African leaders call for adaptation-mitigation parity and 1.5°C target in 2015 climate agreement

Ministers and delegates from 54 African nations gathered last week in Cairo, Egypt, for the 15th African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). At the end of the meeting, convened under the theme “Managing Africa’s Natural Capital for Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication”, they issued a declaration (the Cairo Declaration) that, among others, calls for a binding climate change agreement to be adopted in Paris this year consistent with keeping global temperatures below 1.5°C from pre-industrial levels by the end of the century.

“The Cairo Declaration covers a wide range of priorities for the continent”, AMCEN President and Minister of Environment of Egypt, Dr. Khaled Fahmy, said in the official statement. “From climate change and natural resources management to the illegal trade in wildlife and the integration of the inclusive green economy across sectors. African countries are showing solidarity and a determination to play a positive and responsible role in support of sustainable development, building resilience and poverty eradication”.

Stressing Africa’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change, in particular the adverse effects on ecosystems, food production, and social and economic development, Ministers also agreed to support an agreement in 2015 that provides parity between mitigation and adaptation, highlighting the increased burden for adaptation in developing countries and asking for a global goal for adaptation that includes support for developing countries.

Studies and scientific findings presented during the meeting urged for climate adaptation actions in the African continent. The second edition of the Africa Adaptation Gap report indicates that extensive areas of Africa will exceed 2°C by the last two decades of this century, relative to the late 20th century mean annual temperature, with severe impacts on agricultural production, food security, human health and water availability.

Projections for Africa in a 4°C increase scenario suggest sea levels could rise faster than the global average and reach 80 cm above current levels by 2100 along the Indian and Atlantic Ocean coastlines, with particularly high numbers of people at risk of flooding in the coastal cities of Mozambique, Tanzania, Cameroon, Egypt, Senegal and Morocco.

According to the findings, adaptation costs would reach US $50 billion annually by mid-century.

“This is not just a question of money; millions of people and their livelihoods are at stake,” said Binilith Mahenge, President of AMCEN and Tanzania’s Minister of State for Environment. “Africa’s population will be at an increasing risk of undernourishment due to increasing food demand and the detrimental effects of climate change on agriculture on the continent. Global warming of 2˚C would put over 50 per cent of the African continent’s population at risk of undernourishment. Yet, the IPCC showed that without additional mitigation we are heading to 4˚C of warming.”

“2015 is a crucial year for global and regional action on the environment and sustainable development”, said Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in his address to AMCEN. “ A few months from now, the world will adopt a Post-2015 Development Agenda and a set of Sustainable Development Goals that will define a path for the next generation of development. At the same time, the month of December will witness the convening of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP21, the objective of which is to achieve a legally binding and universal agreement on climate change. Indeed, the coming months will determine how Africa’s development priorities and climate change common position are articulated and reflected in the context of global negotiations”.

Egypt, which hosted the first AMCEN meeting in 1985, is taking over presidency of the regional body for the next two years. According to The Cairo Post, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi met ministers and delegates at the AMCEN opening and announced Egypt will speak on behalf of all African ministers at Paris climate conference. “African countries have no historical responsibility for global warming”, Sisi reportedly said.

During the AMCEN meeting the Egyptian government with UNEP and partners also released the “Green Economy Scoping Study for Egypt”. According to the report, strategic policy interventions to accelerate Egypt’s sustainable development could lead the country to achieve annual savings of over US$1.3 billion in the agriculture sector, and US$1.1 billion in the water sector, as well as a 13 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions, and a 40 per cent reduction in water consumption.


(Image: AMCEN President, Dr. Khaled Mohamed, Egypt State Minister of Environmental Affairs Mr. Fahmy Abdel Aal, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and Amb. Mahmoud Talaat during the launch of the Africa’s Adaptation Gap report. March 4, 2015. Photo credit: UNEP/Flickr)