The African continent is potentially the one most vulnerable to climate change. The risk of desertification, from which the continent is known to suffer, the poverty of a large proportion of the population, which depends upon natural resources and agriculture, the insufficient means possessed by governments which are barely able to maintain even the existing infrastructures, e.g. health care, all seem to be setting the stage for a potentially worrisome situation at the beginning of the 21st century.
Africa's contribution to the global anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases is relatively small; they amounted to approximately seven percent in 1990, land-use changes included. The emissions caused by the burning of fossil fuels, including transportation, are even smaller and represent only 3.9 percent of the worlds total (IEA, 1999). With approximately 70 percent, the principal emission source on the African continent is land-use change, which essentially means deforestation.The remaining 30 percent can be attributed to industrial emissions and transportation. These data indicate the importance that the climate change negotiations represent for Africa, particularly the way forestry and agricultural activities will be treated in the different mechanisms which are emerging from the international negotiations. The majority of African countries, except several North African countries and South Africa, which have a significant industrial base, scarcely benefit from the financial incentives linked to reducing emissions in the electricity, cement, manufacturing or transportation sectors, especially in comparison with China, India or Brazil.
Africa will only be able to overcome the negative consequences of climate change by safeguarding the continent's ecological balance, since conserving its forest areas and soil production capabilities, and maintaining its animal and plant biodiversity are vital to the continent's ability to adapt. Africa cannot develop without assistance from the rest of the world, particularly from developed countries. Development assistance has begun to diminish, and private investments now exceed official development aid, but they tend to concentrate in other world areas, excluding Africa from this investment flow.
The United Nations Framework Convention on climate change (UNFCCC) has created several instruments for reducing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere. They aim at encouraging investments in "clean" development activities which limit greenhouse gas emissions or fix carbon in the earth's ecosystems. Some of these instruments are still under development and not yet operational. One of them, the "Clean Development Mechanism" (CDM), is both a development instrument and a method allowing industrialized countries to reduce emissions at the lowest possible cost. Further negotiations must clarify the definitions, rules and modalities for the CDM, and many African countries hope for an investment instrument which corresponds to their needs.
This document aims to present the potential of the instruments of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and of the Kyoto Protocol for sustainable forestry in Africa.