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Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General of the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa- UCLG and Frédéric Vallier Secretary General at Council of European Municipalities and Regions-CEMR

A Robust Response in Gestation from African Mayors to Fight Climate Change

November 26, 2019

By Ajong Mbapndah L

Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General, UCLG Africa.
Mr. Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General, UCLG Africa.

Higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, drought, and increased climate variability are some of the climate changes pushing scientist and experts to make dire predictions on the future for Africa if nothing is done. Determined to meet the challenge of climate change head on, African mayors and local governments leaders are taking urgent actions to cushion the effects.

Working under the aegis of The Covenant of Mayors in Sub-Saharan Africa (CoM SSA) – African cities and municipalities are developing and implementing sustainable climate and energy actions that center on access to clean energy, climate mitigation and climate adaptation. Funded by the European Union, CoM SSA  is the regional chapter of the Global CovenantofMayors ,the  largest coalition of cities to local climate and energy action, an initiative shaped by local governments to reflect the importance of climate and energy action at local level, while highlighting the context and specificities of the Sub-Saharan region.

At the 2nd African Climate Chance Summit, that took place in Ghana recently and  featured the Conference of the Covenant of Mayors In Sub-Saharan Africa-CoM SSA , one of the most critical messages was to ensure  accessibility of climate finance at the local level.

To shed more light on the climate change challenges, and the robust response that African mayors are working on, Jean Pierre Elong MbassiSecretary General of the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa- UCLG and  Frédéric Vallier Secretary General at Council of European Municipalities and Regions-CEMR, fielded questions from PAV.

Could we start by introducing the Covenant of Mayors In Sub-Saharan Africa for us and its brief history?

Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General, CEMR  :The Covenant of Mayors in Sub-Saharan Africa (CoM SSA) initiative supports Sub-Saharan cities in their fight against climate change and in their efforts in ensuring access to clean energy. Started in 2015, the initiative is shaped by local authorities for the local authorities to reflect the local context and specificities.

The Covenant of Mayors in Sub-Saharan Africa (CoM SSA) is the “regional covenant” of the Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy (GCoM). It is a bottom-up and voluntary initiative that invites cities to define and meet ambitious and realistic energy and climate targets. Cities and Local authorities are encouraged to define their long-term vision and actions towards a sustainable future based on the pillars of Climate Change i) Mitigation, ii) Adaptation, and iii) sustainable, affordable and secure Access to Energy.

The CoM SSA initiative was launched in 2015, just around the same period as the historic Conference of Parties (COP) 21 and is funded by the European Union, with the ambition of bringing together local governments in Sub-Sharan Africa voluntarily committed to fighting climate change.

The main objective of the CoM SSA is to increase the capacity of cities to provide access to sufficient, sustainable and safe energy related services to urban and peri-urban populations, with special attention to energy efficiency and renewable energy as drivers for local low emission, climate resilient, sustainable development. Given the major challenge of urban growth in most African countries in the coming decades, the specific objective is to increase local governments’ planning capacities on urban design, mobility and energy.

What would you cite as some of the success stories of CoM SSA since its creation?

Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General, CEMR : In Africa, cities and municipalities are particularly vulnerable when it comes to climate change. Increasing floods and droughts threaten city’s social and economic health, and the need for clean, stable energy is constant. One of the major successes is that the initiative has over 200 signatory cities across sub-Saharan Africa, and is working with 13 pilot cities which are receiving funding from the European Union to develop climate action plans and implement pilot actions in their territories. Thanks to CoM SSA, mayors and city civil servants have been mobilized, their awareness increased, their capacities built, and their readiness to face climate change improved.

How many members does CoM SSA have and what does it take to join?

Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General, UCLG Africa :Joining CoM SSA, now more than 200 cities strong, is open to any city or municipality in Sub-Saharan Africa regardless of size.

Benefits of joining the initiative are numerous but a snapshot view includes:

  • Capacity building and support to implement climate change policy commitments that contribute to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the drive for cities and local governments to be recognized and included in the development of Nationally Determined Contributions
  • Access to general and technical support on climate and energy planning including the very important step to access finance
  • Gaining access to best practices and taking part in city to city partnerships leading to knowledge exchanges and peer support at regional and local workshops in Senegal, Kenya and Cape Town to name a few.
  • Engaging in networking opportunities with other global cities including the participation of the Mayor of Accra representing Africa on the Executive Board of GCoM at the UN Climate Action Summit in New York in September 2019 where he spoke passionately about the impact of climate on the health of people in his city through air pollution highlighting solutions that Accra the city aims to introduce to address this
  • Increase international visibility for Sub-Saharan Africa local governments’ climate and energy actions through joint events such as Climate Chance and the participation in key Global events including COP 25 scheduled now to take place in Madrid, Spain between 2-13 December 2019.

The 2nd African Climate Chance Summit, featuring the Conference of the Covenant of Mayors in Sub Saharan Africa (CoM SSA) took place in Ghana, can you shed some light on how the Summit went and some of the major outcomes?

Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General, UCLG Africa :Jean-Pierre Elong-Mbassi, Secretary General of the United Cities and Local Governments of Africa, chaired the first day’s opening and he highlighted four key messages from the Conference

  1. The need to correct the imbalance in financing Climate Adaptation to enable African local governments to achieve their ambitious climate action plans, with Africa demanding more adaptation finance;
    1. Ghana to position itself as Africa’s Climate Hub and champion the localisation of Nationally Determined Contributions. The Mayor of Accra, who is the Global Covenant of Mayor’s Executive Board member and CoM SSA Ambassador, is well positioned to take these messages to the international stage;
    1. The Climate Chance Summit Africa to become the preparation conference for COPs representing cities, local governments and non-state actors in Africa to formulate and deliver their messages, declarations and recommendations at an international level where these ambitious climate plans that are now called “The Accra Climate Dialogue”; and

The theme of the conference was “Towards the Institutionalization of Local Climate Action and Access to Finance,” how did it tie in with the objectives or agenda that CoM SSA has?

Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General, UCLG Africa: The idea is to make climate action a component of most of the municipalities in every country in Africa. National governments have a role as they can create the enabling environment, such as new institutional framework, in order to generalize local climate action and make it more effective.

In terms of climate change, how is this manifested in some of your member cities, what are some of the changes worthy of concern that are been reported?

Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General, UCLG Africa :Some cities have created teams of civil servants within their municipal structure, sometimes in cooperation with other supporting stakeholders from civil society and universities, to address the issues of climate change and energy access. The institutional dynamic at city level was boosted by the capacity building activities that cities could benefit from the CoM SSA program, as well as thanks to the peer-learning with other cities from the continent, such as Bouaké in Ivory Coast and Tsévié in Togo, which both almost finalized their climate plans. These cities already implement local projects such as safer and cleaner cook stoves, public lightening powered by solar energy and waste management initiatives.

Frederick Vailler CEMR SG High Res Pic
Frederick Vailler CEMR SG

Looking at the realities on the ground, in the cities across Africa, how bad or alarming is the situation compared to some of the dire reports that we see in some international publications?

Jean Pierre Elong Mbassi, Secretary General, UCLG Africa :According to IPCC regular reports, Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents and it is already one that is experiencing the consequence of climate changes in the most spectacular way. Droughts, flooding, desertification, biodiversity loss, etc. are happening more often and in worse proportions than before.

We noticed that that the activities of CoM SSA are funded by the European Union, what kind of support are your members and CoM SSA as a group getting from African governments?

Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General, CEMR :CoM SSA initiative does not receive specific support from African government. However, in some instances, contacts have been established with agents from ministries so they can promote the initiative back to their countries or promote the cooperation of cities with national statistical agencies for example. The President of Ghana spoke in support of CoM SSA during the last Climate Chance conference in Accra.

Besides the funding that it provides, what other support do you get from the EU and other international partners, and how do you balance local or African realities with dictates of some of the international partners?

Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General, CEMR : In addition to its financial support, the European Union supports CoM SSA through the involvement of its Joint Research Centre, a European research agency, which developed key material for the development of climate plans (Guidebook for the elaboration of climate action plans) and still provides technical support.

CoM SSA implementing partners from Europe have also shared experiences acquired with the European Covenant of Mayors and promoted city partnerships of African cities with European cities in the area of climate action. CoM SSA also relies on its partners based in Africa, with their strong local experience, to provide support in capacity-building, technical support, opportunities for advocacy and opportunities of cooperation with African civil society.

What kind of mechanisms does CoM SSA have in place to monitor progress with recommendations from the recent forum, and what next in the months and years to come for CoM SSA?

Frédéric Vallier, Secretary General, CEMR :CoM SSA Help Desk based in Accra, at UCLG-Africa’s West Africa regional office, is in constant contact with signatory cities in order to provide them with technical support and monitoring their progress towards the development of their climate action plans. The Help Desk, together with other partners such as ICLEI-Africa, is also liaising with cities on possible funding opportunities.

The European Union will continue to support the CoM SSA, including with specific support to African cities ready to implement a climate plan from 2020. African partner organisations, such as UCLG-Africa (based in Accra), ICLEI-Africa (based in Cape Town), Sustainable Energy Africa (based in Cape Town) and ENDA Energies (based in Dakar) will continue their work in guiding the CoM SSA signatory cities through their climate action.

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