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Strengthening Africa’s stance in climate negotiations


“Science tells us that Africa is the most vulnerable continent, yet it has contributed the least in terms of emissions. Africa’s voice in the global climate negotiations therefore becomes critical,” said George Wamukoya, team leader of the African Group of Negotiators Expert Support (AGNES), a think tank supported by IDRC since its inception in 2015. “We are proud to say that Africa is now recognized as the strongest agriculture negotiating group and that others are adopting our model,” added Wamukoya, who is also lead coordinator on agriculture for G77+China, a coalition of 134 United Nations-member countries.

Africa made important contributions at the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations in Egypt, as it has done at previous COP meetings. COP27 occurred near the end of a year that witnessed multiple extreme weather events across every continent — the need for strong negotiations and for evidence-based science has never been greater in the world’s discussions on global warming.

This year alone, super-charged tropical storms, intense flooding and more prolonged droughts resulted in billions of dollars of damage to infrastructure, causing homelessness for millions of people and untold damage to agriculture and food security. There is no place in the world left unscathed by climate change, but the Global South is the most vulnerable. The adverse effects of the climate crisis, including increased food insecurity, water scarcity, reduced crop yields and disrupted food systems, have taken a toll on African households and the continent’s economic growth — seven out of 10 of the most climate change-vulnerable countries are in Africa.

Yet, prior to 2008, every African country negotiated on its own (unlike, for example, the European Union, which took a common stand on behalf of its member states). A lack of scientific data also hindered negotiations. At the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit (COP15) there was no scientific data available to accurately calculate the cost for Africa to adapt to climate change.

Negotiating with one African voice

Keenly aware of the lack of coordination between policymakers, scientists and negotiators to provide such evidence, the heads of states under the African Union decided that, following COP15, Africa should have one voice and negotiate as a bloc. This led to strengthening the African Group of Negotiators with the guidance of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment and the African Union’s Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change.

In 2015, ahead of COP21, IDRC supported the formalization of AGNES with the objective of bringing negotiators, policymakers and scientists together to forge a common African position informed by science. It was during COP21 that the Paris Agreement on Climate Change highlighted the urgent need for attention for the agriculture sector in its preamble and recognized “the fundamental priority of safeguarding food security and ending hunger, and the particular vulnerabilities of food production systems to the adverse impacts of climate change.”

In November 2017, AGNES played a critical role at COP23 in Bonn, resulting in the adoption of two historic decisions: the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture and the Gender Action Plan.

Climate change positions backed by science

“In all the positions that we take, we must do technical or background papers to generate evidence guiding that position,” Wamukoya explains. “Ahead of every climate change conference, we convene pre-meetings where scientists and negotiators congregate to discuss the agenda and identify areas that require evidence. The scientists are then able to help negotiators in packaging a common African position that is informed by science.”

The evidence-based science model, the brainchild of AGNES, has been replicated in Asia and in Latin American countries. “I have been told that I must deliver on agriculture,” emphasizes Wamukoya. “And science-driven policies will be key to implementation in Africa.”

In addition, AGNES has been running a training initiative to build a pool of well-equipped negotiators. Over the past year, more than 500 professionals in public and private sectors, civil society and academia from 50 countries in Africa participated in AGNES’ Climate Governance, Diplomacy and Negotiations Leadership Program. Of these participants, 75% have been young people and 43% of them women.

The rising cost of adapting to climate change shocks across the continent is estimated to reach USD50 billion every year by 2050 if the global temperature increase remains within 2°C above preindustrial levels, the United Nations Environment Program reported in 2015. This, despite the continent accounting for less than 4% of global emissions. Delivering a good outcome every year at COP is therefore an imperative. Backed by AGNES, the African Group of Negotiators has been making a case at COP27 for adaptation, doubling adaptation finance, creating greater prominence for loss and damage discussions, increasing mitigation measures and institutionalizing agriculture in the climate change negotiating process.

This article reports on information shared in a presentation at IDRC’s African Green Revolution Forum side event on September 5, 2022. The presentation was delivered by George Wamukoya, team leader of the African Group of Negotiators Expert Support and by Laura Cramer, science officer at the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Learn more about IDRC’s work with AGNES