed world are needed. Cooperation between African institutions and European countries are already thriving in many areas. Climate Change and emissions trading should be a new and rapidly expanding area of cooperation. And one that will benefit all involved.
The seriousness attached to climate change by African institutions is evidenced by the Climate Information for Development in Africa (ClimDev-Africa) programme, a partnership initiative of the African Union Commission, the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Development Bank.
ClimDev-Africa seeks to facilitate the development of policies, practices, services, observation networks and communication with stakeholders to enable effective climate change mitigation and adaptation in Africa.
The African Climate Policy Centre being established at UNECA offers a platform and mechanism for multi-actor cooperation, including the pursuit of European ambitions to promote a wider distribution of CDM projects, to meet the African wish to deal effectively with climate change.
The European Union (EU) has indicated its ambition to increase the flow of resources for the CDM to the least developed countries and the small vulnerable island states. In March, the EU announced its longer-term vision on the global carbon market, indicating that it intends to gradually move towards cap and trade systems also in advanced developing countries.
A key element of this strategy is, however, also the intention to strengthen the role of CDM for least developing countries.
In December 2008, the European Union took a decision to this effect, limiting the acceptance of new CDM projects under the EU's independent target to reduce its emissions by 20% in 2020 to CDM projects from least developed countries.
If we join efforts and work together, we shall promote sustainable development while strengthening our forces to deal with climate change through mitigation and adaptation.
The writer is the executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa