West Africa adopts the first regional climate strategy

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Women draw water from a well in the village of Keral, in the Matam region of northeastern Senegal, on May 1, 2022.

Combating climate change has become a regional affair in West Africa. At the end of April, the 15 member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted a joint strategy for 2030, with the aim of strengthening their cooperation in political adaptation to the impacts already underway and developing development paths with lower greenhouse gas emissions

There are already common goals, for example in the energy sector, where ECOWAS countries aim to increase the share of renewable energies to 48% of the energy mix by 2030. Creating effective services in the areas of weather forecasting or prevention of natural disasters is already a topic common reflection. It is now a matter of going further by providing, for the most vulnerable sectors, such as agriculture, robust assessments of the impacts of global warming and proposing responses on a regional scale. Strengthening a common grain storage system to deal with frequent droughts and food crises is one avenue that has been put forward. ECOWAS also intends to play a role in helping its member countries conserve their forests and the carbon stocks they represent.

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“Climate change goes beyond borders. All our countries are affected by the spread of extreme events: floods, heat waves, coastal erosion… We must assess and respond to them,” Justified Sekou Sangari, ECOWAS Commissioner in charge of Agriculture, Environment and Water Resources.

Frequent droughts

About 400 million people live in West Africa, half of them in Nigeria. That number could reach one billion by 2050. The rapid retreat of the coast under the influence of rising sea levels is already forcing coastal communities to push inland. In the Sahel, where agriculture is still the dominant activity, frequent droughts and increased variability in rainfall lead to more inland migration. The region will experience an increase in temperatures above the global average.

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The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change projects, under somewhat pessimistic scenarios, a rise of between 1.9°C and 5.9°C by the end of the century. In the context of strong population growth and chronic food insecurity, a significant impact on yields of the major cultivated grains is expected, with a decrease ranging from 16% for sorghum to 25% for rice if warming is limited to 2°C.

The coexistence of pastoralists and farmers became more difficult. Peasants occupy the ancient nomadic paths who were forced to leave their lands. This always generates more conflicts, and none of our countries is immune. We must find solutions by creating, for example, cross-border spaces where common rules for the development and use of space will be defined, “ Mr. Sangaré continues.

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According to the work on climate migration in West Africa published by the World Bank in 2021, as many as 32 million people could be forced from their homes by mid-century. Niger and Nigeria are the countries most affected by this phenomenon.

Facilitating access to financing

All ECOWAS countries are parties to the Paris Climate Agreement, signed in 2015, submitted to the United Nations Climate Agreement National Contribution”, as it sets its own emissions mitigation targets and assesses its financial needs. Combined, these amounts to $294 billion (€279 billion) up to 2030 – including 45 billion for adaptation – and it is not within the reach of countries that do all of that , except for four (Cape Verde, Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana and Nigeria), which are part of the least developed countries.

While contributing only 1.8% to global carbon dioxide emissions2If these countries are to respect their low-carbon development paths, they depend to a large extent on international financing. Access to ‘international windows’, such as the Green Climate Fund, has often proven to be complex for governments with limited technical capabilities.

From this point of view, moving to the regional level can overcome this difficulty. This is, in any case, one of the objectives of the regional strategy which provides, for example, to accredit ECOWAS Investment and Development Bank in the Green Fund in order to facilitate access to financing.

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The European Union, which has supported the development of this regional strategy, has pledged to support its implementation. In a context where many countries are going through deep political crises, this supranational project – provided it is provided with real means – can also make it possible to ensure the continuity of climate action by overcoming local disturbances.

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