Reports project that given current activities, the world will exceed the threshold for dangerous climate change in 2030. To address this forecast, 196 States plus the European Union met in Madrid, Spain in December 2019 for COP 25—the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The goal of COP 25 was to move towards the operationalization of agreements under the Convention on Climate Change (the “Convention”), including the Paris Agreement, which codifies States’ pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Though the Convention’s implementation guidelines were agreed to last year at COP 24 in Poland, COP 25 largely failed to make progress on those guidelines. The region with perhaps most at stake is Africa.

Why Africa?

Though Africa accounts for less than 4 percent of global carbon emissions, the continent has a keen interest in global climate negotiations due to its vulnerability to climate change.

Experts identify Africa as the most vulnerable continent to climate change impacts under all climate scenarios above 1.5 degrees Celsius. Key reasons for this are:

  • Ninety-five percent of global rain-fed agriculture grows in Sub-Saharan Africa—a significant share of which is critical to GDP and employment, and as a food source for consumers and the millions of small-holder farmers on the continent.
  • The degree of expected climate change is large. The two most extensive land-based end-of-century projected decreases in rainfall occur over Africa: one over North Africa and the other over southern Africa.
  • Africa’s climate system is controlled by a complex mix of large-scale weather systems, many from distant parts of the globe and, in comparison with other inhabited regions, is vastly understudied.
  • The capacity for adaptation to climate change is relatively low given the effects of poverty, which reduce choice at the individual level.

Therefore African governments will need to prioritize and act on climate change. Unfortunately, COP 25 failed to galvanize international momentum on this.

In what ways did COP 25 fail?

Overall, COP 25 was “disappointing” in that, as the UN Secretary General stated, “the international community lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation, and finance to tackle the climate crisis.” COP 25 fell short in three key areas:

First, negotiators failed to agree to a deal that would limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels — a key goal of the Paris Agreement. As described above, if warming occurs above this range, Africa is most at risk of experiencing the severe negative consequences.

Second, no concrete decisions were made at COP 25 on key agenda items such as the carbon markets (under Paris Agreement Art. 6), and the financing of climate disasters. Instead, these agenda items were moved to 2020.   Failure to agree on these items—which govern how States can work across borders to meet their climate change targets, particularly the rules on Article 6 and relatedly, potential double-counting issues—could break the efficacy of the Paris Agreement.

Carbon markets allow States to purchase emissions reductions from other States that have already cut their emissions more than pledged. This is important for States that struggle to meet their emission-reduction targets under their nationally determined contributions, or otherwise want to pursue less expensive emission cuts. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement contains three paragraphs related to the carbon markets: one which provides an accounting framework (Art. 6.2), one that establishes a mechanism for trading credits from emissions reductions (Art. 6.4), and another that establishes a program for non-market approaches (Art. 6.8). COP 25 meant to finalize the rules supporting these concepts.

The ultimate objective of the Convention on Climate Change is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic [human induced] interference with the climate system” (Convention Art. 2). Therefore, a well-designed Article 6 framework could help States significantly increase their efforts to tackle climate change. From a financial perspective, the potential cost savings from a globally integrated carbon market are as high as hundreds of billions of dollars per year. If written poorly, the Article 6 framework could instead frustrate meeting current contributions and undercut progress on this front.

Third, COP 25 did not reach agreement on more ambitious global targets. Though African States and small island nations pushed for more ambitious targets, those efforts were generally opposed by the United States, Brazil, India, and China. As Africa’s climate system depends on weather systems from other parts of the world, the failure to agree to more ambitious targets will affect conditions in Africa.

Increasingly important for Africa, is that developed countries deliver on their pledge from COP 15 to jointly raise $100 billion per year in climate financing by 2020 to address the needs of developing countries, including those in Africa. Since COP 15, the parties have agreed to set a more ambitious targets by 2025. In 2016, developed countries raised approximately $59 billion and in 2017, they raised approximately $71 billion. Following COP 25, it is uncertain whether the original $100 billion target will be met.

The road ahead

Given the shortcomings of COP 25, Africa has a strong interest in becoming more involved in climate talks in 2020. Key interests include advocating for well-written rules concerning Paris Agreement Article 6, a plan for financing climate disasters, financing that at minimum reaches the $100 billion/year pledge, and more ambitious targets that will help the continent not only mitigate, but also build resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change.