How The Gambia became the first country set to fully honor the Paris Agreement

National climate plans from all over the world rolled in ahead of COP26, but as yet only one country’s plans are ambitious enough to meet all the Paris Agreement goals. The inclusion of subnational governments played a crucial part.

The UNFCCC’s 26th Conference of the Parties (COP26) in November is a critical summit for addressing the climate emergency. The 2021 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report underscores it is still possible to keep global warming at 1.5 degrees and meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, but only if unprecedented action is taken now.

Under the Paris Agreement, nations committed to submitting updated national climate plans – officially called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – every five years. Meeting the 1.5 degree target is not the only goal. Reaching climate neutrality and taking multilevel, multistakeholder action are also key.

Updated NDCs are expected at COP26 and the updates needed to be substantial, as the NDCs submitted in 2015 were collectively not ambitious enough to achieve any of these targets. According to the UNFCCC’s NDC Synthesis Report that was released in mid-September, 120 countries have since submitted new NDCs. Additional countries including Japan and Korea have submitted their NDCs after the report’s release.

While many of these countries’ NDCs show increased ambition, according to the Climate Action Tracker (CAT), only one country’s plans are ambitious enough to fully honor the Paris Agreement. And it’s the smallest country in Africa.

Get everything you need to know about COP26 in the Cities & Regions Guide to COP26.

The Gambia knows that national climate action plays out in cities, towns and regions

The Republic of The Gambia is the smallest country in mainland Africa. It’s surrounded almost entirely by Senegal with only a narrow strip of coastline along the Atlantic Ocean. It’s home to a variety of ecosystems, abundant wildlife and vital wetlands. The Gambia submitted their updated NDC in September this year, showing a strong commitment to protecting this biodiversity and building resilience to future climate shocks while also decreasing overall greenhouse gas emissions. According to Climate Tracker, it remains the only NDC in line to achieve the 1.5-degree-target.

The NDC itself outlines a series of targets, ultimately culminating to meet all the main goals in the Paris Agreement. These targets are often directed at different sectors and departments, so successful implementation of projects that will contribute to meeting these targets relies on the work of cities and other subnational governments. The Gambia specifically considered this when compiling their NDC five-year implementation plans for mitigation and adaptation. As part of the NDC Partnership, ICLEI Africa assisted the country to develop this plan.

“We specifically made sure to involve not only stakeholders across government tiers, but also representatives from academia and the private sector in our meetings and workshops when compiling the NDC 5-year implementation plans,” explained Dr Kate Strachan, Senior Professional Officer and climate expert at ICLEI Africa, who led the project.

Involving The Gambia’s local governments when planning implementation actions ensured their buy-in. When cities and regions, for instance the capital of Banjul, create their own five-year development plans, they can specify actions to align with this national level plan. 

This process of including local level stakeholders from the start often helps the national government to increase their ambition. This is because cities and regions are often already implementing many climate actions of which the national government is not aware. Bringing everyone in the same room and sharing these actions and targets that may already be met is crucial to developing the country’s overall climate goals. 

“Involving local governments from the start often helps the country to raise their climate ambition, as cities know what is truly possible,” expands Dr Strachan.

An ambitious mitigation plan that includes local governments

Even though the Paris Agreement has several main goals which will all be discussed at COP26, a key talking point remains the 1.5-degree target. The Gambia’s goals for 2030 are specific and achievable, and include:

       – 89 MW on-grid solar PV

       – 3.6 MW wind power

       – 10% of households meet water heating demand with solar water heating

       – 1,100 schools and hospitals to have solar PV rooftop applications

       – 1,148 farmers to adopt improved food management practices and reduce food losses

       – 200,000 improved cookstoves by 2030

       – Reforestation of 40% of currently deforested land, through agroforestry

To ensure these actions are implemented, the plan notes the national authority responsible for each. It also indicates the local governments’ role in implementation and the local-level counterpart or focal point responsible for each. Having consulted these officials while creating this plan means they are aware of the responsibilities that will fall on them and they are able to give input on the actions to make them as ambitious as possible while ensuring they are realistic.

Multilevel action included in other African NDCs as COP26 approaches

Malawi, Uganda, Mozambique and Zimbabwe also updated sections of their NDCs and ensured that multilevel action was included in the lead up to COP26. The work was done with ICLEI Africa, through the NDC Partnership Climate Action Enhancement Package (NDCP CAEP).

To learn more about how cities, towns and regions will be represented at the climate summit, register for the COP26 Multilevel Action Pavilion – the home of all subnational governments at COP26.