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IPCC, experts say climate research funding for Egypt, Africa insufficient to adapt to threats of climate change

While conducting research on how heat shocks affect wheat growing in Egypt, climate adaptation expert Saber Osman had to use his own money to fund his work.

Osman received some support from his university, including equipment and a piece of land, but its capacities were limited. To achieve the conditions needed to complete his experiment, he had to pay a large sum of money on his own. “This is not normal,” he told Mada Masr.

The challenges that Osman faced are indicative of a broader issue. Though African countries, including Egypt, are highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change, they receive much less research funding than other countries, according to the latest assessment report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

According to experts who spoke to Mada Masr, of the limited funding that is available, little is channeled into devising new ways of adapting to the existing and imminent challenges that climate change presents to the continent and people living on it.

The deficit leaves countries like Egypt heading defenseless toward a future that could see more frequent droughts, rising sea levels, flooding and agricultural damage if the average global temperature crosses the threshold of a 2 degrees Celsius increase.

Over the past three decades, Africa received only 3.8 percent of the funding for climate research, whether on the impacts of climate change, on the mitigation of emissions or on adaptation to climate change, said the IPCC report released at the end of February.

For Egypt, funding for climate-related research in that period has been low even in comparison to many other African countries, falling in the US$1–10 million range, according to IPCC figures, despite the fact that Egypt has one of the highest population densities in Africa.

Source: The Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

How did this come to be? While the issue is compound, according to Osman, a primary reason is that developed countries have not met the funding commitments they made in global climate pacts.

Developed countries pledged to increase climate financing to developing nations to $100 billion each year by 2020 during the 2009 UN climate change summit in Copenhagen.

Yet, climate finance barely reached $80 billion in 2019, and a recent report from Oxfam assessed that the $100 billion target is unlikely to be met, even by 2025. A UN report has also suggested developed countries overreport how much they have contributed by as much as $3–4 billion each year.

“In the climate agreement, everything related to financing is supposed to fall to developed countries,” said Osman. “It’s a historical responsibility; they released the largest quantity of emissions from the mid-18th century until now. It’s legally binding.”

Technology transfer and capacity building are also key responsibilities for developed countries, said Osman, noting that while some countries on the continent have sufficient research capacities that are only lacking in funding, others don’t have enough trained researchers and lack the equipment or infrastructure, such as weather stations, to collect the historical data needed for research.

Nor has the funding for climate research directed to Africa addressed these structural issues.

Seventy-eight percent of the funding that went to research on climate change in Africa between 1990 and 2020 went to research institutions in the EU and North America, according to the IPCC, while only 14.5 percent went to Africa-based institutions. For Egypt, the percentage of climate studies conducted by locally-based researchers fell in the 21–40 percent range.

Source: The Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

Another aspect of the issue, as environmental researcher Ahmed El-Adawy told Mada Masr, is whether the meager climate research funding that goes to Egypt, and Africa in general, is directed towards mitigation — lowering CO2 emissions — or adaptation to climate change impacts.

Projections show that some of the worst effects of climate change will impact the African continent, which accounts for only 2 to 3 percent of the world’s CO2 emissions.

Focusing on methods of adapting to these threats should be taking priority over mitigation, but the IPCC report revealed that rates of research on adaptation are low in most African countries — including Egypt — compared to the rest of the world. Western countries are much more interested in providing funding for mitigation targets, Adawy said.

Advances in adaptation research lag behind those in mitigation in all developing countries, and even in developed countries, according to Osman. “Any country can use mitigation technologies, such as electric vehicles, as long as it has the infrastructure, but adaptation is tailor-made, very specific to the particular case.”

For this reason, he added, adaptational research and projects require more funding per country than mitigation, which is why most countries prioritize the latter.

However, market logic also contributes to pushing developed countries to direct fewer funds toward adaptation, said Osman. Because adaptation is specific to each local environment, the solutions are harder to repackage and export to other markets.

If you make an energy-saving light bulb, a good example of mitigation technology, you can sell it anywhere, he said, but you can’t do that if you develop a wheat strain to grow in Egypt’s specific weather and soil conditions. “That’s why they focus on mitigation, because it is market-driven, they can benefit from it, make back all their investments and make a profit, too.”

As a result, the continent is at risk of facing the effects of climate change head-on and unprepared. Available financing for adaptation is billions of dollars short of the minimum estimates of what’s needed to adapt to climate change in the near term, according to the IPCC.

Source: The Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Sixth Assessment Report

Egypt, for example, received only US$31.4 million from the Green Climate Fund for projects to protect its northern coast from rising sea levels, a fraction of the $73 billion Egypt quoted in its 2015 submission to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to achieve the Paris Agreement goals, yet to be received.

Ahead of hosting the COP27 summit later this year, Egypt is stressing the need to increase funding for its adaptation goals, waving the flag of developed countries’ historical responsibility for climate change and their need to meet their financing commitments.

Yet, with investments thus far mostly flowing toward grand renewable energy projects, Egypt is seeking to involve the private sector in achieving its adaptation goals, according to Osman. “Many measures can be done, but we need to find entry points. The state can finance some projects from its budget to create an environment that enables the private sector to get involved.”

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