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Posted on Monday, 08 December 2014 17:45

Climate Change: Finance commitments not optional for Africa

Photo©ReutersGlobal temperatures are likely to be the highest on record this year. The phenomenon will emphasise the need for a sound adaptation foundation in developing countries to be backed by the support promised under the climate convention.

The World Meteorological Organisation's (WMO) announcement last week that 2014 is set to be the warmest on record is hardly surprising in the light of new research released throughout the course of this year.

From pledging we need to move into allocation so that the funding reaches where it needs to

The science indicates that there is a general underestimation of how fast and how severely climate change is being felt, and will be felt in the near future.

However, as with every progressive year that is reported as "the hottest on record", the announcement does lend a very definite sense of realism to this whopping externality of the dominant economic systems that we know as climate change.

Land surface temperatures between January and October were about 0.85ºC above the 1961-1990 average, which is about the fourth or fifth warmest recorded. Sea temperatures for this period are the highest on record, at about 0.45ºC higher.

Because 93 percent of excess atmospheric heat is stored – for the moment – in the oceans, it is significant that ocean heat content to depths of 700m and 2,000m were both also the highest on record.

Recent trends of a slow-down in warming have been explained as possibly the result of the oceans taking heat deeper, but this trend is not expected to continue.

No standstill in global warming

WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud said that every year of the last fourteen years has been in the top fifteen hottest years on record, "There is no standstill in global warming".

There were heatwaves in South Africa, Australia and Argentina, and record heat in Brazil and other South American countries. There were also notable cold waves in the US, Australia and Russia.

"Dangerous climate change may be closer than we expect," says Peter Stott of the UK Meterological Office's Hadley Centre at a side event at the climate negotiations, "Potentially we could be looking at exceeding 2ºC in the 2030's".

Projections show that it is possible to reach the UNFCCC defined limit of 2ºC between 2030 and 2050, If there is weak or no mitigation, that is, if there is a business as usual scenario.

This temperature limit, it must be noted, is considered inadequate by many because the projected irreversible impacts associated with a global average of 2ºC are too costly socially and economically.

There are already severe impacts associated with the current temperature rise that has not reached 1ºC.

The Africa Group and Small Island Developing States are calling for a commitment at the UNFCCC to limit warming to 1.5ºC. This is meant to be under review, to be discussed in 2015. WWF and others are calling for the limit to global warming to be based on a global carbon budget.

Understanding risk

Climate science is packed with uncertainties, but rather than this being a reason for scepticism, it is an indication of the need for ongoing improvement in understanding how climate systems work.

For example, Elizabeth Kendon of Hadley said that in the UK, recent climate models may underestimate changes in rainfall in some seasons.

Indications are that there are additional risks associated with increased rainfall that are not accounted for in the coarse resolution climate models. She explained that when one talks about damage from climate change this is often about damage from extreme weather events.

Being able to predict these events is useful for proactive development planning and disaster risk reduction, but it is usually possible to pick up these events only through very detailed models.

Kendon says that although high resolution models are used for weather forecasts, it is only recently that computers have become powerful enough and cheap enough to be able to do high resolution modeling for projections of climate change.

Kendon and Stott's work on very detailed spatial modeling is potentially useful for urban planning in UK cities.

Being able to have a better understanding of flash flooding from extreme rainfall can help to inform how urban drainage is designed. They are expanding their work to cities in other parts of Europe and on some other continents.

Major uncertainties

To support better decisions on adaptation and development across Africa, South Africa's Coucil for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) uses a model called CCAM.

CCAM dynamically downscales a global climate model and couples it to carbon flux and ocean carbon flux models so that there is a good link between earth, atmosphere and ocean systems.

The CSIR's Xolisa Ngwadla says that the model is "optimised for Africa", and they are hoping to provide increasingly detailed projections within the very near future.

"We've already modeled the Cahora Bassa Dam and the Zambezi river, and can provide seasonal forecasts of stream flow and dam levels, but we need to do more development work on other systems", he says.

The ability to forecast rainfall influences decision making on stream flow management, agriculture, and disaster risk. It should also be able to inform infrastructure and development decisions.

Guy Midgely of the University of Stellenbosh adds that there are also major uncertainties related to decadal drivers such as the El Nino in the subtropics. He says that, "There needs to be a better balance in attention and investment between downscaling and decadal and sub-decadal variability".

Going into the future, the CSIR is looking at doing work on supporting agricultural productivity in different parts of Africa.

Says Ngwadla, "For this we are hoping to run post doctoral programmes to attract researchers from all over Africa who understand their local conditions and are best placed to inform the work".

He says further that their team is also working on projections of costs for adaptation so that they can provide information about the impacts that could be felt around 2020 to 2030.

These costs would be dependent on the mitigation targets committed, and the work would be strongly linked to the adaptation goal in discussion at the climate negotiations.

Open negotiations, not co-chair produced texts

For developing countries to be able to generate these type of tools and knowledge, it is critical that the finance, technology transfer and capacity building commitments under the Durban agreement are met and expanded on in the new global agreement that high level negotiations are starting on in Lima today.

In the climate negotiations currently, these are among the more significant areas on which developing and developed countries are strongly divided, with many developed countries wanting to avoid legally binding commitments other than on mitigation.

According to one negotiations analyst, there is an ongoing weakening of the convention through measures such as separating the mitigation commitments out from the other aspects, and placing them into a non-paper that is likely to fall off the table.

On Thursday last week, the Africa Group challenged this strongly, with support from G77+China, by tabling a new proposal for negotiations in the ADP to replace the non-paper.

The new paper was produced through a party-driven process.

Challenges of the processes in the negotiations began at the opening session of the ADP, because the substance of the texts are influenced by how the texts are produced.

Most parties want open negotiations, where parties negotiate with each other, and not though co-chair produced texts.

Separately from whether finance commitments are made in the 2015 agreement, pledges to the Green Climate Fund are still rolling in, such as Norway's Thursday announcement that it would double its pledge to USD230 million.

However, as UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres said at the launch of an assessment of climate flows on Wednesday "From pledging we need to move into allocation so that the funding reaches where it needs to".



Rehana Dada

Rehana Dada

Rehana Dada is a journalist and filmmaker who covers global change, development and earth sciences. She works in government and non profit sectors in research, communications and project management through her small company, Sea Witch. She is a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship alumna at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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