Africa’s influence in climate change negotiations is weak!!  Insights from new research

Joanes Atela, Claire Quinn, Albert Arhin, Lalisa Duguma and Kennedy Mbeva

Africa is mentioned in almost every climate change research and policy as the most vulnerable, the most exposed and the most affected continent by climate change.  Global solutions being proposed to tackle climate change whether though adaptation, mitigation, capacity building, financial support are strongly justified around addressing Africa’s vulnerabilities such as hunger, disasters and diseases among others. Because these solutions are expected to work within existing socioeconomic and policy circumstances of African countries, recognising the role of Africa in informing the solutions is very important.  A recently published paper on the Journal of International Environmental Agreements: Politics, Economics and Law, provides some interesting insights into how Africa contributes to the development of climate change policies at the global level and associated implications on implementing proposed solutions within Africa. The article applies the case of the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) which is emerging as a key global policy to mitigate climate change.   The article was authored by researchers drawn from the African Centre for Technology Studies (ACTS), the Sustainability Research Institute at the University of Leeds, the ASB Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins of the World Agroforestry Centre and the Department of Geography at Cambridge University.

The article first stresses that the contributions of African countries to the global climate change decisions is important because this determines how compatible the negotiated rules could be with the existing socioeconomic and policy circumstances of African countries.  Despite the significance of Africa’s contribution to climate response decisions, the study demonstrates that Africa has had very little influence on the technical design of global decision on climate change programmes such as REDD+.

The paper explains this weak agency in a number of ways. First the continent’s relatively low research capacity impedes its ability to produce and transmit scientific publications to inform technical decisions such as monitoring, verification and reporting rules among others. This is fuelled by the fact that most African governments prefer to allocate resources to development and pressing livelihood matters rather than scientific research and publications. As such, the technical influence through global scientific platforms on climate science such as the IPCC remain weak and is an indication that the science-policy nexus in Africa remains weak. Secondly, Africa is often associated with poverty and poor resource capacity to implement decisions and so is earmarked as a key recipient of financial support from developed nations and multilateral intermediaries. This means that African countries have to work and implement decisions within the financial conditions set by these financiers. The study further clarifies that this aspect of climate funding makes most African countries to perceive themselves as victims of climate change who should be eligible for support rather than sources of technological solutions.

The study takes a further look into whether negotiation coalitions could help improve Africa’s influence on decisions. However, the study finds that the different coalitions African countries have joined to strengthen their positions e.g. the AGN, G77, BASIC, among others, have not improved the situation as the continent’s position on important issues is often fragmented across varied socioeconomic and development interests among coalitions countries. Further, whether through coalitions or general negotiations, African countries are often unable to send large and diverse delegations to the negotiations to improve their voting power and expertise to interpret and critique information and lobby across multiple sessions and side events during negotiations

The study acknowledges that the findings about Africa’s weak influence in climate regimes may not be new but a key concern for Post-Kyoto programmes such as REDD+ which are specifically targeted for implementation within African contexts. Among the key potential implementation deficit include lack of implementation capacity. While there are various REDD+ policies and technologies which are not alien to Africa’s circumstances because they have been developed and tested in Africa, either through international scientific bodies or other non-African experts, the inbuilt capacity within governments is necessary to effectively and sustainably implement such techniques.  Additionally, the weak agency potential creates a lack of coherence between global rules and existing policies in African countries.  Such lack of coherence may result from the emergence of new actor constellations such as consultancy firms and financial intermediaries to exercise both design and implementation agency on behalf of African countries. Such actors have emerged as arbitrators or ‘hybrid actors’ mediating both expertise and resources between dominant and marginalised actors  This is the case of environmental consultancy firms which now provide technical support to several African countries. While such ‘arbitrators’ could enhance the agency of African countries, the ability of such hybrid actors to factually represent the circumstances of African countries is contested because they represent other interests such as those who pay for their services.  

Overall, the study calls for a rethink of pathways to enhancing Africa’s strategies in engaging in multilateral climate change negotiations, especially if climate change regimes specifically targeted at developing countries are to be effective.   For more details, you can access the study here or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.