Common but Different: Africa and Europe’s climate responsibilities

First published by ACCORD

Countries’ commitments to the Paris Agreement are a legally binding process recognising that the climate challenge transcends borders. The Agreement captures several principles, which are important for Africa to reaffirm, such as the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities; and, with it, respective capabilities. Accounting for only 2–3 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy and industrial sources and with a population leaving a carbon footprint of 0.8 metric tons per person compared to the 3.9 tons per person of the global average, Africa certainly cannot be considered a major polluter.

The Paris Agreement recognises the centrality of the financing and technology transfer to facilitate the necessary transition in developing countries. In the aforementioned Abidjan Summit (2017), leaders agreed to the “full implementation” of the Agreement, “taking into account the commitments on climate finance made in Copenhagen (2009) with a target of reaching USD 100 billion per year by 2020 [extended to 2025], to support developing countries in responding to climate change.”

Nobody should doubt that the implementation of these agreements will be challenging, even more so in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. The slow pace in accessing vaccines will delay the recovery and put more pressure on the fiscal space of African countries, already trapped by a myriad of macroeconomic limitations. There are many impediments in the way of a forceful green transition. One of them is the clear withdrawal of OECD countries from financing commitments towards developing countries in general, as well as a drastic repurposing of programmed ODA to subsidise vaccines and offer humanitarian relief and medical support.

The attention to climate justice, enshrined in the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, is getting further and further away. As major economies propagate the idea of “building back better”, African countries wonder whether the need of some to just “build” has been forgotten in the process.

The industrial transformation process – facilitated by the AfCTA – is certainly perceived in Africa as the structural response the continent needs to speed up. Given the current context it also offers opportunities for industrialising differently, but convincingly, with a much lower carbon footprint; enhanced by renewable energies and sustainable infrastructure. These choices were made by African countries before the slogan “building back” came into being. Africa, therefore, does not need patronizing about whether it is hesitating on climate concerns but rather calls for a policy space to carve out its own climate and development policy choices.

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