Adaptation and mitigation unpacked through an African lens 

Ahead of COP27, expect to start hearing a lot more about mitigation and adaptation. These are the key themes emerging before Africa’s second COP, particularly when it comes to financing. 

Climate change mitigation means avoiding and reducing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to prevent the planet from warming to more extreme temperatures. Think: Opting for renewable energy over fossil fuels. 

Climate change adaptation, on the other hand, kicks into action when mitigation is no longer enough. It means literally adapting our behaviour and systems to the effects of climate change we can no longer avoid. One example is developing action plans for climate emergencies.

The problem, however, is that these terms continue to be used in limited ways. 

Consider the wording on the COP organising body’s website in terms of how the landmark Paris Agreement speaks to these terms: 

“The Paris Agreement reaffirms that developed countries should take the lead in providing financial assistance to countries that are less endowed and more vulnerable… Climate finance is needed for mitigation because large-scale investments are required to significantly reduce emissions. Climate finance is equally important for adaptation, as significant financial resources are needed to adapt to the adverse effects and reduce the impacts of a changing climate.”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has it right when it comes to the need for climate financing to tackle these areas together. 

But Africa’s role cannot be reduced to mere “countries that are less endowed and more vulnerable”. Instead, African experts must take the lead in how this financing is dispensed across each area, shaped by our unique circumstances and context. 

With COP27 taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt – the first time in Africa since 2011 – it is essential that we consider both these terms through an African lens. 


Mitigation is at the forefront of the effort to stop climate change: it puts the onus on countries to reduce their emissions and slow the planet’s warming. When it comes to Africa, opportunities to finance mitigation efforts include innovations like adapting buildings to make them more energy efficient, solar power and electric vehicles.

But despite a growing appetite for these kinds of investments, the current public and private climate funds flowing from high-income countries to Africa for climate mitigation are just not enough. And, concerningly, it is largely inaccessible to communities on the frontlines of climate impacts. This is a problem. As international development expert Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala puts it, building the new climate economy is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that every African should prioritise and claim a stake in. 

 That’s why we need a systems-level change within the global climate finance architecture. The global targets and definitions that underpin the trillions of public and private sector dollars going into climate finance need to match the realities of the opportunities and needs in the African market.

We also should consider how the voluntary Nationally Determined Contribution by each country can be converted into national financing plans that can attract finance for climate action. 

As we’ve written before, South Africa’s watershed multibillion-dollar climate finance deal announced at COP26 was widely viewed as a success story of the new brand of climate diplomacy, showing how the developed world and the developing world can align their visions. 

South Africa saw the value of committing to ambitious targets to attract the billions the envoys were offering.

France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union pledged R131 billion over the next three to five years in the form of grants, concessional loans and investment and risk-sharing instruments, including mobilising private sector funding.

In return for the funds, its state-owned power utility Eskom will shut down its coal power stations over the next 15 years – before the end of their normal lifespan. 

South Africa will also use the funds to build a green hydrogen sector and help shift the nation’s transportation to electric vehicles.

Here are other mitigation strategies Africa should consider:

  1. Agroecology: More on this later, but this sustainable method of food production is key to food security in the face of rapidly changing climate patterns.  
  2. Access to climate finance to those who need it most: Without sufficient funding directed in appropriate ways, efforts to mitigate climate change will yield disappointing results. 
  3. Better land management: Deforestation is one of the driving forces of climate change in Africa. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Association Africa cuts down 4 million hectares of forests in a year, almost double the world’s deforestation average.
  4. Close the climate financing gap: African governments should pledge more money towards mitigation efforts so they are less reliant on international funding and the strings attached to it.


When it comes to adapting to the effects of climate change, the key issue in Africa is agriculture – a crucial component of most of the continent’s economies.

Much of the agriculture on the continent is rain-fed and dependent on predictable irrigation and natural weather cycles to meet production requirements. In addition, the majority of agriculture is used for some form of subsistence production. This means climate change poses a significant threat to both food security and livelihoods dependent on the sector. 

While these livelihoods extend beyond just the farm level, there is less clarity about the extent of this threat and potential adaptation strategies for the rest of the agricultural value chains – storage, processing, distribution and so on.  

So what are the solutions for adaptation at the farm level?

The options differ in approach between the industrial agricultural model – large-scale and intensive farms reliant on synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilisers, or the agroecological route, which is a less-ecologically harmful approach to agriculture.

 The industrial agricultural model has largely been favoured with its emphasis on increased productivity. The shortcomings of this model, however, are that Africa’s food insecurity problem isn’t necessarily just about productivity. Africa produces and imports enough food for its people. Instead, the challenge is the lack of access to this food – a primary driver of hunger and malnutrition. 

That’s why the agroecological model – using natural systems to boost Africa’s adaptation capacity – makes more sense. There is increasing evidence that agroecology works. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has noted that “agroecological practices, and other agricultural approaches that work with natural processes, support food security, health and well-being, biodiversity and ecosystem services”. They further point out that agroecology can improve the resilience of the food system, support long-term productivity and reduce the reliance on external inputs

We’ll be diving into this topic in more detail in time but for now, here’s how countries can make the transition to agroecology: 

  1. Building infrastructure like roads that will help get distribution systems in place – particularly for rural communities
  2. Making digital technologies more accessible, which would provide farmers with the ability to sell products through online platforms and access information about market prices as well as other crucial information
  3. Giving farmers access to grants, credit, and insurance to be able to transition to agroecological methods
  4. Increased investment in agroecological farming through the scaling of in-person extension services
  5. Land reform so farmers can secure long-term land tenure 


As we’ve previously pointed out, #TheCOPWeNeed as a continent is one that builds contextually relevant climate action, both within and outside the Paris Agreement. To do this, we need to put Africa’s specific needs and opportunities at the forefront of discussions on how to partner with the continent financially. ACF will continue to unpack how we can ensure the next climate negotiations prioritises our continent’s unique context and potential when it comes to financing. 

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