Heatwaves attributable to climate change that hit most of Europe from June to July 2019 have served as a timely reminder of the long-standing need for concerted global action to tackle climate change, which affects all regions of the world. Extreme weather events—such as more frequent and intense droughts, floods, heatwaves and other climate-induced impacts, including accelerated desertification, coastal erosion, species extinction and habitat loss—are wreaking havoc on African economies. The adverse impacts of such events are being felt across the continent, as demonstrated recently by the tropical cyclones Idai and Kenneth, which caused substantial devastation in Malawi, Mozambique and Zimbabwe, resulting in more than 1,000 deaths and hundreds of thousands of people needing humanitarian assistance as well as a huge loss of infrastructure. Yet the continent has contributed the least to global warming, accounting for less than 4% of global emissions. At 0.8tCO2e/year, for example, per capita emissions in Africa are well below the global mean of 5tCO2e/year, and far lower than for other regions such as Europe and Asia.

Global action to tackle climate change remains lacklustre. Current nationally determined contributions (NDCs) to climate action under the Paris Agreement remain far from what is needed to meet the temperature guardrail for safer growth. Unless ambitious steps are taken, then, the unfolding climate crisis poses an imminent existential threat. Without such action, it appears impossible for Africa to meet any of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) or achieve the transformational outcomes envisioned in the continent’s Agenda 2063 and encapsulated in national development plans.  

Africa’s visionary leadership to tackle climate change

In 2006, the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) started a process to establish the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC). Motivations for this undertaking included: the mandate given to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 1988 by the General Assembly of the United Nations “to provide internationally coordinated scientific assessments of the magnitude, timing and potential environmental and socio-economic impact of climate change and realistic response strategies”; concerns by ECA that climate change was already posing serious risks to Africa’s development agenda, particularly with regard to attaining the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals; and recognition that African countries could capitalize on climate change challenges and turn them into sustainable development opportunities for resilient economies.

Support for the creation of the Centre resonated in several high-level fora, including the Eighth Session of the African Union (AU) Summit in January 2007, and culminated in its establishment the following year at the First Joint Annual Meetings of the AU Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance and the ECA Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development (COM). The Centre was given the dual mandate to provide policy guidance to member countries and to serve as the secretariat of the ClimDev-Africa programme. The mandate to provide climate policy guidance to member States included contributing to poverty reduction through successful mitigation and adaptation to climate change in Africa as well as improving the capacity of African countries to participate effectively in multilateral climate negotiations. The same meeting also endorsed the ClimDev-Africa programme as a joint initiative of ECA, the African Union Commission (AUC) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), thereby helping focus the collective efforts of these three key African institutions on fostering a common and coordinated response to climate change throughout the continent.

Supporting member States in an evolving climate change landscape

Since becoming operational in 2011—with financial support from the Department for International Development (DFID), the European Union, France, the Nordic Development Fund (NDF), Norway, Sweden and USAID—the Centre has worked with pan-African institutions and initiatives, member States, universities, and research and policy institutions as well as with development and other implementing partners, and within ECA towards the delivery of its core mandated programmes. Highlights of the Centre’s achievements to date include: 

Support for Africa’s effective participation in multilateral climate negotiations. Through its ClimDev-Africa work, ACPC has made substantial contributions towards reshaping the global climate change negotiations agenda by supporting the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change and the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, along with providing technical support and capacity-building to strengthen the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) on climate change to better address and defend African interests in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process. For example, ACPC produced a landmark report on loss and damage in Africa arising from the adverse impacts of climate change in collaboration with AGN. In turn, AGN contributed substantively to the decision on Loss and Damage at the19th Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC: the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts.

Africa Day and Africa Pavilion at the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. On behalf of ECA and in collaboration with AUC, AfDB and the New Partnership for Africa's Development, ACPC provides space, agency and voice for Africa’s effective participation in climate negotiation events—a process that started at the 17th  Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC in 2011.

Making a case for climate information services (CIS). CIS is essential to abating climate change impacts and therefore to supporting poverty reduction efforts. Without better information about weather pattern variability and climate change, the African response to climate change will not be sufficiently robust. Through the ClimDev-Africa programme, however, ACPC has made considerable investments in strengthening and modernizing meteorological and hydrological observation networks.

Conference on Climate Change and Development in Africa (CCDA). Now in its eighth consecutive year, CCDA is a highly valued brand and an established platform for dialogue that annually assembles numerous African stakeholders and institutions, including practitioners, academics, researchers and civil society representatives, to discuss contemporary issues in climate change and development in Africa, share scientific knowledge, and generate innovative solutions to challenges and build consensus on key African priorities ahead of the annual Conference of Parties to UNFCCC.

Weather and Climate Information Services for Africa (WISER). Timely and high-quality weather and climate information contribute to enhanced seasonal forecasts that can assist users such as farmers, planners and water and energy suppliers to increase productivity and therewith contribute to economic development. Weather and climate information are conducive to better longer-term climate prediction, which is essential for enhancing the resilience of infrastructure, economies and ecosystems and thereby ensuring sustainable economic development. In collaboration with the United Kingdom’s Met Office, ACPC is implementing the DFID-funded WISER programme to support the management of weather and climate risks and enhance the resilience of African people and economies to weather-related shocks.

Africa Climate Resilient Investment Facility (AFRI-RES). To promote access to services in key sectors and boost economic transformation, hundreds of billions of dollars will need to be invested in climate-sensitive sectors annually (including infrastructure, agriculture, energy and water). It is important to ensure that the climate risk exposure of these substantive investments is minimized. To this end, ACPC has operationalized AFRI-RES in collaboration with AUC, the World Bank and AfDB, with initial funding support from NDF, to strengthen the capacity of African institutions as well as that of the private sector to plan, design and implement investments that are resilient to climate variability and change.

Climate Research for Development (CR4D). Africa’s contribution to climate science and research processes, including IPCC assessment reports, has so far been very limited. To ameliorate this situation, ACPC, in collaboration with the World Meteorological Organization and with initial funding from DFID, has established the CR4D programme, which supports climate science research and helps catalyse the uptake and use of climate information services for development planning on the continent.

Towards a climate-resilient and prosperous Africa 

Going forward and with a view to the increasing complexity of climate change challenges, it will be important for ACPC to continue to provide policy analysis that helps Africa’s decision makers develop climate response strategies that foster sustainable development. ACPC will do so by providing space for dialogue on climate and development issues in Africa and by delivering capacity support to member States for exploring, analysing and implementing better ways and investments that capitalize on the efficient use of natural resources to grow resilient and inclusive economies. In this regard, ACPC considers NDCs to represent concrete actions to be taken towards meeting the SDGs and achieving the transformational outcomes envisioned in the continent’s Agenda 2063.

The new strategy of the Centre is one of serving as a hub for generating ideas and taking action that enable the transition to a climate-resilient and prosperous Africa by means of responsive policies, plans and programmes. To this end, ACPC will:

-Continue to conduct research and analysis in support of climate-informed social and economic development in Africa;

-Ensure value for money in programme management, implementation, monitoring, evaluation and learning.

-Generate, manage and customize multilingual knowledge products to effectively communicate climate solutions to key constituencies;

-Design enabling spaces and convene dialogue to foster strategic alliances and partnerships towards effective climate response and development and to catalyse common Africa positions;

-Strengthen and develop human and institutional capacities in member States for climate-resilient development planning, policies and practices; and

-Provide advisory services and technical assistance to implement the Paris Agreement.

ECA continues to build partnerships and mobilize resources to implement the new ACPC strategy. Working with ECA in this greater vision, for example, DFID and the Embassy of Sweden in Ethiopia are assisting ACPC in carrying out programmes supporting African governments, regional entities, the private sector and communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change and enhance the integrated implementation of NDCs, the SDGs and Agenda 2063.

The UN Chronicle is not an official record. The views expressed by individual authors, as well as the boundaries and names shown and the designations used in maps or articles, do not necessarily imply official endorsement or acceptance by the United Nations.