Africa: Will Africa Be Heard At Climate Science Talks?

The Our Common Future Under Climate Change conference is being held from 7-10 July.

Paris — The global scientific community is meeting at a conference in Paris this week to strengthen the consensus on the science which explains changes to the planetary climate system in preparation for global climate negotiations to be held later this year.

The conference, held under the banner Our Common Future Under Climate Change, aims to present global decision-makers at COP21, the 21st Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, with sound science on which to draft a new global agreement. The COP21 talks take place in December.Giving an overview of this week’s meeting, the International Development Research Centre’s Edith Ofwona-Adera, a specialist on climate change and water, says:

“The conference is bringing together the global scientific community who are working on issues of climate change, to take stock of the knowledge base on climate issues since the last assessment report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, to see what new knowledge has been generated since, as well as to see what are some of the gaps in knowledge.

“It’s bringing together the scientific community so that it can have a strong voice when it comes to the global agreement that governments and world leaders will be agreeing on [in December].”

The COP21 talks, also to be held in Paris, will draft a new binding and legal climate agreement to replace the Kyoto Protocol by 2020.

In a keynote address on Monday, Thomas Stocker of the Physics Institute at the University of Bern, Switzerland, emphasised the importance of the International Panel on Climate Change synthesis report in making scientific data accessible to policy makers so they can make decisions based on research.

In a session looking at the state of knowledge on climate change, Stocker went on to emphasise that climate risks are unevenly distributed, with the worst impacts often being felt by impoverished people. He also pointed out that sustainable emission reductions over the next decades can reduce climate risks.

In another set of crucial international talks this year, governments meet from September 25 to 27 to adopt a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, which will shape the global development agenda beyond the 2015 deadline set by the Millennium Development Goals.

But climate change is a threat to sustainable development, says Stocker, and if it is not stopped will make achieving these goals very difficult. (A point also made by United Nations chief Ban Ki-moonrecently.)

“This means that role of research in addressing these challenges is crucial, especially for African countries,” says Adera.

“The voices and the issues that are important to Africa will need to be taken into consideration as some of these agreements are being put in place,” she adds.

“Most importantly, we need to see to what extent can we contribute to sustainable development but in ways that are equitable and that take into consideration the most vulnerable.”

Discussing the first day’s conference session in Paris, Adera said: “I’m a bit disappointed that we don’t have a lot of African voices in the sessions. This morning I noticed a real gap in African representation… and I hope this will change during the course of the week.

“There needs to be a lot of effort to build African capacity so that African research evidence can also be present at global scientific conferences, so that when one looks at some of these impacts you also have the African voice and the African scientist contributing their science and evidence base to those global processes.

“There’s a need for research that supports South-South and North-South interactions so that you can ensure that the science that is emerging from Africa can also help shape the decisions that will be taken.”

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