We are at a tipping point. From unprecedent heat waves in Europe, deadly hurricanes in the US to devastating floods in Pakistan and Nigeria, 2022 has seen unprecedent weather patterns, occasioned by global warming as unmitigated greenhouse gas emissions increase in our atmosphere. In 2021, extreme weather events cost the global economy an estimated $329 billion further, 4 % of global annual economic output could be lost by 2050 due to climate change.
We are in a climate emergency. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report 2022 paints a bleaker picture. While the plans submitted by signatories to the Paris Agreement would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they are not ambitious enough to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, with global temperatures predicted to rise between 2.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius by 2100. Developing countries, including those in Africa are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Though Africa generates less than 3% of emissions, the rapidly increasing climate shocks are bound to hit the continent and its people, the hardest.
It is with this background that the Climate Summit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), otherwise known as Conference of Parties (COP) is being held in Sharm El-Sheik, Egypt. The 27th edition (COP27) began on November 6 to deliberate on accelerating climate action including adaptation, mitigation, and financing. This follows commitments made in the Paris Agreement, a global pledge to take climate action penned by world leaders in Paris in 2015.
Tackling the climate crises requires a multiprong approach. In 2015 developed countries pledged to mobilise $100 billion in climate finance for developing countries by 2020. However, only about $30 billion had been availed by 2020. Further, Africa has the smallest share of climate action investments as compared to other regions. Thus, it is imperative for developed countries to meet these financial obligations, which will be instrumental for climate action.
Climate adaptation, where communities and systems manage the impacts of climate change is another key strand of tackling climate change. Adaptation is one of the most effective pathways through which communities can cope with the worst effects of climate change. Further, climate mitigation which includes actions to reduce emissions like reduction of fossil fuels, transition to renewable energy sources and use of new technologies should be explored.
A key element of climate change adaptation is through Nature Based Solutions (NbS) including restoration of forests, wetlands, protection of habitats including grasslands, among others. Restoration of ecosystems can go a long way in climate change mitigation and adaptation and reversing biodiversity loss.
According to the Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), NbS can provide up to 37% of climate mitigation needed until 2030, which would help achieve the Paris Agreement targets. BirdLife Partnership, the world’s largest and oldest Partnership for Nature has been leading on climate adaptation measures.
For instance, in Rwanda and Burundi, BirdLife International implemented a programme to help build the climate resilience of local communities through landscape restoration by planting more than 1.2 million trees. Coupled with livelihood improvement strategies, the project helped more than 4,000 households cope with climate change in both countries.
Egypt, host country to COP27 has very few wetlands which are under pressure due to various factors including rapid population growth, which has affected ability of these lands to regulate climate change impacts, further highlighting the growing need for NbS.
Consequently, Nature Conservation Egypt – BirdLife partner in the country, is conducting a national scale study to assess potential of Wastewater Treatment Plants (WTP) to function as constructed wetlands able to mitigate climate change impacts, support resident and migratory wildlife especially birds, while functioning as carbon sinks. In the wider North Africa region, Morocco and Tunisia have created roadmaps and Working Groups focused on implementing NbS contained in the countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) across different sectors.
Further south in the Sahel, BirdLife partners are involved in restoration efforts under the aegis of the Great Green Wall Initiative which aims at growing 8,000 km of trees stretching from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east, aimed at tackling desertification.
Utilising climate smart agricultural practices including biodiversity management, improved water use and management, and sustainable land and soil management to increase crop productivity among others. Supported by the Germany government, and the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU), through the AfriEvolve Initiative are supporting local communities in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya roll out climate smart techniques thus ensuring food security, and improved livelihoods while ensuring integrated landscape management.
Governments are called upon not to give lip service to the role of nature and natural ecosystems in the fight against climate change. While on one hand signatories to various conventions commit to protecting nature, action on the ground through various development projects such as infrastructure, mining, agricultural development often damages these natural systems, which include forests and wetlands. In their stock taking reports to the climate summit, governments must include the extent to which their interventions have either helped or damaged nature.
Climate change and nature are inextricably linked – nature is impacted by climate change but is also part of the solution. The ongoing development of a global plan to protect biodiversity – dubbed the Post 2020 Global Biodiversity Framework, is a chance to optimize synergies for addressing the climate and biodiversity crises. The Biodiversity Summit (COP15) in Canada this December is one such chance.
At Sharm El-Sheikh, governments should demonstrate political will by committing finances to address climate change, while focusing on helping hard-hit communities from developing nations. They must also send a strong message on the need to put nature at the heart of climate change adaptation and mitigation. The time for more promises and lofty statements is long gone, it is now time for action!
Elnoby is the CEO, Nature Conservation Egypt while Mwathe is the Policy and Communications Coordinator, BirdLife International Africa