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COP28: Why Africa must take bold stance on loss, adaptation

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President Ruto shakes hands with President Bola Tinubu of Nigeria during the Launch of Africa Green Industrialization Initiative during the UN Climate Change Conference COP28 at Expo City Dubai on December 2, 2023, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. PHOTO | PCS

Time is ticking. With every passing minute, humanity moves closer to surpassing the 1.5°C threshold in global temperatures. Even if we limit warming below this temperature tipping point, existing climate impacts are already irreversible.

A striking example of this was Cyclone Freddy’s devastating path across Southern Africa. Half a million people were displaced leaving them in dire need of essentials like shelter, food, and healthcare. This tragedy, one of the worst in the region’s history, is symbolised by the heartbreaking story of Albert Sharra, who lost 16 family members and an eight-month-old baby.

With Africa on the brink of, and already experiencing, irreversible losses and damages from climate-related catastrophes, the need for urgent action on adaptation and Loss and damage cannot be overstated.

The Paris Agreement underscores the importance of adaptation initiatives being conducted alongside emission reduction efforts. Unfortunately, global endeavours in 2023 to address adaptation, finance, and Loss & Damage proved disappointing, with major summits and meetings failing to agree to ambitious commitments.

The 2023 Unep Adaptation Gap report, for instance, highlights this stark reality: adaptation remains underfunded, nations ill-prepared, and investments insufficient, impeding progress in adaptation planning, implementation, and financing.

At the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai, African civil society groups have drafted a common position paper that calls for a strong emphasis on adaptation and Loss & Damage as top priorities, with seven key areas to watch at COP28.

Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA)

First, COP28 should develop a comprehensive framework for the GGA, meaning governments must agree on clear, measurable, and holistic targets. The GGA agreed on at COP26, serves as a guiding force for climate change adaptation.

The overarching goal must send a strong political message to facilitate adaptation action and investment in people, livelihoods, ecosystems, and finance. Equally crucial for Africa is for finance, technology transfer and capacity building - referred to as the means of implementation - to be scaled up.

Adaptation finance

Adaptation finance and the Global Stocktake (GST) - a two-year evaluation of the global progress on climate action - are two interlinked priorities for Africa at COP28. Despite an annual adaptation need of $53 billion, Africa currently receives only $11.4 billion, primarily in the form of loans, exacerbating the continent's debt burden.

Both the finance gap and debt burden are major barriers to accelerating adaptation initiatives and bolstering the continent's resilience. COP28 must address adaptation gaps identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC report) and the GST.

It must do this by holding developed nations accountable to their commitment to double adaptation finance. It should also set new finance targets, secure reliable, high-quality finance, and explore incentives like debt relief and tax waivers.

Loss & damage

At COP28, African civil society groups seek a fully-financed and operational loss & damage fund to address losses and damages already occurring due to devastating climate impacts across Africa.

Other vital issues related to loss & damage include initiating technical support through the Santiago Network on L&D, establishing the fund as a standalone entity accountable to the Paris Agreement and The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This must ensure that low-interest rate financing is directly accessible to communities.

Just Transition Work Programme

It is crucial to acknowledge that justice and equity issues extend beyond the energy value chain, impacting various sectors, including agriculture. Farmers and farm workers, for instance, often do not have the resources to adapt to climate impacts or transition to more sustainable practices.

This leads to unjust and unequal outcomes within the food system. To this end, COP28 must integrate adaptation into the Just Transition Work Programme based on principles of equity, social vulnerability, and dimensions of justice such as distributive justice (fair distribution of resources, costs, and opportunities).

Food and Agriculture

Considering the negative social and environmental impacts of the current global food system, a rapid transition to farmer-led, rights-based and decentralised food systems is crucial. The transition should create enabling conditions for food system actors, agroecology, food sovereignty, gender equity, and indigenous knowledge.

COP28 must also prioritise developing a roadmap for food system change, reallocating funds away from toxic inputs such as chemicals to agroecology and smallholders, and expand the focus of the work plan to food systems.

Transformative national adaptation

Finally, COP28 must prioritise efforts to strengthen the development of comprehensive national adaptation plans (NAPs) by 2025. Importantly, these plans must align with the Global Goal on Adaptation.

The writer is the senior climate adaptation and resilience policy advisor at climate think tank Power Shift Africa.