President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday that while Africa was grappling with the effect of the pandemic on human health, societies and economies, the continent continued to bear the brunt of climate change.

“It is absolutely imperative that everyone contributes their fair share if we are to limit global warming to the agreed target of well below two degrees, build the resilience of our economies and ensure the safety and wellbeing of our citizens,” said Ramaphosa.

The president — who was addressing a virtual meeting at the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change — said the global crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic affected all countries.

“On our continent, the pandemic has exposed our socio-economic vulnerabilities and increased debt burdens. It has created new challenges as we work towards the Sustainable Development Goals, responding to climate change as envisaged in the Paris Agreement, as well as attaining our Agenda 2063 aspirations,” said Ramaphosa, who assumed the role of co-ordinator of the committee in February last year.

Africa, he said, continues to be one of the most affected regions and frequently experiences phenomena associated with global warming including droughts, floods, cyclones and other extreme weather events, which have caused enormous damage to infrastructure and displaced thousands of people.

He told leaders at a that meeting that took place shortly after the virtual climate summit of world leaders convened by US President Joe Biden in April which reaffirmed that the international community needed to significantly scale up its efforts, raise the level of ambition and support developing countries with the means to implement climate actions.

He said: “Africa needs to speak with one clear voice to emphasise the primacy of multilateralism and to express our unwavering support for the full implementation of the UN Climate Change Convention and its Paris Agreement.”

He added that a strong and well-coordinated “Common African Position” was needed.

“We need to adopt key messages that encapsulate Africa’s aspirations and work together in the spirit of unity and solidarity as a continent.

“We need to send a clear message that all African countries require support from international partners and that our development space should be respected to achieve our climate goals and ambitions, while contributing our fair share to the global effort.”

Given the high unemployment rate and inequity faced by underdeveloped countries, Ramaphosa said it was not correct to expect them to meet the same timelines as developed countries to transition their economies and disinvest from fossil fuels.  

Furthermore, he said, a clear signal needed to be sent that “implementation and ambition apply equally to mitigation, adaptation and support”.

He said: “Increased ambition for action must be matched with enhanced ambition for support.”

He said while the coronavirus pandemic has had a profound effect on sustainable development and efforts to combat environmental degradation, there were opportunities to recover.

“In this regard, many governments and regions are prioritising a green recovery as part of their stimulus packages to address the crisis,” he said.

Ramaphosa said the African Green Stimulus Programme adopted by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in December 2020 is an innovative African-led initiative to support the continent’s recovery.

The African Green Stimulus Programme seeks to harness the opportunities of a green recovery through a more co-ordinated approach and the scaling up of resource mobilisation, capacity-building and technology development, he explained.

“It is clear that Africa will need climate change, environment and sustainable development initiatives to be implemented at a much larger scale.

“This is not only to contribute significantly to Africa’s green recovery, but also to fully realise the Africa we want as espoused in Agenda 2063. We must therefore do everything within our means to ensure a successful outcome of COP26 in November this year, particularly for Africa.”