Last week, some 30,000 delegates and 25 African heads of state, as well as the European Commission President, UN Secretary-General, and US Special Envoy on Climate, gathered in Nairobi for the inaugural Africa Climate Summit.
The event was seen as an opportunity for African countries to agree on a unified position ahead of the upcoming COP28 conference later this year. It is no surprise, therefore, that COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber, who controversially also serves as CEO of the state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Co (ADNOC), was also in attendance.
The Summit and wider African Climate Week was held from the 4th to the 8th of September. Alongside the summit, some 500 African Civil Society Organisations from across the continent came together for a concurrent Real Africa Climate Summit to put forward community solutions for real climate action.
There is no doubt that Africa is on the frontline of climate change, but at the same time, the continent contributes less than 4% of annual greenhouse gas emissions and less than 1% of cumulative historical emissions.
At the same time, the continent is the most vulnerable to climate-induced loss and damage to its lands, its crops, its infrastructure, and its people. Many countries in Africa are experiencing increased flooding, droughts, and famines, all of which are predicted to get worse. It is estimated that by 2050, climate change will cost Africa $50 billion annually.
Meanwhile, the continent is experiencing a “dash for gas” as international oil and gas companies seek to exploit the continent’s fossil fuel resources, primarily for export to rich countries.
As is usual with climate summits, there was the official positive spin of the main conference and the much more grounded take from frontline activists on the ground.
The language during the summit was bold. Kenyan President William Samoei Ruto said, “Climate action is not a Global North issue or a Global South issue. It is our collective challenge, and it affects all of us. We need to come together to find common, global solutions.”
European Commission President, von der Leyen said she wanted Europe to be Africa’s “partner” in closing its clean energy investment gap and promised funding. UN Secretary-General António Guterres added, “I am convinced that Africa can be at the heart of a renewable future.”
To this end, Ruto announced that some $23 billion in commitments had been made at the event, with the Africa Development Bank (AfDB) announcing the financing “for green growth, mitigation, and adaptation efforts.” But this funding is spread over decades rather than years. COP28 host, the UAE, also pledged $4.5 billion, while Germany committed nearly $500 million to help with the development of green energy infrastructure.
But these numbers are small compared to the trillions needed for clean energy and power or to implement climate pledges. According to WWF, Africa needs $2.8tn between 2020 and 2030 to implement its own climate pledges. So, the money fell way short.
But still, the African leaders spun a positive outcome. Last Wednesday, the Summit adopted the so-called Nairobi Declaration, which will be the basis of Africa’s negotiating position at the upcoming COP28 in the UAE.
The declaration is expected to point out Africa's position on climate change, climate financing, solutions… pic.twitter.com/bcDtYFGjlz
— Africa Climate Summit (@AfClimateSummit) September 6, 2023
The Declaration urged world leaders “to rally behind the proposal for a global carbon taxation regime including a carbon tax on fossil fuel trade, maritime transport, and aviation, that may also be augmented by a global financial transaction tax”.
Many climate activists saw the summit as a wasted opportunity and were very skeptical of the outcome.
Before the summit, an op-ed written by my colleague Aneesa Khan, with Salome Nduta from Oil Watch Africa and Samuel Mondlane from the Mozambique chapter of Fishermen Network, Fishnet argued that The African Climate Summit should be an opportunity to chart the continent’s direction towards an equitable and sustainable future that protects people and communities, and to prepare a coordinated front from African leaders to call for a fast and fair phase-out of all fossil fuels at COP28.
This did not happen. Therefore, the response by many activists was highly critical. In response, the People’s Assembly declared that the African Climate Summit “ought to have been the opportunity to put forward a real and progressive stance on African climate action and integrated development in a way that centers African solutions and strategies and breaks from the business as usual of Africa being a pawn in the plans of others.”
“Instead, it is a space that has been co-opted and captured by foreign interests and private sector greed who are using the summit to push their dangerous distractions and sell off African lands to the highest bidder in the name of “Green Growth” and carbon markets.
The alternative People’s Declaration noted that “Real solutions to climate change cannot be designed in boardrooms and ivory towers – they must come from genuine consultation with people and communities and must put people-centered (not profit-centered) goals at their core.”
Prominent climate activist Omar Elmawi tweeted:
My statement on the disgraceful African Climate Summit:
As an African and believer in the power of Ubuntu, the philosophy that I am because we are, I am deeply disheartened and ashamed by the way the African Climate Summit unfolded. It was a missed opportunity to host a… pic.twitter.com/iJWCPiVBOg
— Omar Elmawi (Advocate for the Poor) (@OmarElmawi) September 6, 2023
Nnimmo Bassey, Founder of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) added, “The Declaration of the African Climate Summit lives up to its billing as a carbon stock exchange jamboree. It is loaded with platitudes pandering to worn ideas of the carbon market and other false solutions.
“The declaration is laced with calls for green growth, cries for finance and veiled references to carbon trading, technology and the like, which open routes for green colonialism and render the continent nothing better than a vast carbon sink and experimental grounds for polluting nations and corporations,” said Bassey.
Mohamed Adow, Founding Director of Power Shift Africa, said, “We hoped this first African climate summit would see a radical, people-centered vision for Africa, but the final declaration was disappointingly similar to previous summits that produced inadequate results … Carbon credits are really ‘pollution permits,’ and they help rich polluting companies from making actual cuts in their own emissions. .”
My colleague Thuli Makama, Africa Program Director for OCI, added: “Suggestions of solutions mean little without any mention of phasing out ALL fossil fuels, not just coal. Any solution that allows business as usual from the fossil fuel industry and that emphasizes clean-up instead of closing sources of dirty energy is bound to fail and cause even more havoc on the environment and communities.”
Makama said: “It is time that world leaders and financial institutions put in the work and money to ensure that Africa has a just transition to renewable energy instead of being locked into more fossil fuels.”
Meanwhile, many African climate activists will be taking part in the global mobilization against fossil fuels happening this weekend. For more details on where you can get involved anywhere around the world, go here.