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African Ministers Gear up for Durban Climate Talks

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  • Early discussions center around Climate-Smart Agriculture, considered a triple win for African farmers
  • Sustainable energy also critical for the continent’s development
  • Connect for Climate competition aims at engaging African youth in climate change solutions

PRETORIA, September 17, 2011—Boosting food security in a changing climate. Securing environmental protection. Promoting sustainable energy access. The search for solutions to this pressing trio of development challenges confronting Africa was the focus of new continental dialogues that kicked off this past week, beginning in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Agriculture Ministers Discuss Climate-Smart Agriculture

Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) is about increasing food crop yields sustainably, increasing the resilience of food production systems, reducing emission of greenhouse gases, and enhancing achievement of national food security and development goals. Put another way, in a world marked by climate change, CSA includes those proven practical techniques and approaches that can help achieve the elusive triple win of food security, adaptation and mitigation.

The first Africa-wide dialogue “Climate-Smart Agriculture-Africa: A Call to Action” kicked off with a meeting of African Agriculture ministers and a ringing call to action by Hon. Tina Joemat-Pettersson, South African Minister of Agriculture, who said “Food security, especially in Africa, is linked to the prevailing climate.”

“Any long- or short-term changes are paramount to our ability to feed our nations,” Joemat-Pettersson said, noting that “good security is important to Africa’s economy as it impacts heavily on the country’s poverty alleviation and sustainable development plans.”

The timing of the Agriculture meeting in Johannesburg is opportune. In November 2011, in Durban, the Government of South Africa will host the 17th meeting of the Convention of the Parties (COP-17) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Expectations for what some are calling “Africa’s COP” are running high, and the dialogue series led by the Government of South Africa and development partners is helping to forge consensus around core issues like agriculture and its role in climate change.

The keynote speaker Hon. Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, Minister for International Relations and Cooperation, South Africa, welcomed participants to this week’s dialogues and said climate-smart agriculture offers a triple win in the fight against climate change. As host, Nkoana-Mashabane will assume the Presidency of the COP-17 meeting when it convenes in Durban.

The dialogue comes at a time of growing concerns about Africa’s ability to feed itself. The green revolution that transformed tropical agriculture in the 1970s and 1980s largely bypassed Africa. African farmers get yields that are significantly lower compared to Asian or Latin American farmers. With climate change expected to impact African tropical agriculture significantly – and negatively – by reducing yields by 28 percent over the coming half century, participants at the first dialogue urged a fresh impetus to restore agriculture to its rightful place in the development strategies of African nations.

A communiqué issued from Johannesburg said now is the time for concerted actions for placing climate-smart agriculture at the heart of adaptation and mitigation strategies for combating climate change. Notably, the communiqué calls upon COP-17 to establish an agriculture Programme of Work that covers adaptation and mitigation, and urges African negotiators at COP-17 to engage with representatives of the agriculture sector.

Commenting on the success of the conference, Andrew Steer, World Bank Special Envoy for Climate Change said, “the Johannesburg communiqué on climate smart agriculture underscores the gravity of the threat posed by climate change to sustainable development in Africa."

“In Durban and beyond, I hope climate smart agriculture will be recognized as part of the solution to climate change,” he said.

Later in the week, Steer took this message to a meeting of Africa’s environment ministers in Bamako, Mali. Addressing the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), he stressed the urgency for progress in Durban and the need to frontally address the concerns of African agriculture and lack of energy access. He highlighted the positive progress made at the South Africa ministerial meetings and underscored the need to support African voices, concerns and action on climate change.

Promoting Sustainable Energy Access for Africa

The second continental dialogue was hosted by South Africa’s Department of Energy and the African Union Commission, in partnership with UN-Energy and the World Bank. It brought together African energy ministers, policy makers, and renewable energy specialists to facilitate dialogue and reach consensus on Africa’s energy vision for the future ahead of COP-17.

Speaking to the gravity of Africa’s energy challenge, Hon. Dipuo Peters, Minister of Energy, South Africa, said, “lack of electricity aggravates poverty and contributes to its perpetuation as it hampers most industrial activities and the potential to create jobs.”

“To respond to the scale of the challenges we need to diversify our energy supply mix, including the increased use of renewable and intensifying the use of energy efficient technologies,” he said.

The numbers on Africa’s energy deficit make for sober reading.

  • Only 31 percent of Africa’s population has access to energy
  • Outside South Africa, consumption in the rest of Africa is around one percent of industrialized countries (enough only to power one light bulb per person for three hours a day)
  • Africa needs to install 7,000 MW of new generation capacity each year but has been installing only 1,000 MW in recent years
  • At present rates of electrification, most African countries will not achieve universal access to electricity even by 2050

In a keynote presentation, Jamal Saghir, Director for Sustainable Development in the World Bank’s Africa Region, pointed to the scale of challenges and the scope of opportunity that exists for making a more frontal push on securing energy access across Africa.

“Africa is energy rich but power poor,” he said, alluding to Africa’s rich but untapped sources of energy, including hydropower. He urged participants to place Africa’s dire energy situation squarely on the agenda in Durban.

The energy stakeholder dialogue included a special expo on Green Household Energy Solutions that attracted a galaxy of renewable energy experts. Dan Kammen, World Bank Chief Technical Specialist on renewable energy, presented a keynote address, and a highlight of the expo was a guided tour of the latest cutting-edge renewable energy and energy efficient technologies on display in the Sandton Convention Centre.

“The World Bank was delighted to partner with the Government of South Africa and African Union Commission, UN Energy and other development partners in convening these important meetings,” said Ruth Kagia, World Bank Country Director for South Africa. “The Road to Durban may be long, but working closely with our clients, we have taken the deliberate steps that are needed to inform policy discussions and catalyze actions at COP-17 that will help advance climate change actions in Durban.”

The meetings have already had an impact: the Government of South Africa has graciously agreed to host, ahead of COP-17, a special meeting of climate change negotiators with a view to informing them about the outcomes of the dialogues.

At the AMCEN meeting in Bamako, Andrew Steer launched the Connect4Climate campaign which includes a global video and photo competition with the aim of bringing together African communities that care about climate change. The campaign seeks to engage Africans, including young people, to share stories about how climate change is affecting Africa, individual countries and communities, individuals, friends and family.

The Connect4Climate competition focuses on young people from around the world with a focus on African youth – ages 13-17, 18-24, and 25-30.Over 50 prizes will be awarded and winning entries will be exhibited at a prominent exhibition at COP-17. The deadline for entries is November 7, 2011.




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