COP 17: Africa urged to commit resources to adaptation

Agriculture, water and energy, are three areas Africa has been urged to commit resources for adaptation to climate change, at the ongoing 17th Conference of Parties in Durban, South Africa, according to the Information and Communication Service of the Economic Commission for Africa.

Although happening at side of the conference, the call has heightened interest in adaptation and repositioned it as an area in which Africa could actually lead the rest of the world, it says.

Leaders on the continent as well as scientists have thus specifically been tasked to reformulate adaptation as a cross-cutting issue that can be an integral part of overall development policies, in the context of climate change and “take the initiative in designing and funding theses activities rather than wait for assistance from abroad.

Leading in the call at the ECA-led side-event, was Mr. Josue Dione, Director of Food Security and Sustainable Development Division at the ECA, who said that by integrating adaptation in agriculture, energy, water and other development sectors, African countries would avoid creating new structures that could consume resources that are already scarce on the continent.

Adding his voice, Dr. Saleemul Huq, International Institute of Environment and Development, who was a panellist, said, “adaptation is a new business and no one has done it before. Africa should take the lead in this area and in the future, it will sell this expertise to the rest of the world.”

He gave the example of Bangladesh that has decided to fund its adaptation activities from its national budget to the tune of $300 million every year, urging African countries to emulate that step.

“Adaptation to the effects of climate change is very important to Africa and other developing countries…. and “if you say adaptation is important to you, you should put your money where your mouth is, like Bangladesh has done,” he said, referring to African countries.

Dr. Huq urged Africa to work towards becoming the most adaptive continent, calling on leaders and negotiators not to “sell vulnerability, misery but abilities to cope, to adapt”.

Another panellist, Dr. Fatima Denton, team-leader from the Canadian-funded Climate Change and Adaptation in Africa (CCAA), advised that adaptation should not be seen as a separate initiative but as an important process of social transformation.

“Many people see adaptation as an outcome, but the quality of the process is also important in determining what the outcome will be,” she said, before identifying energy, water and agriculture as three important areas for adaptation in Africa.

Dr. Denton added that generating and disseminating knowledge about climate change is an important element of adaptation.

“Vulnerable people struggling on a daily basis with questions about how to adapt to extreme weather patterns, or about how to feed themselves, need to be part of the conversation,” she said, emphasising the important role played by institutions in bringing about social change, and arguing that “they should be supported and fully embedded in the adaptation process.”

However, Dr. Tom Downing of Global Climate Adaptation Partnership said that it was difficult to measure the costs of adaptation, or non adaptation, as it is difficult to measure the damage that climate change does to people and communities.

For his part, Dr. Heather Mc Gray of the World Resources Institute listed some important steps that may help in discussing how to move from planning adaptation measures to actual implementation.

These include the sharing of knowledge and information across institutional boundaries; developing mechanisms for joint decision making between different sectoral institution; sharing resources between institutions; conducting an analysis of conflicts and synergies across sectoral boundaries and developing incentives for the private sector to participate in adaptation initiatives.

In his contribution, Mr. Richard Myungi, a negotiator for the government of Tanzania at COP 17, said that climate change has a multiplier effect on the problems already facing Africa, such as poverty and food insecurity, adding that it is important that the countries responsible for climate change pay for adaptation.

Stating that OECD countries are also facing financial difficulties, he advised, “It is therefore important to explore innovative methods of raising financial resources for adaptation from other sources.”

The roundtable discussion was the first in a series jointly to be organised by the African Union Commission (AUC), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Development Bank (AfDB) and was moderated by Dr. Abebe Haile Gebriel, Director of the Department for Agriculture and Rural Economy at the African Union commission and chair of the Africa Pavilion Steering Committee of COP 17.

Dr. Seleshi Bekele of ECA’s African Climate Policy Centre who coordinated the organisation of the side-event praised the quality of the discussion and said the massive attendance attests to the centrality of adaptation in Africa’s strategy to cope with the effects of climate change.

It would be recalled that African Heads of State have thrown their full weight behind adaptation as Africa’s main priority in climate change negotiations. The choice of the theme was in fact, to support that position, Seleshi explained.

By Edmund Smith-Asante

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