In spite of its low emissions, Africa is home to some of the cities most vulnerable to climate change and therefore needs support from adaptation funds. Africa accounts for only 3.8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. However, climate change has a detrimental impact on the continent’s agriculture and therefore on its people’s livelihoods. Africa remains highly dependent on low-productivity agriculture for food, income and employment, with agriculture accounting for about 30 to 40 percent of GDP; about 80 percent of Africans remain dependent on low-yielding, rain-fed agriculture.

Global warming, even if limited to below 2℃, increases the risk of drought in southern and central Africa. It also increases the risk of flooding in East Africa, which would lead to higher food prices and lower yields. By 2050, warming of less than 2℃ could reduce total crop production by as much as 10 percent. African negotiators and policymakers at the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) brainstormed ideas and mechanisms to bring more money to the continent’s adaptation piggybank.

African cities in need of climate adaptation.

Courtesy of UN HABITAT

Inevitably, when the issue of adaptation funding is brought up, concerns about transparency and corruption always tag along, especially in African countries, where corruption is the “greatest foe.” According to Transparency International, 75 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa paid bribes in 2015.

In November of this year, Egypt’s judiciary referred five officials to an urgent trial on charges of corruption during the 2016 wheat harvest season for embezzling public funds. The North African country is also facing severe challenges due to climate change. At COP23, the Egyptian Minister of Environment stressed climate adaptation strategies and funds as one of Egypt’s priorities (link in Arabic).

The World Bank estimates that 10.5 percent of Egypt’s population could be displaced by rising waters caused by climate change. Rising sea levels and seawater temperatures will also increase the salinity of the Nile, Egypt’s primary water source, and increasingly salty water could destroy farmland across the Nile Delta. “I lived through times when the water levels [in the Nile dipped] really low, not due to climate change but natural climate variability,” the Adaptation Director at the United Nations Framework of Climate Change Conventions (UNFCCC) Youssef Nassef tells progrss.

“Given the cultural and historical attachment that we have to the river passing through our capital, the decline in water levels doesn’t [just] feature as a mere water issue, but [is very much attached] to our own heritage, feeling of belonging and identity of [Cairo] itself. So, knowing that climate change will very likely impact water levels on the sources of the Nile as well, other factors will render the Nile basically in danger,” says Nassef, who lived in the Cairene suburb of Heliopolis before he moved to Bonn to work at the UNFCCC’s headquarters, which was once the headquarters of West Germany’s House of Parliament.

But it is coastal cities in Africa that are especially threatened by climate change. Somalia’s capital of Mogadishu is a low-lying city that is especially vulnerable – not to mention plagued with poverty, political unrest and terrorism. Aside from frequent droughts due to uneven rainfall and dry weather, other environmental problems include deforestation, overgrazing, soil erosion, and desertification.

Further west, Nigeria’s economic capital Lagos, home to almost 16 million, is another coastal city threatened by climate change. Lagosians often wake up to floods claiming their houses, vehicles and businesses, without proper infrastructure to adapt to this frequent phenomenon.

South in Angola, rapid growth of informal urban settlements, sheltering 77 percent of the population of the capital in Luanda – home to 6.5 million – has resulted in occupation of high risk, low value land in swampy coastal locations and on precariously steep slopes. With poor drainage infrastructure, flooding is a major threat.

The Adaptation Fund – which supports cities-at-risk due to climate change – aspires to reach up to $80 million a year. “There were times when the demand far outweigh[ed] the supply, but we have heard at this COP for example that Germany offered $50 million to the Adaptation Fund,” Nassef says. The Adaptation Fund is not the only fund supporting adaptation – it’s not even the largest one. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is a much larger finance contingent to adaptation as well as mitigation. There’s another one called the Special Climate Change Fund, under the Global Environment Facility, that also supports adaptation and that has the least endowment of resources. There’s the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Fund, which – like the name suggests – supports adaptation in least developed countries. The LDC Fund is also doing well in terms of financing, according to Nassef. The LDC and Adaptation Fund get contributions in tandem.

“[To receive an adaptation fund] you have to be a party in the convention and you have to be a “developing country” which is a term that is ambiguous,” Nassef explains. “There is no single definition of developing countries in the UN system; it is left to each organization to define it for its own purposes. But we have a proxy for it, which are the countries that are designated as the non-Annex 1. “The Global Environment Facility decided that this is how one determines whether a country is a developing one or now, and that definition has been used ever since.”

African cities receive adaptation funds.

Food supplies being distributed to Muslim communities in Kenya in Ramadan this year. CC: Anes Sabitovic

In the process of granting adaptation funds, there is always an intermediary; some funds have executing agencies between the fund and the country to take care of this accountability. “There’s something called direct access, where an entity inside the country can directly receive the funds. But to avoid the misuse of resources, there are certain fiduciary requirements that have to be [proven] first and so even if it’s a national entity, they are subject to scrutiny and have to demonstrate that they have the safeguards in place and go through an evaluation procedure to make sure that things are done properly,” Nassef explains, illustrating the “clear” division of responsibilities; at the fund level, board members review the paperwork that comes in to make sure that papers are in order. The actual fund management entity, the secretariat of the GCF, will seize that at that level.

On the micro level, the assigned executive agencies or the direct access entity will create detailed day-to-day controls to make sure that there is no misappropriation. “Of course, all these are subject to auditing as well, so there will be auditors that look at how the money was spent and they will provide their reports,” Nassef says. There’s also a monitoring and evaluation office that annually assesses the whole operation of the funds; at times, the office will speak with UNFCCC directors to get their feedback on the performance of the funds as a whole.

However, even the UNFCCC has its blindspots. “Of course, there is some responsibility [that the fund receiver] at the far end [bears] at the national level,” says Nassef. “I mean at the very end there is someone taking the last cent who will actually procure something, [whether it be] buy a desk or a car or a computer system to analyze responses to a question, so that responsibility will always lie at the far end.”

On the private sector level, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has been working with the government of Uganda, with a little bit of support from the Climate Investment Fund, to develop a concept they call “adaptation benefit mechanism.” It is even listed in item 6.8 in the framework, where there are a couple of references in the adaptation benefit mechanism.

“The main reason why we want to develop this is, first of all, we think parties pledge to commit 50 percent to finance adaptation and fifty percent to mitigation, and if you look at…the CPI report, there’s a timeline at the top says that four percent went to Africa and 24 percent went to adaptation, but only a small percentage of that has gone to adaptation in Africa,” says Gareth Phillips, Chief Climate Change Officer at the AfDB. “So that is only a fraction of that 4 percent. Yet we know that Africa has massive adaptation requirements.” Phillips says that 53 out of Africa’s 54 countries have prioritized adaptation in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), and in most of those, adaptation is placed ahead of mitigation. “So, there’s a big demand for adaptation, there is a need to provide donor countries with a mechanism through which they can provide money in a transparent and credible manner for adaptation.”

Based on AfDB’s observations, the private sector is generally not engaged in adaptation activities and the reason for that is that most of the time, adaptation projects don’t bring immediate benefits to corporations. Phillips uses the example of indoor air quality as an issue that helps people adapt to climate change or helps them to come back economically stronger. “This is not something that the economy will see for many years until those people grow up and stay healthy instead of dying at a younger age. So, there is no profit [there] for the private sector.”

Similarly, back in the 1990s, entities were unwilling to give money to mitigation projects because there was no market mechanism – there was no price signal. Taking the example of what mitigation and the price signal did for investment in mitigation, the AfDB and partnering African governments want to take the same idea and apply it to the concept of adaptation. “In a way, we would communicate a pricing signal to make private sector investors invest in adaptation projects to help those countries achieve their NDCs,” he concludes.

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