Ian Britton

World News


Is INDC Changing Africa’s Climate Focus?

The notion of Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) in the climate negotiations emerged in the Lima Call for Climate Action, as a lifeline to pause the accelerated increase in global temperature. While INDC is framed as a bottom-up approach intended to expand the action-base for emission reduction, it is however undermined by the intrinsic skewedness in the respective share of emissions currently accounted for by different countries, and the inverse distribution in emission intensity between the top and the bottom emission ranking to merit an interchange. This raises major questions of imbalance in the global pursuit for emission reduction while simultaneously curbing climate risk burden with adaptation.

Africa for example, was a major recipient of ‘benevolent’ support for the formulation of its INDC. For example 23 African countries received support for their INDCs from a single provider! This raised eyebrows in several quarters from where some of the following clarifications have been repeatedly demanded:

  • With such a tiny contribution to total global emissions (<4%) when compared to major polluters such as the US and China which together contribute over 31 percent of global emissions, why should Africa be the kingpin for Paris Climate Negotiations?
  • Why has Africa suddenly emerged as the key player and the main metric to gauge the outcome of the Paris Climate Negotiations?
  • Is it the significant proportion of climate risk burden that Africa bears that has propelled the continent to the forefront of the current global climate negotiation?
  • What difference will Africa’s intended nationally determined contribution (INDC) make in reconfiguring current and future GHG Levels even if the continent was to ambitiously aim for a net zero emissions as Ethiopia has done?

The irony of Africa as a ‘major player’ in a new climate deal

Though Africa bears the greatest risk burden of climate change, the continent also holds the greatest share of the mitigating solutions as well for climate change. This is not on the premise of responsibility for the cause, but as a result of the natural endowment of viable and livable stable carbon stocks both below and aboveground pools that represent major sinks than source of carbon, sequestering carbon emissions beyond the frontiers of the continent.

In comparison to the two other major forest regions (the Amazon and Southeast Asia), the minimal perturbation and the low-convention rate of existing carbon stockholding in African forests, have created an assured sense of carbon stability in ways that are easily predictable in computations of global fluxes and projections in carbon stock dynamics.

The irony of greenness under hunger and food insecurity leaves one pondering how such an elusive arrangement will be safeguarded under the burden of climate impacts on human livelihoods in the region.

Formulation of Africa’s INDC

Requests from African countries for support from UNECA to prepare their INDCs, were boldly embraced by Dr. Carlo Lopez, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary of the UN Economic Commission for Africa who provided intellectual leadership and directives for a positive response to each of those requests. Steered by Dr. Fatima Denton, the Director of the Special Initiative Division of UNECA, the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) came forth with timely technical and financial supports to a number of African countries. While four countries received the full breath of ACPC’s assistance in the design of their INDCs, many others were partially supported technically through their participation in the methodological training workshops and through the use of the INDC methodological framework developed. Malawi, Swaziland, Cameroon and Liberia are the four countries that ACPC supported in a comprehensive manner.

Despite the vast array of institutions as service providers to African countries, it is edifying to know that ACPC was the only African regional institution in the INDC terrain that could be said to have in-depth knowledge of the swerving post of the process from the same prism view as member countries. Its ‘learning-by-doing’ approach was quite outstanding.

Leveraging Africa’s INDCs

Following the submission of the INDC by many countries including African countries, there is huge anxiety both from the public and the UNFCCC Secretariat in tallying the ambitions expressed in the INDCs, in capping global temperatures below 2°C.

While this is a relevant outcome and a worthy exercise in aggregating the mitigation ambitions of the process, it however skews the process away from Africa’s core concern of adaptation ambitions highlighted in their INDCs that reduces current levels of vulnerability.

This further fortifies the mistrust on the framing of INDC as a mitigation process with optionality for adaptation. Unfortunately, without an aggregation of the adaptation ambitions of the INDC, the full scale of mitigation is unlikely to be captured because mitigation requires adaptation, precisely because adaptation directly contributes to mitigation. For example, Ethiopia emphasized rehabilitation/regeneration of degraded landscape to reboot their agricultural productivity smartly following the ecosystem services that will be provided to the sector. On the other hand, vegetated land brings forth new carbon sinks with the enhancement of opportunities for sequestration of GHG in a synergistic balance between adaptation and mitigation.

As a result of this computational approach, the ambitiousness of Africa’s INDC is only processed and underscored on mitigation, which as well is underrepresented following the exclusion of adaptation contribution to mitigation. The whole premise of smart agriculture for example, is framed around the enhancement of both mitigation and adaptation benefits with the creation of carbon sinks in agricultural lands that actually predominates Africa’s agricultural landscape.

Lessons Learn in INDC process

For the African Climate Policy Center, there are key lessons learnt in the terrain both as an actor and an analyst with the whole process of INDC. Some of these lessons include the followings:

  1. A major revelation from an African perspective is that there are several ongoing climate change response measures in mitigation both in policies and practices which are neither counted nor accounted for in both national and global reporting. The National Communications prepared by countries under the UNFCCC process, only require the tracking and reporting of GHG emissions from some sectors. Like other inventories, it does not directly emphasize new sink pools created and actions and policies that explicitly reduce GHG emissions. Although this could still be weakly captured under the totaled emissions from a sector, it however masks the real scale of ongoing mitigation efforts. Furthermore, upholding adaptation as Africa’s main priority for climate change response has further limited the unmasking of Africa’s mitigation efforts and left it untold in any outlet except sketchily under REDD+ programmes.
  2. The second lesson learnt is that in a pursuit of national development agenda and economic growth, African countries are engaged in mitigation actions organically. As a country that does not produce fossil fuel, Malawi for example, has been engaged in fuel blending since 1982 mainly from a development perspective of saving on their foreign exchange reserves and boosting secured ownership of some proportion of their fuel supply.
    This has a knock-on effect on the enhanced opportunity for emission reduction using its national development agenda as an entry point.
  3. By adopting an action-based approach as opposed to sector-wide approach for INDC, it is feasible to establish the actual carbon budget in gigatons of CO2eq that the action is seeking to achieve instead of simply running percentages of emission reduction that is surrounded by nuances of exact reduction ambition achieved.


National development agendas serve as the pull factor for emission reduction and other adaptation measures ongoing in African countries. However, these efforts are constrained by the push factor expected to be derived from the availability of means of implementation, especially finance.

Adaptation responses generate significant emission reduction potentials that underscore the need for more investment and incentivisation of adaptation that remains a priority for Africa. Finally, African INDC ambition should be shaped by development targets and not defined by emissions targets.