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Africa’s challenging climate game-plan

<img alt=“savannahtree.jpg” src=“http://blogs.nature.com/climatefeedback/savannahtree.jpg” width=“260” height=“339” align=“right” hspace=“10px”//> Although billions of dollars have been set aside for climate change projects to benefit developing countries, they have “not taken off in Africa in any significant way”, says Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Africa is one of the regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and also the least likely to be able to afford the costs of adapting to it.

Out of the 1643 “clean development” projects registered with the UNFCCC, only 30 (less than 2 percent) are within Africa. In comparison, 72 percent of projects are in Asia and the Pacific and 26 percent in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 80 percent of the projects in Africa are in Northern Africa and South Africa. The needs of African nations are often side-stepped in international negotiations because their voices are drowned out by the developing nation powerhouses: China, India and Brazil.

The only way African nations can get their voice heard is by working together. But that’s not easy. Africa is politically, economically, environmentally and culturally very diverse. The biggest division is probably South Africa, which is basically a developed nation in a developing continent. But the Arab countries in northern Africa also tend to align themselves with the Middle East; Oil-rich countries, such as Nigeria and Angola, are part of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and share their interests; and Sub-Saharan Africa is further divided into English-, French- and Portuguese-language regions.

To improve Africa’s climate game-plan, more than 300 negotiators, ministers, experts and organizations related to Africa converged in Nairobi last week at the third African Ministerial Conference on the Environment. On 29 May, ministers announced they had forged a “shared vision,” asking industrialized countries to cut their greenhouse-gas emissions by 25 to 40 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, and for more financial and technical support to help Africa cope with climate change. Beyond that, the ‘Nairobi Declaration’ contains few specifics.

And it’s unclear whether the vague political statement will give Africa a stronger voice this week in Bonn, or during the international climate negotiations in Copenhagen in December this year. “It was difficult to agree on how much to ask for,” says Sputnik Ratau, a spokesman for Buyelwa Sonjica, South Africa’s minister of water and the environment, who chaired the ministerial meetings. “Different countries have different needs.”

“Saying Africa is vulnerable and needs a lot of money is easy,” adds Saleemul Huq, who works with developing-country negotiators through the International Institute for Environment and Development in London. “But coming up with more nuanced negotiating texts is not that easy.”

A longer version of this story is available to subscribers on Nature News.

Anjali Nayar is an intern reporter on Nature News.

Image: Punchstock/Digital Vision

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    April Lorier said:

    Yes, it is unfortunate that the needs of African nations are side-stepped in international negotiations because of China, India and Brazil. Africa is very diverse, it’s true, and I pray for a spirit of cooperative unity. I’m very thankful for the efforts of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment.