African governments must leave ‘climate tourists’ behind and drive action in Doha

By Thabit Jacob

With the United Nations climate conference (COP 18) less than a week away, it is that time of the year when delegates from various corners of the world, including Africa are packing their bags ready for yet another international summit, this time in Qatar.

In Tanzania, this is the time for intensive lobbying among members of various government ministries and civil society organizations to make sure they make it to Doha.

Most of these people are just too excited to be part of delegations because the chance comes with a big expenses account and an opportunity to travel abroad.

Some of us working in this field call them “climate tourists” a term used to describe delegates who attend these conferences to see new places, take snaps of nice beaches and attractive landscapes, and engage in lavish shopping, instead of representing their countries and organisations.

Delegates from across the world will be arriving at the Qatar National Convention Centre next week to further the debate on climate action (Source: UNclimatechange/Flickr)

As delegates from around the world gather in Doha, a big question emerges: What issues will African delegates negotiate at the conference?

It’s important to remind ourselves that Africa is already facing the socio-economic impacts of climate change and research shows the continent will be particularly vulnerable. This is due to the considerably limited adaptive capacity (capacity to adapt to the effects of climate change), worsened by widespread poverty.

The following in my view, are the key issues that African delegates and negotiators should press hard in Doha.


First I expect African countries to voice their concerns on the need for developed countries to bring their emissions reduction targets in line with the recent scientific recommendations. I expect this to go hand in hand with negotiations to renew the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in at the end of this year.

A second commitment period under Kyoto is crucial to ensure countries stick to their emission reductions targets.

I expect African negotiators to remind others that the Kyoto Protocol is the only legally binding international agreement with quantifiable targets for reducing the greenhouse gas emissions and its fate is crucial.

Another important issue that African delegates must be very strong on is the issue of climate financing. Since 2009, there has been a big gap between aid pledges and delivery. Climate aid is seen as a moral obligation because around 75% of the greenhouse gas emissions to date have come from the rich countries, but it is the poor countries, notably those in Africa, that are suffering from the effects climate change.

In 2009, world leaders agreed to reach a goal of $100 billion in annual climate aid by 2020 to help the poor to slow global warming but the process has been slow. Currently, many donor countries are struggling to fix their own economies and have limited cash for climate aid to help poor nations.

The Green Climate Fund was agreed recently and is seen by many as an important tool to enable poor countries to finance climate change adaptation.

Funding clean cook stoves, off grid electricity and resilient agriculture are among the projects tackling climate change and boosting development in Africa. (Source: DfID)

However, the fund is new and empty and developing countries want rich nations to inject new cash to the pot to channel aid towards poor nations. Finance is key and I expect fierce debates between delegates on that aspect.

Another key area of concern for Africa is the issue of capacity building.

African countries lack capacity in a number of areas and there is a need to improve Africa’s understanding of the impacts and vulnerability to climate change. There is also the need to enhance the ability to make informed decisions on adaptation and mitigation measures. These are important issues that African’s delegates will need to press hard in Doha.


Another is technology transfer, an often overlooked issue.

Africa lacks appropriate technology to invest in low-carbon energy sources. Africa’s renewable energy potential remains untapped due to a lack of appropriate technology. African delegates must push to ensure the continent is able to access technologies that can ensure sustainable development and also boost local economies.

African delegates are also expected to continue with negotiations related to Land Use, Land-Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), including negotiations related to REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, sustainable management of forest, conservation and enhancement of forest carbon stocks).

REDD+ is based on the idea that countries willing and able to reduce emissions from deforestation should be financially compensated for doing so. African delegates must stand strong because Africa needs to be supported financially and technologically to reverse the trend of deforestation and in doing so positively contributing to mitigation efforts globally.

Vocation not vacation

My experiences from last year’s UN Climate conference in South Africa and this year’s UN conference on sustainable development (Rio+20) in Brazil shows that these meetings can be frustrating, especially for delegates from less developed countries.

However, I learned that these kinds of UN meetings are also the only avenues we have for government representatives, civil society organizations, world leaders and other stakeholders to voice their concerns and contribute in global efforts to achieve sustainable development.

I strongly believe that increased engagement by African countries in the UNFCCC process remains the best multilateral option to address the challenges of climate change on the continent.

Finally, my message to African countries including Tanzania is that, instead of sending “climate tourists”, they should send experienced negotiators who have been attending these talks over the years.

These negotiations require continuity and experience from African negotiators and policy makers to ensure maximum and informed representation of the African agenda.

Thabit Jacob is the Chair of African Young Scientist Initiative on Climate Change and Indigenous Knowledge. An initiative based in South Africa with presence in other African countries.

He is currently Assistant Lecturer and Course Instructor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, at the University of Dodoma in Tanzania where he lectures courses in Climate Change and Development and also Natural Resources Management.

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