Global north the elephant in Africa’s climate agenda room despite Nairobi ‘wins’

Global north the elephant in Africa’s climate agenda room despite Nairobi ‘wins’

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Africa’s inaugural climate summit held in Nairobi scored a series of wins including a uniform voice on climate change adaptation and mitigation agenda, but the global north remains the elephant in the room for a continent that is lagging behind on development.

Kenya’s President William Ruto announced that at least US$23bn in commitments towards climate change were made during the Africa Climate Summit, whose highlight was the signing of the Nairobi Declaration that binds the continent to a uniform stand on the climate agenda. The Africa Development Bank also used the occasion to launch its African Climate Risk Insurance Facility for Adaptation, which is aimed at insulating countries against catastrophic weather events.

Dr Ruto, who is also the chairman of the committee of African governments on climate change, had said that Africa would steer clear of the “usual way” of climate change discussions, where deliberations often end up being north versus south; developed versus developing; or polluters versus victims.

But this failed to hold water as the continent bought into a declaration that contained veiled tirades against the north, which is being asked to do its part on the climate agenda including honouring the commitment to provide $100bn in annual climate finance, as promised 14 years ago at the Copenhagen conference.

The African heads of state signed the document in which they said they “recognise that Africa is not historically responsible for global warming” but bears the brunt of its effect, impacting lives, livelihoods and economies. They then called for the global north to play its part in “fulfilling its obligations” and “keeping past promises” including honouring commitments to a fair and accelerated process of phasing down coal and abolishing all fossil fuel subsidies.

There were some notable presidents missing from the summit, including Yoweri Museveni (Uganda), Cyril Ramaphosa (South Africa) and Bola Tinubu (Nigeria), with some attacking the global north.

Mr Museveni, whose country is partnering with neighbours Tanzania on a controversial East Africa Oil Pipeline project (EACOP), was a no show. Kenya’s local press said he declined the invitation stating that he could not sit and be lectured by US climate envoy John Kerry, who hails from a global north country that is among the world’s biggest polluters. Mr Ramaphosa was also said to have skipped the summit because his government is protesting against the push from European partners to abandon coal for renewables, despite coal being the mainstay of South Africa’s energy system.

Such stances suggest that the meeting rooms tasked with addressing climate change will struggle to achieve different outcomes than forums such as COP 27; little progress has been made on the commitments that were made at the latter.

African Development Bank (AfDB) president Akinwumi Adesina added voice to the continent’s feelings towards the north by saying that Africa must be given “space to grow” by being allowed to exploit both its natural gas and renewables. Africa has a point in accusing the global north of not coming to climate change discussion tables with clean hands, since there are many key projects outside Africa that are being linked to carbon emissions without being discredited.

The top four countries leading the oil pipeline build-out include the United States (2,830km); India (2,824km); China (2,533km); and Russia with 2,051km, according to Global Energy Monitor (GEM), a San Francisco-based non-governmental organisation that tracks fossil fuel and renewable energy projects worldwide. GEM says the majority of the US’s pipelines are linked to the Permian Basin, which straddles Texas and Mexico, and whose untapped oil and gas reserves make it one of the biggest “carbon bombs” in the world.

Such figures show that some of the world’s biggest consumers of fossil fuels are doubling down on oil, introducing the risk that discussions on climate change are reduced to an avenue for pointing fingers at each other as the crisis intensifies.

Africa expects the global north to do much more on climate change, as was echoed in the same summit by the United Nations Secretary General, António Guterres, who asked “large emitters” such as the G20 advanced economies to “assume your responsibilities”.

Another pain point pitting Africa against the global north is the feeling that multilateral financial institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been giving favourable interest rates to developed economies while leaving Africa exposed to an odious debt burden.

“At the summit, we made it clear that we are aware of the unjust configuration of multilateral institutional frameworks that perpetually place African nations on the back foot, through costly financing which plunge our economies into a debt trap and deny them resources needed to mitigate and adapt in response to climate change,” said Mr Ruto on the day the Nairobi Declaration was ratified.

The continent needs between $160bn and $340bn by 2030 for adaptation, whereas the current flows are just around $16bn annually, according to Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance, which likens this to “a fraction of a budget for a blue-chip company.” But the scale of financing required to unlock Africa’s climate positive growth is beyond the borrowing capacity of national balance sheets, and unaffordable at the risk premium that Africa is currently paying for private capital.

This means Africa’s adaptation and mitigation projects, which are betting on renewables, will struggle to realise full potential unless the continent convinces the likes of the World Bank, IMF and big economies such as the US and China to forgive some of their debts and also cut interest rates.

Major banks and insurers and reinsurers such as Munich Re, Allianz, Hannover Re, Swiss Re and Zurich will also have to be willing to back Africa’s wind, solar, and geothermal projects and not give them too wide a berth, as is the case with EACOP.

Africa wants to increase its renewable generation capacity from 56GW in 2022 to at least 300GW by 2030, both to address energy poverty and to bolster the global supply of cost-effective clean energy to power its industries. It hopes that the global community, especially the developed world, will support its green energy agenda by shifting the energy-intensive primary processing of Africa’s raw material exports to the continent that is also home to millions of jobless young people.

The first test to the Nairobi Declaration will be during November’s COP28 summit at the Expo City, Dubai. Africa will use the Declaration as a basis for a common position in the global climate change event. Other issues to keep African leaders awake include the voice of dissent that is emerging from its focus on instruments such as carbon credits to mobilise funds.

Some environmental groups see carbon credit trading as a greenwashing tool that will not stop polluters. Even so, Africa’s huge market is also expected to be in the global north, another reminder that Africa is not about to chart its own path without involving the north.

Mr Ruto listed several reasons why the continent is well placed to lead in tackling climate change. “Africa is a continent with 60% of the world’s renewable energy assets, including solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower. Africa is projected to have 40% of the world’s workforce by 2100. We have two-thirds of the world’s uncultivated arable land that can transform smart agriculture into the production store of the world. We have the largest carbon sequestration infrastructure in the world,” he said.

Mr Adesina said the AfDB together with the Global Centre on Adaptation had launched the African Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP), the largest such initiative in the world. The Bank is implementing a $20bn initiative, Desert to Power, to harness the power of solar and deliver electricity to 250-million people, he said. “We must power every home, every school and every hospital”.

Offering Europe as an ally in efforts to close Africa’s climate investment gaps, president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said it was “time to move from words to action”.

“We want to partner with you to create local value chains, to create good jobs here in Africa. We want to invest in skills for local workers, this is crucial for the young people because the stronger you are as suppliers, the more Europe will diversify its supply chains toward Africa. And the more we both will de-risk our economies. It’s a clear win-win.”

Tanzania’s President Samia Suluhu Hassan called for a special fund to be set up that would stipulate what percentage of financing pledged by advanced countries would be set aside for Africa as opposed to “blanket pledges”.

The Africa Climate Summit has resulted in some major financial pledges. COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber committed $4.5bn on behalf of the United Arab Emirates to assist African countries in expediting clean-energy initiatives. He expected this amount to catalyse “at least an additional $12.5bn from multilateral public and private sources”.

US Special Envoy on climate, John Kerry, announced the Biden administration would contribute $3bn annually for adaptation as part of the “Prepare” initiative. He also announced an additional $30m to bolster climate-resilient food security efforts across Africa.


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