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African leaders & activists will bring new demands, hopes to COP28

Communities submerged by flooding in Auyo, Jigawa state, Nigeria. Image by Sani Maikatanga via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

  • As world leaders prepare to meet in Dubai for COP28, African activists bring new hopes and expectations following the first-ever Africa Climate Summit (ACS) that took place in Nairobi in September.
  • The ACS resulted in a historic Nairobi Declaration, calling on the global community to fulfill promises for climate financing, adaptation, mitigation and emissions reduction.
  • Activists say they hope COP28 will result in decisive action to implement the Loss and Damage Fund that aims to support countries most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but skeptics say they worry this summit will result in the same old story, especially as the COP28 presidency is held by an oil baron.

When world leaders and climate activists meet in Dubai for the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28), for the first time, African representatives will bring to the negotiation table new expectations, hopes and criticisms stemming from the inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS) that took place in Nairobi in September. 

At the ACS — the first-ever such African gathering dedicated to climate issues — nations signed a groundbreaking pact with a clear message to the international community: It’s time to help bring African nations out of debt, invest in viable climate solutions and reduce emissions, which exacerbate the climate emergency that disproportionately affects Africans.

Now, on the eve of COP28 (Nov. 30 through Dec. 12), African climate activists hope for decisive action beyond empty words, calling on leaders to fulfill promises made at the ACS and previous COP summits. 

With its theme of “Driving Green Growth and Climate Finance Solutions for Africa and the World,” the ACS was championed by Kenya’s President William Ruto, the African Union and other partners as a stepping stone to COP28 as Africa grapples with the best way forward for sustainably achieving green growth and scaling up adaptation and mitigation efforts amid the devastating impacts of climate change across the continent. 

After three days of extensive deliberations, the leaders adopted a historic pact called the Nairobi Declaration on Climate Change and Call to Action, which asks the global community to act with urgency in reducing emissions, fulfilling obligations to honor past promises on climate financing for Africa and other climate frontline countries and also increase support for the continent in addressing climate change.

Specifically, the leaders demanded an acceleration in efforts to reduce emissions to align with goals of the Paris Agreement.

“Honour the commitment to provide $100 billion in annual climate finance, as promised in 2009 at the UNFCCC COP15 in Copenhagen, Denmark,” the Nairobi pact reads.

African leaders also asked the global community to uphold commitments to phase out unabated coal power and fossil fuel subsidies while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable. This, they said, should be in line with individual national circumstances fostering a just energy transition and enabling African countries to achieve stable middle-income status by 2050.

“We urge global leaders to join us in seizing this unprecedented opportunity to accelerate global decarbonization, while pursuing equality and shared prosperity,” the Nairobi pact states, in addition to a call for fulfilling commitments to the Loss and Damage Fund adopted at COP27. That fund aims to financially support nations most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

“We demand a fair playing ground for our countries to access the investment needed to unlock the potential and translate it into opportunities,” President Ruto said while delivering his closing remarks at the September summit, further stating that African leaders were also demanding just multilateral financing to liberate Africa’s economies from “odious debt and onerous barriers” to necessary financial resources.

Ruto called the summit “both a demonstration of the unwavering collective commitment of the people of Africa to their vision to make humanity’s first home, a land of abundant potential, limitless opportunity and the possibility of shared prosperity.”

Mixed reactions heading into COP28

Following the adoption of the climate change pact, and the call to action by African heads of state at the ACS, several activists and advocates who participated in the summit expressed mixed concerns ahead of COP28. 

While some of the activists and environmentalists applauded African leaders’ willingness and proactiveness to upscale climate actions across the continent, there are lingering fears regarding proposed climate solutions in the ACS pact.

Some climate activists have described the African leaders’ move at the ACS as a step in the right direction toward achieving climate justice for the continent, stating that they foresee Africa going to the COP28 negotiation table as a united entity. 

But then, only time will tell.

Some see it as the same old story again, leading up to the global climate summit. Mfoniso Antia, who works with the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, said the ACS, which was meant for Africans, was overtaken by Westerners and that the dominant discussion was on carbon removals. This, she said, was targeted at getting Africans to buy into geoengineering and carbon market proposals, which have been plagued by problems.

“Sorry to say that African negotiators are going to COP with no definitive stance on GE. Some have already been sold the falsehood of carbon removals and how it will fetch climate finance,” she told Mongabay in an interview.

Mfoniso Antia, who works with the Health of Mother Earth Foundation, says she thinks COP28 discussions will be dominated by pro-fossil fuel companies’ interests. Image by Abdulkareem Mojeed.

She lamented that many within civil society already have a downcast mindset about COP28, being that an oil baron was made the president of the global summit. 

“Even after several petitions [arguing] for the sake of conflict of interest, the presidency was still left with him,” she said, adding, “It is hard to expect that a pro-fossil fuel oil baron would be open-minded enough to steer the conference towards anything close to transition, not to talk about a just one.”

The climate justice activist predicted that COP28 discussions “won’t be for climate justice or just transition,” but that the talks will be overtaken by pro-fossil fuel companies that now propose geoengineering as a climate solution. This, she said, in reality, is a means of suspending the urgency needed to drive climate action just so they can continue to explore fossil fuels and emit carbons unrestrained.

On a more upbeat note, another climate activist, Ibrahim Joseph, a program manager at the Global Initiative for Food Security and Ecosystem Preservation (GIFSEP), said the ACS provided a significant platform for African governments to interact with important stakeholders ahead of COP28. 

“My prediction is that Africa will have a unified demand at this COP, which will be centered around carbon credits for Africa’s natural resources. Additionally, Africa will seek that all the pledges made at the summit will be actualized in time,” he said. 

Climate activist Ibrahim Joseph, a program manager at the Global Initiative for Food Security and Ecosystem Preservation (GIFSEP), says the September Africa Climate Summit provided a significant platform for African governments to interact with important stakeholders ahead of COP28 and to arrive at the global meeting with a unified voice. Image courtesy of Ibrahim Joseph.

Joseph said he expects the big gains for Africa at COP28 will be the operationalization of loss and damage funds.

However, he said his major concern is that the Nairobi Declaration should not become another communique that will simply be referred to during climate conversations in Africa — with no tangible actions and actualized commitments. 

“African leaders must remain consistent in their demands, which is beautifully captured in the Nairobi Declaration. They must negotiate from the point of strength and not weakness,” he said. 

The first Africa Climate Summit

The September summit in Nairobi brought together African leaders from government and the private sectors, including  academic, scientific, technological, philanthropic and civil society. In addition to the historic pact, some of the leaders at the ACS announced various pledges to help drive green growth in Africa. Some also expressed their determination and commitment to support youth, enhance food systems transformation and ensure that the industrialisation necessary to drive future economic transformation will restore the planet’s vitality and ecological balance.

At the event, leaders made several commitments, to the tune of $23 billion for Africa’s green growth. They repeatedly challenged the global community to honor its climate commitments in order to help reverse the existential threats of climate change in Africa and the world. African leaders told the global community that their shared understanding became clearer: Africa is not only the “cradle of humanity, it is its future.”

Specifically, Kenya’s President Ruto described Africa as “the last frontier of untapped potential,” in the form of hundreds of millions of young men and women who are educated, skilled, motivated, innovative, ready and willing to drive sustainable growth and development across Africa.  

He explained that the unjust configuration of multilateral institutional frameworks that perpetually place African nations on the back foot through costly financing, which plunges the continent’s economies into a debt trap and denies them resources needed to mitigate and adapt to climate change, invest in energy transition and facilitate industrialization to create jobs, wealth and reduced inequality.

African leaders adopting the Nairobi Declaration Climate Change Pact at the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) in Kenya.
African leaders adopting the Nairobi Declaration at the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) in Kenya. Image by Abdulkareem Mojeed.

The African leaders also expressed their commitments to upscale climate actions across the continent, telling the world they are committed to building effective partnerships between Africa and other regions to meet the needs for financial and technical support, and to share knowledge about climate change adaptation.

The leaders also hinted that they are willing to promote investments in urban infrastructure, including upgrading informal settlements and slum areas to build climate-resilient cities and urban centers as well as strengthening early warning systems and taking early action to protect lives, livelihoods and assets.

“We emphasise the importance of embracing indigenous knowledge and citizen science in both adaptation strategies and early warning systems,” the pact states. 

The ACS, which occurred simultaneously with Africa Climate Week, brought together about 30,000 participants representing more than 130 countries. Some 400 side events encouraging greater climate ambition in all sectors of Africa’s society were held, with more than 200 events engaging around 1,000 speakers, organizers said.

What is COP?

The Conference of the Parties, dubbed COP, is the supreme decision-making body of the United Nation Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)

States (countries) that are parties to the convention send representatives to COP, where they review the implementation of the convention and any other legal instruments adopted at COP meetings, and they make decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the convention, including institutional and administrative arrangements.

One such decision is the legally binding international treaty on climate change — the Paris Agreement, adopted by 196 parties in 2015. The agreement’s primary goal is to hold “the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.”

Based on this, a major task at COP is to review the national communications and emission inventories submitted by all parties. The meeting presents a platform to assess the effects of the measures taken by parties and the progress made in achieving the ultimate objective of the convention. The parties meet every year, unless they decide otherwise. 

This year, the COP28 agenda is expected to be anchored on four key pillars: fast-tracking a just and orderly energy transition; fixing climate finance; focusing on people, lives and livelihoods (loss and damage); and underpinning everything at COP with full inclusivity.

Banner image: Communities submerged by flooding at Auyo, Jigawa state, Nigeria. Image by Sani Maikatanga via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).

See related: 

Climate loss & damage fund ‘the furthest thing imaginable from a success’

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