In the race against climate change, there’s still hope for Africa – here are 5 reasons why

A forest conservationist wearing a big hat in a forest in Kenya
A forest conservationist in Kenya. Photo : UNDP Kenya

The current drought in Eastern Africa is causing extreme levels of food insecurity affecting over 50 million people this year. Billed by FAO as “a climatic event not seen in at least 40 years,” it is just one of the examples of the unprecedented scale of the looming climate crisis in Africa. 

To avoid future disasters, more climate ambition is needed globally. In Africa, one of the regions hardest hit by climate change impacts, this need is more acute than anywhere else. 

Working with 44 countries across the African continent, I am privileged to witness up close how the region is advancing climate ambition. Despite the negative headlines, there is indeed hope when we look at the daily steps being taken by local actors. 

Here are five signals of hope we’re seeing on the ground: 

1. Africa’s climate pledges are more robust than the global average

Countries not only use their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to set their targets for reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and adaption to climate impacts, but also to define how to reach these targets. As such, NDCs are meant to help countries begin a transformative shift to greener development pathways, and their quality is therefore critical. 

Using its NDC Quality Assurance Checklist, UNDP assessed the quality of the NDCs submitted by countries supported by the Climate Promise against the following three dimensions: robustness, feasibility, and country ownership and inclusivity. 

The Africa region scored higher than the global average on all the three quality dimensions. A significant majority (89 percent) of submitted NDCs from Africa are robust and demonstrate ownership and inclusivity (87 percent). While the NDCs were weakest on implementation feasibility (42 percent), they still scored higher than the global average (33 percent).

2. Countries are committed to climate resilience like never before 

Keenly aware that the risks posed by climate change could undo years of development gains, a significant majority of countries in Africa have increased the existing sectoral scope or added sectors for adaptation action in their NDCs. 92 percent also defined clearer adaptation objectives and/or targets compared to previous NDC submissions. 

Agriculture and land use are prioritized by many countries for adaptation action, as the dependency of livelihoods on agro-ecosystems remains high in the region. 

Indeed, around 70 percent of the population in Africa are smallholder farmers with limited capacity to cope with climate shocks. 95 percent of countries are committed to strengthening the alignment of their NDC with National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) or other adaptation planning processes and instruments. NAP development is an important process that allows governments to analyze current and future climate risks and prioritize medium- and long-term adaptation options. 

3. Transparency efforts are on the rise

Most countries in Africa have initiated important work to improve the availability and quality of their climate-related data. Climate emissions data can change over time which makes having up-to-date data important to tracking emissions reductions. Yet, several African countries are still basing their NDC projections on outdated greenhouse gases inventories and default emission factors and data. Improvements in data quality and availability will strengthen transparency systems and bring benefits such as, support to decision-making and attracting new funding sources as countries will be better able to track progress made towards reaching their climate commitments. 

15 countries are currently building and updating Measurement, Reporting and Verification (MRV) systems, 10 of which are strengthening the inclusion of gender dimensions in the monitoring of their climate-related strategies, such as integrating gender-responsive indicators. 

4. New trends are emerging, including green jobs and just transition 

Ensuring an inclusive and equitable shift towards low-carbon economies is paramount in Africa, where multidimensional poverty and inequalities are ever present and compromising the sustainable development agenda. Taking advantage of green growth to also create a just transition through decent job opportunities is key for the future of Africa’s youth, who make up 70 percent of the continent’s population. In the past few years, interesting developments have occurred on this front. Nigeria and Zimbabwe have paved the way for just transition mainstreaming by undertaking green jobs-related activities to inform their revised NDCs. 

To support this work, UNDP partnered with the International Labor Organization (ILO) to facilitate both countries to strengthen quantitative data around just transition scenarios through green jobs assessment modelling. These efforts are gaining attention and are backed by strong political will, as Heads of State from Senegal, Rwanda, Nigeria, and South Africa are clearly expressing the need for Africa to be an active stakeholder in the debate around defining what a “just transition” is. Leading to COP27 in Egypt, the idea of the continent agreeing on a common position is making headway as evidenced by several pre-COP27 dialogues on just transition.

5. Access to climate finance is set as a top priority

African countries have expressed massive financial support needs that extend far beyond the scope of their available resources. If countries are to meet their climate commitments and meaningfully increase climate resilience, then finance at scale is required from all available sources, including public grants, private sector investments, and innovative approaches such as green and blue bonds – as well as leveraging forest protection to preserve their potential as carbon sinks

African countries are making impressive efforts to move the needle on resource mobilization for climate. Around 20 countries across the region are already developing financing strategies or investment plans, and six countries are taking action to strengthen private sector involvement. Meanwhile, the findings of a recent UNDP survey on support needs for NDC implementation show that almost half of Climate Promise supported countries in Africa need future support to finance NDC implementation. For most, this means heightening efforts to mobilize finance for climate action. 

Editor’s Note: If you found this blog useful, check out more in UNDP’s State of Climate Ambition Regional Snapshot for Africa.