You don’t hear much about Africa during the global debate over climate change policy The world’s big greenhouse gas emitters– China, the U.S., Europe, Russia and India—get most of the attention, for obvious reasons. But Africans may already have begun to suffer the impacts of climate change: Some people including Jared Diamond and UN chief Ban-Ki Moon say the war in Darfur is the world’s first climate-related conflict. So Africans would be beneficiaries of a new emphasis on finding money – payments from the developed world to the global south – for adaptation to climate change. What’s more, Africa has an opportunity to benefit from an expansion of carbon offset projects. One of the most exciting areas in carbon finance is the potential to alleviate poverty while trying to mitigate global warming.
I had a chance to listen to two prominent African environmentalists during this week’s UN climate conference in Poznan. Wangari Matthai is the 2004 Nobel Laureate, the first woman in East Africa to earn a doctorate degree (an amazing and disheartening fact, no?) and founder of the Green Belt Movement, an NGO that has planted billions of trees and taught rural Africans to stand up for their human rights. Sindiso Ngwenya, who is the secretary general of as association of 19 eastern and southern African nations called Comesa, spoke about the launch of a project called the Africa Climate Solution, which is designed to compensate Africans for taking care of their land in ways that mitigate climate change.
As with most things related to climate-change policy, the details can get mind-numbing in a hurry. But the two key opportunities for African nations come under the umbrellas of mitigation and adaption.
Re mitigation: There’s a ongoing debate among the parties to whatever will succeed the Kyoto protocol about how to reward both afforestation (a fancy word for planting new trees) and avoided deforestation (stopping the destruction of forests). Right now, neither afforestation or deforestation is financed under the Kyoto protocol. Interestingly, companies including Dell, Marriott and Fiji Water, working with the nonprofit Conservation International, are developing forest preservation projects in Madagascar, Brazil and Fiji on a voluntary basis.
Matthai and Ngwenya would also like to see “sustainable land management, including sustainable agriculture” including as a legal offset under any new global treaty. This would provide subsidies to African farmers to the degree that they embrace sustainable practices that they otherwise would not—not an easy thing to measure or monitor, but so it goes. Indeed, it’s conceivable that even small landholders could be paid for the carbon value of planting 10 or 15 trees on their property. That’s a twofer, dealing with poverty and climate change together.
Re adaptation; This is a big, emerging issue. It was a bit of a verboten topic among environmentalists for a while—they wanted to argue that it is impossible to “adapt” to climate change—but it’s now very much on the table. (I’ll come back to it another day.) The news out of Poznan is that poor countries may have access to a fund of as much as $900 million to adapt to climate change. Yvo de Boer, the UN’s climate chief, told reporters this week, “I expect and hope that we will see the launch of the adaptation fund.” As Bloomberg news explains:
The adaptation fund draws its income from the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism. The CDM allows countries with binding greenhouse-gas emissions limits to meet their targets by investing in clean-energy projects in developing countries. Those projects generate so-called carbon credits, tradable permits that each represent a ton of carbon dioxide. Two percent of the credits are given to the adaptation fund.
Yes, it’s a murky business. Think about it; How will the people whose job it is to dole out that money decide whether it is being used to adapt to climate change? How do you measure something so uncertain?
But even the Bush administration supports an adaptation fund, saying that it is not only a moral imperative to help those whose livelihoods are threatened or destroyed by climate change but also a strategic one, to prevent failed states and instability in the global south.
Regions damaged by climate-related deforestation or a tsunami need help rebuilding, Paula Dobriansky, the under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs, told me in Poznan. “Adaptation is going to be necessary,” she said.
That’s the grim reality we’re facing.