AR3 MAGAZINE
April 2016

France’s Climate Research Agenda

An interview with Ambassador Châtaigner

Africa is the populous continent that pollutes the least, and at the same time suffers the most from global warming. Indeed, Africa is the continent that consumes less energy. For instance, 621 millions of Africans do not have access to electricity. On top of that, within the continent access to electricity is highly uneven: the consumption in electricity of South Africa represents 60% of the consumption of all the others sub-Saharan countries.

Nevertheless, the biggest contrast is not within Africa but between Africa and the industrialized and emerging economies. The enormous contrast is clear in the statistical record: the electricity consumption of an average Tanzanian in eight years is equal to that of the American counterpart in a month’s time. Africa has a very limited ecological print.  As a matter of fact, the share of the total emission of CO2 is less than 4% for the sub-Saharan Africa, against 26% for China. The intensity and frequency of floods and droughts have been multiplied over a decade; a rise in temperature by 2 degrees would mean the fall of the agricultural productivity by 20% in 2050, the most immediate consequence of which will be a major food crisis. Those phenomenon are enhanced by population growth rates above 3.5% in the Sahel, i.e., the population will double approximately every 20 years. For instance Niger had 3 million inhabitants in 1960, and are expected to reach 40 million in 2035.

Financing Adaptation

The United Nations estimates the cost of adaptation to climate change in this context to be some 45 million euros per year until 2050. The question of funding was at the heart of the Addis Ababa climate conference in July 2015, as well as one of the biggest topics of the COP 21 that December. The consensus was that money was needed urgently to find energy alternatives, for example, to coal, which four out of five Africans as the primary heat source for cooking. There are not only climate but sanitation and health consequences from these methods. Indeed, in Africa each year 500,000 children under the age of five die from pneumonia linked to indoor air pollution. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), this is the single greatest cause of child mortality on the continent.

More and more African states are making big bets on green energy, as Ethiopia demonstrates. The country has been able to set a cap on greenhouse gas emissions until 2030 thanks to an important program on renewable energies and through decreases gas emissions related to farming. Morocco, one of the strongest African energy innovators, launched in 2015 “Noor Ouarzazate”, one the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) grids in the world. This complex is capable of generating electricity for more than 1 million Moroccan homes.

With its huge solar potential, Africa can transform the climate crisis into an opportunity to implement a clean energy revolution.  COP 22, which will be held this year in Marrakech, will be yet another opportunity to drive home the question of financial responsibility for these transformations.  Within the framework of COP21, developed countries committed to raising 100 billion dollars a year by 2020 to support mitigation and adaptation in developing countries, and the Green Climate Fund (GCF) seems sure to become the largest vehicle for disbursing these funds. The goal is to catalyse a paradigm shift, transforming the very nature of economic and social activity so that low-carbon, climate-resilient development becomes norm. One of the ways in which the GCF could enhance its impact is by committing to support locally led adaptation initiatives instead of going through large international organizations. The regional and local ability to cope with the impact of climate change is largely determined by the commitment and capacity of local organizations. The GCF should therefore place emphasis on channelling adaptation finance to the local level. Investing in small and medium enterprises working in waste, energy and other climate-relevant sectors will support climate action, while creating jobs and spurring local economic development.  A robust evaluation and review mechanism will surely be essential to making sure funds are used to maximum effect.

Madagascar:  A Case in Point

Madagascar is a good example of the impact of climate changes on population and land. Sea level rise and increased storms threaten coastal communities and important coastal mangrove and wetland areas with flooding and erosion. Madagascar’s unique coral reef ecosystems are vulnerable to the effects of ocean warming and acidification. In 2005, warm ocean temperatures resulted in the bleaching of up to 80% of the coral on the north east coast of Madagascar. Shifting ocean currents will have potentially drastic impacts on fish populations and the migration routes of numerous wide-ranging species such as whales and turtles.  These kinds of dramatic changes are happening across the African continent, and action is absolutely imperative. Environmental crises locally lead to humanitarian crisis on a higher level.

Research is key to smart adaptation

Adaptation and planning for climate change assume the availability of longitudinal data. Projections of future climate and its impacts on society and the environment have been absolutely crucial for the emergence of climate change as a global issue for public policy and decision making (see page 21). Climate projections and models are based on a variety of scenarios, models and simulations, which contain a number of embedded assumptions. Climate prediction, and prediction on climate impact, involve deep uncertainties, and climate in only one factor in decisions aimed at climate adaptation.

For more than 70 years, half of the French Research Institute for Development (IRD) attention and resources have been focused on Africa.  Local IRD research partnerships are integrated into all of the  thematic priorities of the Institute, from infectious diseases linked to poverty, climate change, ecosystem management and natural resource policy, or globalization.  Climate change and related capacity building is a focus of many IRD research units, across the continent.  IRD is has been reaching out to North American partners, and the organisation hopes to deepen international research collaboration, especially on topics related to climate change and health in Africa.


Jean-Marc Châtaigner

Jean-Marc Châtaigner is Deputy Executive Director of the French Research Institute for Development (IRD).  Born in 1964, Amb. Châtaigner is a Foreign Affairs counselor at the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development. He served as Ambassador of France to Madagascar from 2009 until 2012, then as Deputy Managing Director of Globalization, Development and Partnerships at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Development until September, 2014.  He began his career as a civil administrator at the French Ministry of Cooperation and Development in 1990, successively acting as head of mission for Niger, Mali, Equatorial Guinea and Chad. Then he served as an economic and governance advisor, as well as deputy advisor to the head of the cultural action and cooperation mission at the French embassy in Côte d’Ivoire (1992-1995).

He has also represented France on the board of directors at UNICEF, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNPFA). In 1998, he was appointed second advisor in charge for monitoring African portfolios at the UN Security Council, as part of the Permanent Mission of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2007 until 2009, he served as chief of cabinet of the French Secretary of State for Cooperation and Francophony, and as deputy director to the French Minister of Foreign Affairs.  Ambassador Châtaigner is the author of The UN and the crisis in Sierra Leone (CEAN and Karthala, 2005). He also directed the publications Fragile states and societies: Between Conflicts, Reconstruction and Development (Karthala, 2007), and Fragility and Resilience: The New Borders of Globalization (Karthala, 2014).