The U.N. Climate Change Conference in Lima. Europe and Africa will need to put in the effort in the coming months to agree on a common position at COP21. Photo by: Rhys Gerholdt / World Resources Institute / CC BY-NC-SA

One year from now, the next U.N. Climate Change Conference — officially known as the 21st Conference of the Parties or COP21 — will be held in Paris. A lot of work remains to be done to reach an ambitious, legally binding agreement that will give the world a chance to counter the devastating effects of global warming.

Two weeks ago, COP20 ended in Lima, Peru. After two weeks and two extra days of intense discussions, COP20 resulted in the Lima Call for Climate Action, which asked all nations to make plans to curb their carbon emissions, thus unlocking the door for a Paris deal in 2015. However, environmental campaigners including CARE International and a number of small, vulnerable countries have criticized the agreement for being weak.

Many critical and controversial issues have been postponed. For example, Lima did not resolve whether the Paris agreement will be legally binding, or how public funding for developing nations to reduce their emissions will be generated. The funding process is still based on voluntary pledges.

Europe and Africa have a long history of cooperation on climate action. In April 2014, during the fourth EU-Africa Summit in Brussels, governments from both continents agreed to “achieve common positions in global forums and international negotiations, and jointly address global challenges such as climate change.” And three years ago during COP17 in Durban, South Africa, Europe and Africa formed an alliance to put pressure on countries unwilling to enter into negotiations for a post-2020 agreement. On the sidelines of the 2014 EU-Africa Summit, African and European environmental and climate leaders stated that the 2015 agreement should be legally binding as well as "fair, balanced, equitable and ambitious."  This is in contrast to the U.S. position, that would prefer only "some elements to be legally binding."

Is the Africa-EU partnership ready for a strong joint position in Paris?

Europe is considered a climate front-runner, able to deploy effective diplomatic skills and lead by example, encouraging other parties to follow suit — for example, with its Emissions Trading System. Although its climate leadership has somewhat diminished after the Copenhagen COP15, the EU still sees itself as a global leader in multilateral climate action.

A recent study by the European Center for Development Policy Management explores the steps taken by the EU to revamp its architecture for external climate action. The study concluded that, despite its efforts, the bloc may have lost credibility in the run-up to Paris. The EU’s Energy Package, negotiated in October 2014, committed the EU to a 40 percent carbon emissions’ reduction by 2030. Critical observers like WWF, however, argue the target is not as ambitious as it could have been, and there are still concerns that the EU’s energy security interests will prevail over climate action.

European Climate Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete last week admitted that “the EU wanted a more ambitious outcome from Lima, but we are on track to agree a global deal in Paris,” which therefore will be a tough test for the EU’s capacity to lead climate diplomacy.

Climate change is a top priority of EU-Africa dialogue and features prominently on the 2007 Joint Africa-EU Strategy. Important concrete results — including the combating of desertification through the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and the Sahel Initiative — have been reached in this framework. However, despite certain achievements, JAES has also been criticized for being a "talk shop" and European and African interests have not always been reconciled within the JAES framework.

The EU’s proposed draft text for a climate agreement was rejected by a number of African countries as unbalanced, giving more weight to mitigation and insufficient attention to adaptation and climate finance, and some stakeholders worry that divergent interests between Europe and Africa may hamper a truly joint climate position in the run-up to Paris.

Europe and Africa will need to put in the effort in the coming months to agree on a common position at COP21. In order to reach a strong agreement, they should join forces in five key areas:

1. In a world in which some “developing countries” — including China — are emitting more than developed countries, there should be a reinvigorated understanding of the principles of "equity" and “fair commitments and contributions.” The Lima Call for Climate Action underscores the importance of the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, but adds the diplomatic formula “in the light of national circumstances.” The EU and Africa could work together toward a common understanding of “equity” within the UNFCCC framework that would be supplemented by a process of domestic consultations.

2. In Lima, it was agreed that all nations will submit their Intended Nationally-Determined Contributions by end of March 2015. Until recently, only industrialized nations had the responsibility to curb their emissions. INDCs will not only cover emissions reductions, but also countries’ adaptation strategies. Both Africa and the EU want to raise ambitions for pre-2020 greenhouse gas emission targets. They can jointly prepare the INDCs for COP21, including references to adaptation measures and the priorities for technical support to African countries.

3. The Lima Call for Climate Action strongly affirms all parties’ determination to strengthen adaptation. Building on this, the EU and Africa can jointly work toward the creation of national adaptation plans and the implementation of adaptation activities that have often been neglected in favor of mitigation activities.

4. During COP20, the Green Climate Fund passed its first capitalization target of $10 billion. Nearly 50 percent has been pledged by EU member states. However, these numbers are being criticized for remaining unclear about the purposes for which the new climate finance will be used. Transparency in climate finance disbursements is often lacking, and both the EU and Africa could put more efforts toward transparent climate finance architecture. They should also ensure that finance is directed toward capacity building so African partners can smoothly absorb the funds made available by the EU.

5. A revamped institutional and policy structure for JAES should achieve more concrete results. From 2015 onwards, JAES has reduced its focal areas with simplified institutional governance — but climate change is still on the agenda. Concrete changes, even if incremental, are desired more than grand political statements that cannot be achieved.

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About the author

  • Hanne knaepen

    Hanne Knaepen

    Hanne Knaepen is an ECDPM policy officer, focusing on climate change issues within the program on regional and local markets for agriculture development and food security. She received her doctorate in Global Environmental Studies from Kyoto University, Japan, where she resided for a period of four years.

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