Evolution of a Stronger African Coalition

December 18, 2009

Earlier this past summer, African countries for the first time announced that they would come to Copenhagen as a distinct negotiating bloc.  For those who follow the role Africa has played in international environmental negotiations, this was a major development.  In previous multilateral environmental agreements, African countries traditionally negotiated under the umbrella group known as the G77 and had little visibility in the debate.  In Copenhagen, the still-young negotiating bloc is already showing signs of maturation.

A common criticism that is often made about coalitions from developing countries is that they are good at blocking proposals from developed countries, and not so good at proposing their own solutions.  Indeed, that accusation is quite evident here in Copenhagen, with the US and the EU blaming the G77 and China for stalling the talks (although the G77 is also pointing fingers at the developed countries as the obstacle).

The African Group’s emergence as a distinct negotiating bloc started out with an image that the Group was nothing more than a “blocking” coalition.  In November, the Group stunned other delegates when the African negotiators walked out of talks in Barcelona and brought the discussions to a halt. The African delegation explained that they were frustrated by the developed countries’ refusal to commit to substantial emissions reductions and come up with major funding for adaptation and mitigation.  Almost the same drama played out here in Copenhagen again earlier this week when the African coalition threatened to leave the negotiating table over the same objections that they had raised in Barcelona.

But the African Group realizes that complaining alone will not advance their interests, much less win them new friends.  That is why the Group teamed up with France a few days ago and came up with a proposal that was well received in the Bella Center.  The new proposal aims to resolve the sticking points that have divided the developed and developing nations.  Among other things, the proposal calls for:

  • Halving global CO2 emissions by 2050 compared to 1990, and by extension that developed countries reduce their emissions by at least 80%.  The proposal is silent on midterm targets, probably because the African Group and the French could not agree on a specific number;
  • Strong commitment on long-term financing for mitigation and adaptation in developing countries.  These funds would be in the tune of $100 billion by 2020.
  • A “fast start” fund between 2010 and 2012 in the amount of $10 billion per year.  The proposal states that 40 percent of these funds should go to adaptation projects in Africa;
  • Create a high-level expert group within the UNFCCC system that will administer the “fast start” funds and the long term financing funds.

The African and French initiative is beginning to gain momentum, with Hillary Clinton announcing that the United States would be willing to support this financing scheme.  This is the first time that the US has backed such a fund, and it shows that the African Group has been successful in influencing the US to go along with this proposal.

But it is also important to point out that not all African countries and NGOs are happy with the deal that the lead African negotiator, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, cut with the French.  Some countries like Nigeria are unhappy that the Group accepted a $100 billion by 2020 and see the 10 billion amount in the “fast start” fund as inadequate for adaptation and mitigation needs in developing countries.  The Pan-African Alliance for Climate Justice also criticized the deal as not encompassing the interest of all Africans.  But at the end of the day, a coalition as diverse as the African Group will always have some internal differences.  The key point is that they have been able to stick together as a group, and that there presence is beginning to be felt more than ever before. In the Bella Center and in other parts of Copenhagen where climate change talks are talking place, the Africa Group is being talked about more than ever before.

For the African Group, time will tell if becoming a distinct coalition of their own is better than allowing the G77 to define their positions, but for now it is fair to say that the young African coalition is showing sign of maturation. — Mukhtar Amin

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