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Agriculture neglected in Cop21 negotiation text, AU expert

media Estherine Fotabong, the Nepad Director of Programme Implementation and Coordination. RFI

This week is critical for negotiators at Cop21 in Paris - with a working text on the table, environment ministers from Africa will be discussing how the issues of dealing with climate change can take priority. RFI spoke to Estherine Fotabong, the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) Director of Programme Implementation and Coordination, to get her take on the closed-door talks.

What is Nepad’s view of the climate negotiations so far?

Africa came with certain expectations-- one, we are hoping that from Paris, we will get a legally binding agreement; two, we’ll get one that is ambitious, accompanied by financing, as well as provide a space for technology transfer to African countries. So, key for Africa is that we’ll have adaptation as a central element in the negotiation outcome. Because for Africa, this is priority number one, two, and three.

Can you talk about specifics on adaptation for someone who might not know exactly what that is for the African countries?

Of course, issues of drought have been there before, but what we are experiencing for the past several years is increased frequency of drought, of floods and coastal erosion, and what this means in practical terms is what impact it will have on the livelihoods of Africans. So when you talk to smallholder farmers, they tell you, ‘We have to change our planting seasons, because we don’t know when the rains are coming. We have to change the seed varieties that we use because the seeds that we used to use before don’t respond well as a result of this change in climate patterns.’ And consequently, it results in reduction in productivity for those involved in agriculture. So it is critical for us to look at the issue of adaptation in order to address issues of food security as well as national security. Then we would be supporting the capacity of farmers to have new technologies that are well adapted to the changing climate conditions.

Western countries are looking at the continent of Africa as a place that currently has dirty energy (coal) but has more opportunities to put clean energy in place, that Africa could be a showcase for new clean technologies. But this could take some time. How do you see it?

That is a really interesting question, because for Africa I think first and foremost the issue is about debt development. That is what is driving leaders’ positions for the continent. Let me say inclusive development, development that is not just about increasing GDP (Gross Domestic Product), but development that trickles down to the local people so you can see an increase in the quality of life of African citizens. So, the question whether you continue with traditional energy, like coal, or whether you embrace renewable energy or cleaner energy is an important one, but I don’t think the African countries are in a position to choose. Whatever decision comes from Paris, we are going to move to completely renewable energy. That is the pathway that we’ll have to go, and I think that Africa has abundant assets that they can invest in terms of renewable energy. We have a lot of water, there’s a lot of sunshine. But I think in the short term, there will be still some use of the traditional energy sources. The question in our view, is what kind of technologies will be made available to African countries? So even when you’re using the traditional energy sources, like coal, you minimize and mitigate the pollution effect of the use of this traditional energy source. I think in the short term, you will have a mixture, but the goal is in the medium to long term is to transition to cleaner energy sources. But for that to happen, Africa has to be accompanied by technology as well as financing, to support this transition to this new economy.

Do you think that there is enough attention placed on agriculture and technology transfer?

No. We don’t think that the negotiation text, as it is now, sufficiently deals with the issue of agriculture. From the African side, throughout the negotiations, we have been trying to introduce it so that it’s more mainstream in the negotiation text. That being said, I think if we look at the INDCS, (Intended Nationally Determined Contributions) from the member states, most African countries have mentioned agriculture as one critical area in contributing to emission cuts. So in an indirect way, one could say it’s been brought into the climate discussion, because the INDCS are an insurance to the decisions that will come from Paris. The negotiations text itself doesn’t sufficiently deal with the issue of agriculture as we’d like to see. Because of this I think we’ve tried to be creative as a continent. The INDCS do cover them but also we are building partnerships with development partners, with private sector, so that we can have investment flowing to Africa’s agriculture. We have set up initiatives such as the African Climate Smart Agriculture initiative, which is really to promote best practices in agriculture interventions in the continent. There is a Nepad Climate Fund that is supporting activities on the ground for communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change. So we are trying to look at this from two fronts, push through the official negotiation channels, which, regrettably I don’t think we are going to be able to get a strong text on this, but pursue this other channel so that we have partnerships that can support investment actions on the ground, support policy reforms on the ground, that will make sure to help us so that Africa’s agriculture is responsive and adapted to the change in climate patterns.

One of the issues, of course, is financing, and I know that the African group is frustrated because of the issues regarding climactic justice, or climate reparations. Do you think it has been addressed here? The US came out and said, ‘mea culpa, it’s our fault, we’re going to do something about it.’ Have you seen that yet?

Well, it’s one thing to say ‘it’s our fault’ and it’s another about taking action and demonstrating through that action that there is a recognition of that fault and a recognition that Africa suffers the most while it is the least contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. The 100 billion that was promised in Copenhagen is still not there. So the pace at which developed countries are contributing to the commitment on climate financing that they have pledged to is very slow. They are not responding at the pace in which we are experiencing the effects of climate change at the level of our countries and our communities. The frustrations of negotiators are real, civil society is frustrated. While not wanting to use the word ‘compensation’, in a way you could see some sense in that, if you talk about climate justice, if you talk about environmental justice. Resources that can help these countries to adapt, to transition, to the new realities they are facing, if the responsibilities for the international community to act on those commitments that they have made.

Follow Laura Angela Bagnetto on twitter: @LA_Bagnetto

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