The decade that gave us Paris Agreement: And so much more

Jeffrey Gogo
This decade folds in a few days’ time. Perhaps the most significant global event within the climate change and environment sector in the last 10 years is the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.

Significant in the sense that it marked a departure from a system that compelled only the richest countries to reduce greenhouse gases emissions, to one that included all the 200 governments that agreed to the treaty.

It was the first time that reluctant world governments formally agreed to a framework, which seeks to halt climate change’s dangerous impacts in a legally binding and verifiable manner.

State parties took on self-determined emissions reduction plans that may be verified through an open process of transparency and accountability, even though that still remains an area in the grey.

At its core, the Paris Accord aims to curb global temperature rise at well below 2°C in this century, and to pursue efforts to limit that to 1,5°C.

Although that may fall short of what the science demands for a safer world, it is better than no target at all, as was the case with its failed predecessor, the Kyoto Protocol.

Hailed in Western capitals as a milestone achievement, if only because the West has long been keen on abdicating historical responsibility while dragging everyone else into a new self-serving agreement, the Paris Treaty did not please everybody, not least African countries.

That’s because Africa contributes the least to global warming emissions — accounting for under five percent of the global emissions total.

So the argument has always focussed on what industrialised states can do to help African nations cope with the climate problem they created, rather than imposing new demands and restrictions on a continent yet to reach its full potential for development.

It is rather cruel irony that a continent, which accounts for the least amount of carbon emissions is the one most vulnerable to climate change, with repeat extreme events like drought and flooding having become commonplace.

Future models predict temperature increase in sub-Saharan Africa to tip the scales at 6 degrees Celsius by the end of this century — a rise much quicker than the global average.

According to the UN expert panel on climate change, rainfall will decline sharply across Southern Africa and hot days and droughts will become frequent.

Against this background, Africa is keen to see measurable progress around climate finance, adaptation, mitigation, damage and loss and technology transfer.

But the global climate talks, which are progressing under the guiding force of the Paris Agreement, have been disappointingly slow, and often with disregard for Africa’s priority areas.

What generally weakens the African proposition is that we don’t bring much to the table except our righteous demands for what would amount to compensation. Some other countries bring not only money and leadership to the table, but also skilled, shrewd negotiators.

Except for the world’s second largest emitter, the United States, which pulled out of the Paris Agreement at the behest of Donald Trump as well as weakened commitment from countries like Russia and Canada, the accord appears to have gained currency within the European Union, in China and elsewhere.

This is also the decade that climate change assumed new global significance from both governments and ordinary people, as attention was drawn through various media platforms to the inadequacy of actions needed to protect a world already on the precipice.

Activists have already been at the centre of advocacy and education.

It gave us the South Korean-headquartered Green Climate Fund (GCF), a special UN facility for tackling climate challenges throughout the world.

Often criticised for its stringent lending criteria, which is arguably designed to keep the poorest countries at bay, the GCF has, however, extended about US$12 million to Zimbabwe for climate resilience since 2016.

Founded in 2010, the Fund has distributed only a few hundred million dollars. The idea is to dish out more, once capitalisation reaches the projected $100 billion, but those rich countries which pledged to finance the GCF haven’t been playing ball.

Back home, the last 10 years have seen significant milestones in the climate change sector. Zimbabwe now has a climate-focussed Government line ministry, complete with a climate change management department and a Cabinet Minister directly responsible for such issues.

A National Climate Policy and a National Climate Change Response Strategy has been put in place.

This is important because it allows for climate change to become a core part of national budgetary and developmental processes. That said, the funds have not flowed at the scale that adequately responds to existing and future challenges.

But with a dedicated climate change department, the country has been able to do more to address the climate problem.

The department managed to mobilise funds outside State coffers. The most recent example of this is a project grant of US$10 million from the Green Climate Fund.

The funding is for a project Masvingo and Rushinga, which aims to directly support long-term adaptation to climate change of 10 000 vulnerable, food insecure households — or about 50 000 people, two thirds of them women.

The climate change management department was responsible for drafting Zimbabwe’s nationally determined contributions, in line with the demands of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

The US$90 billion plan targets to cut emissions by over a third by 2030, mostly through increased investments in renewable energy.

The goal is reliant on industrialised countries providing the necessary funding, with only a fraction of it coming from the Government.

Now, as 2020 marks the beginning of a new decade, the focus is on whether countries will deliver on their promises, particularly around the issues of mitigation, adaptation and finance.

God is faithful.

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