Opinion Articles

Africa Climate Summit 2023: Unmet Potential in Showcasing Africa’s Ability to tackle Climate Change

By Peter Imatari Emoit

The Africa Climate Summit provided a unique platform to demonstrate Africa’s capability to spearhead the fight against climate change and mitigate its far-reaching consequences on the continent. Regrettably, this opportunity was not fully seized, as the leadership veered into the customary narrative of victimhood, seeking support from developed nations and emphasizing the obligation to fulfil compensation commitments for loss and damage.

The African continent has undisputedly appealed for financial assistance during global and national climate conferences. While such requests align with the framework of the Paris Agreement (2015) and other climate-related commitments, it is high time for both African nations and the international community to pose some critical questions:

First and foremost, it’s imperative to identify the primary obstacles hindering Africa’s ability to effectively combat climate change. Is it truly a shortage of funds, or does the challenge lie in the capacity to curtail corruption, invest in research, policy development, and their subsequent implementation?

Moreover, if the financial aspect is indeed the primary concern, we should scrutinize the sources from which these funds ought to be mobilized. Instead of perpetuating a reliance on external financial aid, are we not supposed to be placing the emphasis on harnessing the continent’s vast resources for sustainable climate action?
To answer the first question, we must remember how endowed Africa is with natural resources. According to a UNEP report, Africa holds 65% of arable land and 10% of renewable aquifers that can supply fresh water. Additionally, Africa’s global renewable energy is estimated to be 39%[2] , 13%, and 7% of natural gas and oil reserves that developed countries are scrambling to frack. If Africa has all these natural resources, why is it difficult to sponsor its own climate adaptation and mitigation projects and enhance the poor households’ resilience against the effects of climate change?

For instance, investment in solar energy would have helped Africa generate more power to benefit the village households not connected to electricity and plug the surplus into the national grids to reduce the electricity demand. This will bring down the surging costs of hydroelectric power, mostly backed up by diesel fuel generators, whenever the water levels of the rivers are reduced because of drought. This again leads to the emission of greenhouse gases (GHGs) into the atmosphere.

What is Africa’s real problem?

The problem in Africa is the lack of goodwill to address the problem head-on, overreliance on financial aid and the perception that the solution to their challenges in Africa comes from the West. This has exacerbated Africa’s problems, such as corruption, which gobbles most of the funds for development, education, health and climate change by most African governments. The other challenge is weak institutions. Africa has weak institutions stifled financially and lacking independence from the political elite, so most of them are dysfunctional. For instance, research institutions that should help conduct research to develop climate change solutions lack funds. Those charged with the responsibility to manage national resources including revenue authorities often suffer from political interferences.

Finally, climate change is not Africa’s priority; the main political interest is power. This brings us to the question: where should the funds for climate change come from in Africa? These can be mobilised from the foreign exchange gains from the natural resources and funds generated from taxes. The challenge here is the dependency umbilical cord on the global north for financial assistance has never been cut.
In light of all these, African leaders missed the opportunity to leverage their ability in the September 2023 Africa Climate Summit (ACS) that Africa can handle climate change independently. The inaugural and closing speech of President William Ruto, who doubled as the host and chair of the Committee of the African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) during the summit, and the signing of the declaration notwithstanding.

The African Climate Summit 2023, co-hosted by Kenya and the African Union, gathered African Heads of State and Governments, alongside various stakeholders. This high-level event took place in Nairobi, Kenya, from September 4th to 6th, coinciding with Africa Climate Week. It served as a dynamic platform for collaboration, uniting government representatives, United Nations agencies, financial institutions, and the private sector to tackle Africa’s pressing climate issues. It was held under the overarching theme: Africa Together for Bold, Innovative and Resourced Climate Action: Unlocking Climate Finance and Green Investments.

The summit missed the opportunity to demonstrate Africa’s capability but instead prioritised FLLoCA (Financing Locally-Led Climate Actions). That was anchored on the obliteration of all financial debts and the request for more financial support.

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Lastly, the summit’s objectives sounded good. However, the deliberations on the effects of climate change were used as a baseline to ask for debt cancellation and the maintenance of the status quo guided by the whataboutery politicking of climate change issues.

Looking ahead

As we look ahead, particularly in the context of COP 28, it is imperative that African governments take a strategic approach. This approach should involve the seamless integration of their initiatives to fund climate change mitigation and adaptation projects. Moreover, it is vital to provide clear outlines of the institutions that will be actively engaged in these endeavours, with a renewed focus on the crucial aspects of knowledge and technology transfer.

Africa’s ability to combat climate change and harness its inherent potential must evolve beyond the passive role of seeking financial assistance and foster proactive, self-reliant strategies. In doing so, the continent can truly assert itself as a leader in addressing climate change and its myriad challenges.

Peter is a PhD student at the Dublin City University (DCU) School of History and Geography. His current research focuses on the effects of climate change adaptation in Arid and Semi-arid lands in Kenya. He has over ten years of experience managing climate change adaptation livelihood projects in ASALs, specifically interested in climate change adaptation, food security, and natural resource management.

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