Olufunso Somorin (PhD)
Olufunso Somorin (PhD), regional principal officer of climate change and green growth for the eastern Africa region at the African Development Bank (AfDB), was in Addis Ababa to participate in a high-level technical conference on climate change aimed at summarizing takeaways for the upcoming COP27 conference. He presented his research titled “Adaptation Agenda: Beyond COP27” during the meeting on September 13 at the Hyatt Regency in Addis Ababa. Ashenafi Endale of The Reporter sat down with the expert to learn more about initiatives underway to lessen the effects of climate change on the global south and the rest of the world.
The Reporter: Africa emits only four percent of the global Greenhouse Gas emmisions (GHG), so why should Africa bear the burden of climate damage caused by the rest of the world?
Olufunso Somorin: Africa’s total GHG emissions are 3.8 percent. Compared to countries such as the US, a region like Europe, or even a country like China, this is very low for a continent of over one billion people. Africa is not responsible for climate damage.
However, when it comes to the impact of climate change, Africa is the most vulnerable. That is why more conversation is crucial to changing the global climate change discourse.
The region that is the least responsible is the region that is the most affected.
How much of their GDP are African countries losing to climate change?
The impact is already affecting the African population, economies, infrastructure, etc. The development we have achieved so far is under enormous threat due to climate change.
Every African country spends anywhere between two percent to 10 percent of its annual GDP dealing with the effects of climate change. This is an enormous resource that could be used to build more infrastructure, train more teachers, invest in energy and other development projects. The magnitude of climate change in African economies is hugely affecting development.
A large chunk of the available climate resources in Africa goes to mitigation. Currently, you are advocating shifting that resource from mitigation to adaptation. What exactly do we mean by climate adaptation projects?
There is a paradox that the region that needs the most global climate finance to respond to climate change is also the region getting the least.
Africa receives only three percent of global finance. This is despite the fact that Africa is the least contributor to the climate crisis but the most affected. This is what we need to change. Between 80 and 90 percent of the money that comes to Africa is used to mitigate climate change. Of course, mitigation is also good for development. When you use renewable energy, you are increasing access to power.
But adaptation, which is implemented across many sectors, is much more rewarding. Our economies in Africa are very dependent on weather systems. Agrarian societies account for up to 80 percent of the population. The moment there is a change in weather, for instance, a five percent change in rainfall, can lead to a significant impact in crops, and instant impact on food security. If the rain is delayed just by a season, it has a direct impact on food security.
So adaptation entails doing agriculture correctly, using water resources appropriately, refraining from activities that affect rain, and changing one’s mindset in order to achieve a stable climate. Adaptation is not for one sector, it is for every sector. There is a possibility in every sector for adaptation.
How much is Africa spending on climate change, and how much of it is coming from local financial sources?
There is a data accuracy problem. There is a lot of funding and finance that many countries are undertaking to handle climate change. They are not reporting it. Keep in mind that African countries spend between two and 10 percent of their GDP to respond to climate change disasters. So the data is not perfect because they are not reporting it precisely.
Domestic resources for adaptation are still low. Of course, it is very much under-reported. Nobody wants a climate-resilient modern Africa. Nobody desires a prosperous and modern Africa. So it should be our desire and our job to be climate resilient. We already paid for it. Our responses must be structured, coordinated, and lasting.
Is humanitarian assistance mitigation or adaptation?
Humanitarian assistance is a short-term coping mechanism; hence, it is a mechanism. Adaptation is a continuous, long-term solution. You do not move from zero to a hundred at once. The greater the risk, the more we need adaptation.
So adaptation is always in relation to the risks at hand, so you cannot achieve the highest level of adaptation. People affected by climate change on the ground are coping every day. But those are short-term solutions. They cannot respond to larger pressures.
A humanitarian response, if it is to respond to a climate crisis, is an adaptation measure.
How can we shift from mitigation to adaptation?
We do not shift in a way that ignores mitigation. We allocate more values, resources, responses, institutional systems, and capacity for adaptation.
Have African countries approved the National Adaptation Finance Framework (NAFF) so far?
NAFF is an idea we are testing. In many countries, including Ethiopia right now, we have developed a number of policy documents on adaptation. We have a national adaptation program of actions (NAPA), national adaptation plans (NAPs), and an adaptation component in our NDCs. Ethiopia has a climate resilient green economy (CRGE) strategy. Apart from the NDC, there are a lot of adaptation plans in various sectors.
However, none of these plans specify where the money will come from. All countries, including Ethiopia, have the plans but lack the financing. That is why we are developing the framework.
For instance, if Ethiopia introduces a strategy that charges an additional two dollars per every tourist or traveler coming to Ethiopia, which the airline collects per ticket, and that two dollars goes to a climate resilient fund, that is an innovative way of raising money to finance adaptation. Ethiopia can also levy a 0.5 percent tax on every business operating in the agricultural sector, and we call it the ecological or agricultural productivity fund.
We can also formulate legal frameworks in which every private sector operator reports what they are doing on climate change. You give them a template for how they report. Then the finance is aggregated and channeled to adaptation. We are ultimately thinking of a national level adaptation approach.
There is no such thing as a climate change project. What we have is a “climate-informed development project.” That is very important. If we mainstream adaptation into all our development projects, that is how adaptation works.
Do you recommend mandatory finance contributions for the private sector and other institutions?
Consider it a business strategy. The financial framework in Ethiopia may be different from that in Kenya, Nigeria, or others. Adaptation is very local. Adaptation does not operate in a vacuum. Adaptation is nested in an institutional structure in place, social relations in a country, and state-society interactions. It is crucial to capture that and craft a financial strategy around it.
We must start thinking of adaptation as something critical for development. We have to find an innovative way of funding it.
How can the private sector turn the climate change crisis into a business opportunity?
The private sector itself depends on climate change. Climate change is a risk for the private sector too. By investing in adaptation, it is also a way for the private sector to guard its own investments and do sustainable business. Businesses are not completely insulated from the climate crisis. When they see that as a threat to their business and start to respond, businesses start to adapt.
The private sector is not exonerated. There are opportunities and advantages for the private sector to channel private capital into adaptability.
Do you think Africa is exploiting carbon trading?
The good thing about the carbon market is that even though it focuses on mitigation, it exists largely in sectors that are adaptability-oriented. Whether it is forestry, as in the African case, conservation, nature-based solutions, carbon trading can be an adaptation intervention. Reducing emissions is the core target of all NDCs, including Ethiopia.
Carbon trading is a good opportunity. The financial flow from the carbon market and investment can also trigger adaptation finance.
What do we expect from COP27?
Cop27 is very important for Africa, because we need to be able to make progress on the financial commitments that the developed countries have made. There is also something about capital that is additional and predictable.
We need capital in quantity and quality. We need a lot of money. Somebody can pledge a trillion dollars and put too many conditions on the table, so you may not get even five percent of it. In such cases, the money has the quantity side, but the quality side is very difficult.
Africa needs a climate adaptability roadmap. Climate action is just a basket containing mitigation and adaptability. The truth is that mitigation and adaptation are different. The approaches, strategies, implementation modalities, design, and projects are different.
What we need is an adaptation strategy cognizant of the African context that is structured and practical.
So in global climate finance, a specific resource for the adaptability finance segment is crucial.
One of the agendas expected at the COP27 is the issue of banning the extraction of fossil fuels. What is your reflection on this, as Africa is just beginning to extract its fuel resources?
It is still a conversation at this early stage. The global conversation at the climate conference is very cognizant of Africa’s concerns. When we say green energy, it is a gradual transition. You do not go from fossil fuel to green energy in one day. There has to be a gradual transition. Substitution for fossil fuel is in the long run. This plan must also capitalize on technology.
Do not forget that fossil fuel is a natural endowment for these countries. How do you tell countries like Angola, Nigeria, or others to go from burning fuel to 100 percent green? We need to clarify that. I do not think the global system is going to put a gun to your head. It is about placing attractive incentives in place, and support mechanisms, to make that gradual transition.
For African countries, they are not under any legal obligation to make that transition. There has to be an incentive and encouragement for it.
The decision made 13 years ago to commit USD 100 billion to Africa’s climate response remains a pledge. Now we expect more pledges at the conference. Why do we always believe in pledges that will not materialize?
The way global diplomacy works is that we must always agree to move forward. So there is an agreement in principle that USD 100 billion a year comes from developed countries. That is one side of the coin. The other question is, do they really actually deliver? Some countries did, and many did not. COP27 is expected to urge these countries to push for these pledges to be met.
Is there any mandatory legal framework or convention to make countries fulfill their financial obligations as per their contribution to GHG emissions?
Climate diplomacy does not work as expected. Probably global trade and other sectors based on international laws. But for climate issues, you need to reach consensus. Most of the time, you are not going to find a situation where there is a legal penalty. It is not an annual contribution and “if you do not pay, you go to jail.” There is no climate court. Countries must understand the value of those resources and their contribution to climate value.
Do you think the world needs green politics like in the 1980s and 1990s, or do you think the current climate crisis can be solved under the conventional mainstream political systems?
First, to be honest, we have made progress since. It might not be on the scale we anticipate. But we have made enormous progress by bringing people around the table. The fact that we are having conferences for parties to discuss climate is a good sign. Maybe developed countries might say “we pledged USD 100 billion for Africa annually. We managed 80 billion,” and they might promise to improve it.
That is why I call it a fragile win. It is not a complete win. But it is still a win.
Do we need something radical? The answer is no. We would not get that. Because global diplomacy does not work around radicalism, it works around building consensus on the solution and the way forward. Then some countries may be part of the solution. The bigger part of diplomacy is that the further you talk about problems, the more you can talk about solutions.
But for many African countries, that is not enough and you want to see results on the ground. That is still a work in progress. So we expect a progressive step forward at COP27.
You recommended in your research that “debt for climate swap” as an alternative climate financing method. Do you think that can work, as many African countries, including Ethiopia, have piled up external debt?
These are the innovative climate financing schemes we are talking about. During the 2008/9 financial crisis, a country not far from here, Seychelles, was affected, as a service-based industry was severely affected at the time by the crisis. The Seychelles was able to negotiate “a debt for nature” swap. So a certain portion of its external debt was swapped for natural protection.
Basically, instead of paying the external debts back, you are allowed to use the money to do projects and investments that sustain the environment. We can do that as well. There is also a resilient bond, which is doable.
African countries need to come up with different innovative financing schemes because the one that works in one might not work in the other.
The fundamental departure is, let’s go beyond concessional loans and grants. Let us bring in equities, risk-sharing facilities, and all the types of financial instruments. Debt for nature swaps are just one instrument. I really like this scheme, and I would love to see it work in other parts of Africa.
Currently, the Horn of Africa is being rocked by an elongated climate crisis.
The Horn of Africa issue is a very special case. This is a region where some of the scariest challenges of climate impacts are unfolding. This is also one of the most resilient regions. In the past, regions had to deal with drought every decade or so. But this time, the frequency has been very high. Yet, many governments, institutions, and even the private sector are rising to the task of dealing with the crisis.
But we must start planning for the long term. Our actions in the Horn region are always reactive. We always start doing things after a drought has struck. Early warning systems, productivity optimization, water harvesting systems, and other readiness are very important ahead of the next drought. Proactive adaptation investment is very important instead of the reactionary type of investment.
In the Horn, resources are mobilized every time drought comes around. Why is it that a lasting solution remains difficult? What kinds of projects are needed?
Some drought resilience programs and projects are underway. The AfDB is one of the largest donors of drought-resilient programs in the Horn region. What is important is that we must coordinate projects at different levels.
Many initiatives are done at scattered levels, and they are not coordinated. Most importantly, we must push for proactive investments. We need more focus and investment on development spending so we can reduce our humanitarian spending.
Governments keep saying “we do not have money” and suddenly, when a crisis happens, they find money. Why do not we find the money before the drought strikes? That could have saved a lot of lives and damage.
Drought can happen, but it must not leave a humanitarian crisis behind. There are countries that face drought all year round. But we have to find different ways to change things.
Most importantly, we need partnerships at different levels.