Keywords: Paris Agreement, Paris Agreement Biden, Africa

As part of his first inaugural acts, US President Joe Biden signed the instrument to restore the United States’ position as one of the signatories to the Paris Agreement on the 20th of January 2021. After the president Trump-led government pulled out of the agreement on the 4th November 2020, there were speculations that the global alliance will suffer a steady decline. It was expected that the US non-participation will demotivate other advanced countries and regions into quitting the agreement thereby exposing vulnerable regions like Africa to the effects of climate change. 

According to predictions from Foresight Africa, African economic development is most likely to be hit hard by climate change. 

However, the US exit was short-lived and now that they have rejoined the Paris climate agreement, it is important to explore how this will impact Africa.

The History and Background of the Paris Agreement

The Paris Agreement was formalized at the historic 21st annual meeting (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Paris in December 2015. But the initial plan was launched at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. 

At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, George Bush and other world leaders agreed to several international environmental consensuses including the UNFCCC. The UNFCCC’s long-term ambition was to prevent harmful human interference with the climate. To that effect, the agreement mandated all nations to create measures for greenhouse gas emission reduction. However, there was no specification on how that would be done.

Then in 1997, the Kyoto Protocol was adopted in Japan to signal the start of international concessions on dealing with climate change. It was agreed that industrialized countries will reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The agreement was not binding enough and was not so successful. In 2007 in Bali, a new idea was suggested to reinforce the Kyoto Protocol. The expectations of reaching a final agreement by December 2009 were high. However, in December 2009 in Copenhagen, the world leaders did not adopt a new agreement. But industrialized countries set a fundraising goal of $100billion yearly by 2020 to support developing countries in dealing with climate change. The Green Climate Fund in Cancún, Mexico, in 2010 made the pledge more substantial.

On December 12, 2015, at COP 21 in Paris, the world leaders adopted the landmark Paris agreement. This final agreement was a blend of the hierarchical Kyoto approach and the pragmatic approach of the Copenhagen and Cancún agreements. 

Every nation had to adhere to some binding commitments on reducing emissions in addition to the nonbinding “Nationally Determined Contribution” (NDC) which they had to determine for themselves. The structure of the agreement gave room for an improved transparency framework which tracked the actions of countries with reminders to build their NDCs every five years.

After signing, the Paris agreement kicked off fully on the 5th of October 2016, and by April 2017, 33 African countries had approved it. 

What has been the situation of the African members of this agreement since the ratification?

Africa and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change

The African continent is diverse and consists of many nationalities and ethnicities. Although it is not as industrialized as developed countries, Africa has not been spared from the effects of climate change. A 2014 report by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests that the impact of climate change is distributed irregularly. Regardless of Africa’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions globally being around 4%, Africa will be the worst hit by 2050. 

When 195 countries endorsed the Paris agreement on climate change in December 2015, a lot of African countries picked up the pace in creating activities that led to better management of climate change.

Before all countries recognized the need for efforts to curb climate change, the rise of the world’s average global temperatures were projected to reach a fatal of 3.6°C by 2100. The Paris Agreement was created to thwart Earth’s self-sabotaging journey.

Although ambitious, the Paris agreement set a target to keep the global average temperature at levels below 2° C or around 1.5°C in comparison to pre-industrial levels while reducing greenhouse gas emissions, mandating countries to have net zero emissions by 2050. The NDCs which all parties were urged to submit explaining the unique plans of their country for the reduction of emission was the key to reaching the target. Before the COP21, the African nation participants submitted NDCs except for Libya. Even with collaborative efforts, the NDCs are not enough to produce a low enough amount of greenhouse gas emissions which would neutralize the effects of climate change by mid-century.

While many industrialist nations agreed to reduce their carbon emissions confident that it would reduce the damage already done to frontline countries (countries struggling with the negative impact of climate change), African countries shared a different sentiment.

For them, the worldwide 2°C target was no assurance that the carbon emissions from developed countries will be restricted.

Several African commentators claim that the Paris agreement did not regulate how much emissions would need to be reduced in each country. Hence, there’s the possibility that some countries would refuse to create domestic policies or uphold their pledges to the agreement.

Article 7 of the Paris agreement emphasizes adaptation as a means for the protection of people, society, and the ecosystem, especially in developing countries. This, for African countries, served as a background to launch their request for finance to be channeled towards adaptation considering that they were already experiencing the impacts of climate change. 

The Paris Agreement entitles all developing countries that are signatories to financial aid from the Green Climate Fund (GCF). The GCF is a fund established within the framework of the UNFCCC designed to provide funds for adaptation and mitigation. Senegal was one of the first beneficiaries to claim funds from the GCF. Funds were drawn for a project to boost the resilience of their ecosystems to climate change. Still, spectators maintain that the GCF grossly lacks the funds needed to meet up with its intention in Africa. Also, the developed countries have imposed strict rules thereby making it tough for African countries to access the funds.

While some African countries focus on adaptation, many have indicated in their NDCs to concentrate on the mitigation target. Article 6 of the Paris Agreement allows cooperation and incentives for nations willing to mitigate carbon emissions. By this, nations can create whatever carbon emissions reduction plan that they choose. The agreement has a positive impact on Africa as it can be modified to help countries that are focused on mitigation.

However, the industrialized nations expressed fear of being exposed to unlimited claims causing exclusion from the agreement, all legal liability, or rights to compensation. Most African countries were disappointed to know that there were no extra financial provisions made to cushion damage and loss from climate change. 

How the US Paris Agreement Exit and Reentry Affects Africa

Naturally, the western approach to climate repair focuses on emissions mitigation and frugal use of energy which is a stark contrast to the adaptation-focused plan that is most suitable for African nations.

Africa as a contrinent consumes less energy than some cities in developed nations and contributes only a minute percentage of carbon emissions. The differences can not be overlooked.

On rejoining the Paris Agreement Biden’s administration has given an executive order on climate change which prioritizes the global crisis placing it on the same level as domestic, foreign national security policy. For it to work, however, considerations will need to be made regarding the connection between climate action and the battle against global poverty, especially in Africa.

The executive order mandates federal agencies to create a plan to stop funding for all carbon fossil fuel energy abroad. This directive seems to follow in the footsteps of other western allies. . Also, the World Bank is facing pressure from shareholders to quit non-renewable energy projects. 

Of course, these moves by the US are great for reducing global emissions, but it comes at a greater cost. Biden’s actions and restrictions may unwittingly cause negative effects for the poor nations.

The order on climate change can only be relevant outside the US if the Biden administration can regulate the activities of US oil companies abroad. American oil companies are dominant in several African countries causing significant negative effects on the environment. The Biden presidency can only succeed with its climate action plans by controlling the activities of the US oil companies abroad and their impact on disadvantaged and developing nations in Africa.

Therefore, the US would need to support disadvantaged nations to achieve their climate and development goals to cushion the effect of the restrictions. If not, Energy poor countries in sub-Saharan Africa will have problems with their mitigation efforts which in turn affects the globe.

Africa, the US, and the Paris Agreement: Going Forward

The US rejoining the Paris Agreement is a big stride in the fight against climate change. US reentry into the agreement increases the motivation of the global community to continue racing to the goal of maintaining a steady global temperature of 1.5 C preventing global warming.

The current administration has made plans to boost mitigation and adaptation actions. Also, the US anticipates working with all nations and ramping up the US effort to protect people and the ecosystem from harsh climate effects.

African observers have in the past raised alarm at the poor funding of the green climate fund. There are speculations that this will change as the current US administration seeks to complete payment of the $3 billion pledge made by Obama to the climate fund.

Ensuring that all overdue pledges made by the US government and other industrialized countries are redeemed will reaffirm claims that the Paris Agreement is beneficial for the African countries. 

There are several ways the funds can be utilized. In Ethiopia, funds from the Paris Agreement can be channeled towards adaptation. This implies an extensive focus on drought management and irrigation, improving livestock and crop agricultural practices, empowering farmers, and creating an efficient system of conversion for forests.

Biden’s dedication to climate change will lead to a reinforcement of Article 5(2) of the Paris Agreement which is the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) program. This program will help reduce emissions by lowering forest degradation and deforestation in countries like Togo, Niger, Sierra Leone, etc.

Also, there are initiatives for boosting forest preservation as is evident from the African Restoration Initiative (AFR100) at the Global Landscapes Forum. This international forum is created to rejuvenate degraded land in several countries like Kenya, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Malawi, Liberia, Rwanda, Uganda, Togo, Niger, and Madagascar. 

The agreement makes provision for reducing the effects of the harsh climate and desertification across Mauritania to Djibouti through the Great Green Wall for Sahara and Sahel.

The World Bank together with the IMF may decide to lower the debt of poor countries in return for green investments. All of these new measures potentially cause positive impacts on Africa as they are committed to helping Africa fix the devastating effects of global warming while ensuring that the continent is not plunged into further poverty. 


Author : Chisom Anyanwu