Letting nature do its work will boost Africa’s climate change fight

Ademola Ajagbe
By Ademola Ajagbe

Regional Managing Director, Africa at The Nature Conservancy

Posted on Thursday, 10 November 2022 13:04
Climate activists protest climate justice and human rights at the Sharm El-Sheikh International Convention Centre, during the COP27 climate summit, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, November 10, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Across Africa, there is a palpable expectation that this year’s climate change conference, COP27, will deliver for the continent.

Rightfully so, coming against a backdrop of some of the continent’s worst effects of the climate change crisis.

Home to nine of the 10 most climate-vulnerable countries, it is the hardest hit continent by the catastrophe.

Kenya, for instance, is being ravaged by one of the worst droughts in history, stretching three seasons and causing intense climate-related conflicts.

Nigeria is experiencing its worst floods in the last decade, displacing more than 1.5 million people. There are similar situations across the continent, with the extreme and erratic weather patterns greatly impacting agricultural production, the economic mainstay.

All this in a region that contributes only about four per cent of global emissions that cause climate change.

Thus, the continent expects that COP27 will be an opportunity to re-energise efforts against the climate change crisis. The global community has to begin with action on commitments made at the last conference in Glasgow that is yet to be delivered.

Clear roadmap

At COP26, world leaders made a strong commitment to limit the increase in temperatures to not more than 1.5C. However, there has been no commensurate translation of this ambition into action.

Only a few countries have revised their Nationally Determined Contributions to reflect the commitment they made in Glasgow.

In the face of economic challenges brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict, several countries are rolling back on their climate commitments. A recent UN report indicates that the goal of staying below 1.5C is fragile.

This calls for more action, which speaks louder than the commitments that the continent has been getting. Ambitious commitments must be matched with clear roadmaps to deliver clear, tangible, and transformative solutions at scale with an emphasis on action to accelerate urgent climate plans.

Coordinated global action

The world also needs to commit to following through on past missed targets, such as the Paris Agreement. Coordinated global action to keep the climate within safe boundaries is important. It requires attention dedicated to adaptation, as it is to mitigation.

A collective response is key, through investments in technology transfer, capacity building, and financial resources.

One of the biggest opportunities to tackle the effects of climate change lies in going back to basics – letting nature do its work.

Natural habitats have the ability to absorb and store vast amounts of carbon. It is projected that protection, restoration and better management of our lands and wetlands could cut up to a third of the emission needed to limit global warming and keep the climate within safe boundaries.

From our work across the continent, we have seen natural solutions at work, not only in restoring and protecting vulnerable ecosystems but also in positively impacting the livelihoods of communities.

We have piloted innovative models for protecting and restoring forests to enable them to thrive and continue reducing emissions while providing economic opportunity through strategic grants and technical assistance.

Working with donors and major water consumers, we have created funds to help secure the source of water in Nairobi and Cape Town through upstream water and soil conservation in conjunction with sustaining improved quality and supply to homes and industries.

In Lamu on the Kenyan coast, we are restoring and improving the management of threatened mangroves to enable them to prevent erosion and absorb carbon and provide a home to a variety of animals.

Seizing the day

Unfortunately, nature-based solutions remain neglected, receiving less than 10% of climate funding globally, only a fraction of which goes to the continent.

Africa cannot achieve a low-carbon or climate-resilient future without quality financing at scale, targeted at areas like energy transition and the restoration of natural capital – through food systems and land use practices, alongside biodiversity.

The continent is best placed to take advantage of the opportunity that nature presents to slow down the effects of climate change. This is because it remains with huge landscapes that are still functioning as nature intended and not yet unsustainably exploited.

We do not need to restore nature for it to help tackle climate change; we just need to protect what is there. Protection is, in fact, far cheaper than restoration.

Coping with the change

Africa needs to take the path to use nature sustainably so that the continent can develop in a way that enables it to cope with the changing climate and contribute its share to global mitigation.

This needs to be the focus of the world and Africa as it convenes in Egypt. These solutions must also include increased climate finance, especially for adaptation; a financing mechanism for loss and damage; an ambitious global goal on adaptation; and recognition of the special needs and circumstances of Africa.

More importantly, the voices of indigenous and local communities must be heard on mission-critical platforms like COP27. After all, they know best how to work with nature in their communities.

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