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An action agenda for Africa...discussions at the Annual Meetings and beyond

Idah Z. Pswarayi-Riddihough's picture

It’s that time of year again… this week the World Bank-IMF Annual Meetings open, making for an energetic and hectic time for all involved. For those of us working on climate change issues in Africa, this is an especially exciting time.

For one, there is heightened awareness and urgency surrounding climate change issues in Africa. In November, South Africa will assume presidency of the Convention of Parties (COP-17) meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which will take place in Durban, the first time a climate change COP will be held on the African continent. This being Africa’s “first COP”, many people not traditionally expected to be involved with such issues have been taking a lead and stepping up to the plate – country leaders and finance ministers for example, joining their environment and natural resources ministers in seeking adaptation and mitigation solutions to climate change.

In the past two weeks, three meetings–on climate-smart agriculture, environmental protection, and sustainable energy access–have been held in South Africa and Mali, creating a momentum of support for the issues that lie at the heart of Africa’s development challenges. Closely tied to this is the collective realization that is emerging: that climate is not just an environmental issue, but also fundamentally a social issue, an economic issue, and a major threat to achieving development. In fact, a changing climate affects every facet of human endeavor.

So how does one go about combating climate change within a sustainable development context? Given the cross-cutting nature of climate change effects, we believe that actions–adaptation and mitigation–are needed on a broad range of fronts.

Staying silent is a crime, so engage on climate change

TMS Ruge's picture

If you are like most people, the topic of climate change is not something you think about everyday. It was certainly not something that I thought about often. The subject seemed unattainable, incomprehensible and to be dealt with smart people. It was always a conversation where I thought I wasn’t qualified to engage in. What I have come to realize, is that climate change is part of our everyday conversation. We may not deal with the scientific terms or sit at the round table with think-tanks and heads of state, but we do talk about the effects of climate change in our own lives. We talk about the increasingly hot summers, or commiserate over pictures of the latest flood, or disucss the now unpredictable planting seasons. These are stories we share amongst ourselves without realizing they are small chapters in humanity’s tome to the subject.

Since climate change affects all of us, it seems appropriate that we all should have a voice at the decision-making table. All too often though, we only get to hear from the academics, the heads of state, or the violent protestors. Where are the voices of the common man, the single mother, the student? Where are the voices of the villagers in their garden on the outskirts of Marrakech, the shop owner on a busy street in Kigali, the sugar cane grower who can no longer predict the rains in Zambia? How do we determine our collective future if we don’t take time to listen to each other’s stories?

This is where the Connect4Climate team at the World Bank comes in. We are trying to reframe this critical conversation around a topic into a mutual exchange of listening and sharing. Ahead of the December 2011 United Nations Climate Change conference (COP17) in Durban, South Africa, Connect4Climate was launched with a photo/video competition for African youth, aged 13 to 30, in Bamako by Andrew Steer, Special Envoy for Climate Change at the World Bank.

Nine hours with Al Gore

Judy Baker's picture

On Thursday I had the honor and privilege to make a presentation on issues of sustainable urbanization and urban poverty at a small summit organized by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore in New York City. Vice President Gore is writing a book about drivers of global change that will cover a range of topics including population and demographics, which was the focus of the meeting. 

His team identified about 12 experts from a range of disciplines—a sociologist; demographer; geographer; researchers working on issues of family, aging, and gender; a writer; and an economist to explore patterns, trends, and current research. I was on a panel along with Saskia Sassen of Columbia University and David Owen of the New Yorker magazine. We all sat in a small room for 9 hours, presenting different perspectives on demographic change, each contributing from our own disciplines. 

More (and Targeted) Financing Needed to Expand Energy Access

Daniel Kammen's picture

Energy poverty cripples development prospects. Where people don’t have access to modern energy services, like reliable electricity, their ability to earn a livelihood is sabotaged. That’s why UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called — admirably — for “a revolution that makes energy available and affordable for all” in 2012, designated the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All.

This sense of urgency is needed, especially in Africa, as current International Energy Agency forecasts project that the number of people in sub-Saharan Africa without access to modern energy services will grow by almost 100 million between now and 2030 (see the figure below).

Green jobs for Africa

Daniel Kammen's picture

At a meeting of the Clean Investment Funds Partnership Forum in Cape Town there was a telling comment in a session I chaired on climate change science when a participant from the Ministry of Energy in Ethiopia got up and said, “I am glad we are talking about the tools that are available for community planning for low-carbon development, but everyone in the rural areas of East Africa sees that the climate is changing.  My mother tells me every season the rains and temperatures are different then when she was young.”

So what to do?

Putting more energy in and money towards the manufacturing of innovative green technologies is key: exploiting the wind or sun without solar panels and turbines is like trying to catch fish without a net or rod.  Africa is poised to manufacture the ‘nets’ for clean energy.

Opportunities exist at many scales of activity: from village-level programs to manufacturing improved efficiency woodstoves, to building the hardware and knowledge systems to construct local ‘mini-grids’, to national efforts and global partnerships for large-scale manufacturing.  The multinational development community can help, and is ramping up activities like the Scaling Up Renewable Energy (SREP) program that was a focus of partnership meeting on the Climate Investment Forum.   China is investing heavily in Africa at the moment, and local manufacturing and national capacity building can be part of that equation.

I chaired a session on Scaling up Manufacturing at which the panelists told remarkable stories about these opportunities.  Stimulating the green energy industry creates jobs, said Dan Gizaw, a founder of Canton, Michigan-based Danotek, a company that manufactures permanent magnet generators for wind turbines. Gizaw is from Ethiopia, and the company established manufacturing facilities there. “Manufacturing wind turbines and turbine components locally, has a job creating advantage you don’t have when you import them. We have created 475 jobs with our factory.”

Time to clear the smoke

Daniel Kammen's picture

In many parts of the world, a picture of a woman sitting in front of a smoky cookstove preparing a family meal remains an iconic picture of life today. For many families, the three- stone fire or a traditional stove as a cooking device has not changed over centuries.  This need not be the case, and in a growing number of nations, that traditional pattern is changing.

Serious research on improved cookstoves dates back to the 1950s. However, large-scale field programs focused largely on the inefficiency of designs. While the stoves may appear simple, the socio-cultural systems in which they operate, and their impacts on so many aspects of household and regional health and economics, is far from simple. Many approaches have been tried, with some successes and many failures.

Over the last few years, a more complete view of the full human and environmental health impacts of indoor air pollution and the global impact of the fuel and stove cycle has emerged. Poorly managed fuel systems encourage use of unsustainably harvested fuel such as charcoal produced from illegal and ecologically damaging informal production network.

The World Bank is looking at opportunities to improve not only cookstoves themselves, but also the full stove fuel cycle as a way to address energy poverty, human health, and the global greenhouse gas problem. I was delighted to see a new publication that looks at this nexus between health, environment and GHG benefits called Household Cookstoves, Environment, Health, and Climate Change: A New Look at an Old Problem. This report takes stock of existing knowledge on the subject and points out new opportunities by identifying `game-changers’ in the stove technology and fuels.

Fast forward to a cooler world

Richard Hosier's picture

At the C40 Summit in Sao Paolo last week, former President Clinton urged participating cities and the World Bank to make a dramatic reduction in methane and black carbon. He said it would help the earth buy some time on climate change. He has reasons to be worried: In Cancun last year, parties agreed to stabilize average global temperatures at a level not exceeding 2 degree C above pre-industrial levels. This looks difficult as 0.8 degree C warming has already taken place and GHG emissions continue to grow. 

Developed countries collectively reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by a mere 6.1% from 1990-2008. Compared to the fast track for warming, humanity is on the slow train to reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions.

President Clinton’s statement follows two recent reports that point to emerging scientific awareness that a climate change strategy focusing exclusively on carbon dioxide (CO2) is neither the quickest nor the most effective way to achieve long-term climate stabilization. These reports focus on non-CO2 emissions that stay in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time than CO2. As a result, reducing emissions of these non-CO2 gases will result in a slowing of temperature rise over the first half of the 21st century, buying time both to adapt and to transition away from carbon. 

The first report, produced by UNEP and WMO, assesses black carbon and tropospheric ozone. Black carbon—basically soot—is produced by incomplete combustion of carbon fuels, particularly diesel, wood, and coal. It is a dark suspended particle or aerosol, technically not a GHG. It is frequently emitted together with light-colored aerosols (sulfates and organic carbon) which cool the climate. The latest research indicates that, on balance, the warming effect of black carbon overpowers the cooling effect of its companions. It stays in the atmosphere for only a few weeks before falling to earth. Its warming contribution comes from its black color, making it absorb heat while in the air. If it falls onto mountain or polar snow, it accelerates glacial melt.

The state of the carbon markets is Messy - not Messi

Andrew Steer's picture

Last week Barcelona brilliantly beat Manchester United to become the soccer Champions of Europe.  This week Barcelona hosted delegates at Carbon Expo, the annual jamboree for carbon marketers organized by the World Bank and others.  But sadly, the style, strength, efficiency and confidence shown by Messi, Villa, and Pedro are not much in evidence in global carbon markets today. More like my old fourth division club, Bexley United, which I believe has now ceased to exist.

  • There’s certainly a lot to be gloomy about in the world of carbon trading over the past year:
  • The overall size of the market worldwide shrank for the first time ever in 2010
  • The primary CDM market (Clean Development Mechanism) – the principal window of carbon markets to the developing world – fell another 46% to $1.5 billion, down from $7.4 billion in 2005, and the lowest since trading began in 2005.
  • Legislative disappointments in the USA, Australia and Japan, and the market have now become even more concentrated, with well over 90% of trades originating in Europe.
  • Serious irregularities and fraud in the European Trading System (ETS), and suspicions of monkey business in some CDM HFC (Hydrofluorocarbon) transactions.  

Above all, confidence in the post 2012 market, when the first Kyoto Protocol Commitment period comes to an end, is on the floor, and thus demand for post-2012 deliveries is close to zero.

These points are all documented in the Bank’s new State of Carbon Markets Report, 2011 launched this week. And yet 3,000 people turned up at the Carbon Expo this week, and seemed to doing deals and having a good time. Is there anything positive out there? Yes, actually.

First, the overall size of the market was still $142 billion, no small change, although overwhelmingly concentrated within the European Trading System.

The infinite win

Flore de Préneuf's picture

A year-long drought has transformed farmers into full-time charcoal burners in the part of Eastern Kenya I visited last week. Delayed rains have also had an impact on farmers in greener parts of the country where land degradation and over-exploited soils are dragging yields down.

But the story that emerges from this man-altered landscape is not all bleak. A range of actors, energized by the food and climate crisis, are taking measures to restore the balance between productive land use and functioning ecosystems, in ways that enhance the resilience of both. 

Kenya's parliament recently requested that farmers put 10% of their farmland under tree cover. Rwanda announced in February a program to reverse the degradation of its soil, water, land and forest resources by 2035. Development partners like the World Bank and the Global Environment Facility have invested millions of dollars in improving the management of ecosystems to protect livelihoods, biodiversity, water access, and other vital services. The World Resources Institute has painstakingly mapped over 450 million hectares of degraded forest landscapes in Africa that could be restored (See map). In fact, the urge to heal the planet's sores has given birth to a booming ecosystem of NGOs, partnerships, social enterprises and research initiatives that build on each others' successes and share a broad vision for positive change.


We know how to triple maize yields using fertilizer trees. We know how to harvest water, slow erosion and store carbon. We even know how to get more milk out of cows by feeding them leaves from trees that stock carbon, provide firewood, fix nitrogen and retain soil moisture – in a changing climate! All the while, those practices help farmers feed their families, attract wildlife, build assets and pay for school fees... 

So why is this kind of "infinite win" work not happening on a more meaningful scale? The organizers of a three-day Investment Forum on Mobilizing Private Investment in Trees and Landscape Restoration in Africa this week in Nairobi are hoping to lift the veil on some of the constraints to sustainable tree-based investment and provoke more synergies between public and private interests.

Cold comfort for islanders

Angus Friday's picture

Nero fiddled while Rome burnt. The band played while the Titanic sank. And today, it could be said that a cacophony of international climate voices muse in discord, while the sea level rises. These were my thoughts when colleagues and I received the news of the latest report by Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program (AMAP), the scientific arm of the eight-nation Arctic Council, asserting that sea-level rise could reach 1.5 metres by 2100. This is from the executive summary of their report while the full version is awaited. It is a sharp contrast to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC’s) 0.58 metres in its worst case scenario.  This latest warning from the Arctic Council must now serve as a new score, with an urgent tempo, with which to conduct, orchestrate and harmonize international efforts towards rapid action on climate change.

The IPCC’s 2007 findings on sea level rise in its fourth assessment report was an important milestone helping to mobilize political momentum and to build a robust international process around the climate challenge. But at the time, as related to us in a recent presentation byDr. Robert Bindschadler, Emeritus Scientist on Hydrospheric and Biospheric Sciences at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, ice sheet dynamics were not accounted for in these projections. 

In the tropics, far away from the polar ice caps, the difference between “accounted for” and “not accounted for” is not merely a margin of error in a report. For the 41 million people living on the 43 island nations that girdle the planet, it is a matter of survival. With this new information, low-lying coral atolls in the Indian and the Pacific Oceans are facing a real and present danger of sovereign extinction. Caribbean islands face inundation with storm surges heightened by more intense hurricanes due to sea temperature rise. 

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