On Climate Change, Africa finds its voice

Sunday September 10 2023
Africa Climate Summit

Delegates take a group photo at Kenyatta International Conference Centre in Nairobi, Kenya during the Africa Climate Summit 2023 on September 4, 2023. PHOTO | NMG


As the Africa Climate Summit closed on Wednesday, the continent finally took its position on how the international community should engage with it. As the meeting ended, the assembled development banks, private investors, and philanthropists committed $23 billion to green projects, mitigation, and adaptation.

East Africa led the conference with President William Ruto of Kenya hosting, President Azali Assoumani of the Comoros chairing the African Union and Presidents Samia Suluhu Hassan of Tanzania, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Salva Kiir of South Sudan and Evariste Ndayishimiye of Burundi leading strong national delegations.

East Africa got a sizeable share of the financial commitments made and showcased its green potential: Tanzania with its huge conservation projects and natural gas resources for energy transition, South Sudan with tropical forests, virgin Savannah grasslands and unutilised arable land, among others.

What next after three days of deliberations? As the world prepares for the December 2023 Climate Change Conference (COP28) in Dubai, Africa has a unified agenda.

Read: Kenya to work with UAE amid calls to have COP28 president removed

By taking a pan-African position on Climate change, Africa hopes to make its demands in unison and remind the world that it has, at least some of, the answers to climate change. The Nairobi Declaration pointed to the natural wealth that is still within: "the largest carbon sinks through the Congo Forest and peatland, as well as the potential in Africa's savanna grasslands, mangroves, swamps, coral reefs and marine reserves."


Finally, it seemed that Africa wanted to be part of the conversation – and with a clear position to articulate.

The Nairobi meeting grew from a call from the African Union general assembly asking the AU Commission to organise a climate summit, which President Ruto agreed to host.

Over the years, the climate change discourse in Africa has been restrained by what President Ruto called a lack of a coherent approach and a united position.

Buoyed by the success of the first Africa Climate Summit, President Ruto said that the Nairobi Declaration now had a twin agenda: First, it "defines and amplifies the African position on the way forward in climate action" and secondly, it spells "the fundamentals that the international community must attend to in order to ensure that humanity's economic and ecological imperatives are effectively, coherently and sustainably achieved."

During the Nairobi Summit, the African leaders vowed to use the international multilateral calendars to amplify the African voices on climate change at the global platforms where it has yet to be included.

"Going forward, we shall use every available opportunity in the busy multilateral calendar, from the G20 meeting, the United Nations General Assembly in a fortnight, the Annual Meetings of the World Bank Group and the International Monetary Fund soon thereafter, as well as the COP 28 afterwards," said President Ruto during the closing ceremony.

A final statement by the African leaders took the position that "Africa is not historically responsible for global warming but bears the brunt of its effect." They called for "climate-positive investments" and asked the international community to contribute to Africa's renewable generation capacity from 56 GW in 2022 to at least 300 GW by 2030.

Read: ‘Common agenda’ calls intensify ahead of Africa Climate Summit

By driving a Pan-African agenda on climate change, President Ruto has stamped his authority as the Africa spokesperson on climate change. "The Nairobi Declaration, our common stand and firm resolution, reaffirms our determination and sets the stage for a new phase in the global climate action and sustainable development agenda," he said.

It is apparent that Africa will not meet the sustainable development goals of the 2030 Agenda. This reawakening has forced Africa to rally together on Climate change.

"With only seven years remaining to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda and note with concern that 600 million people in Africa still lack access to electricity while 970 million lack access to clean cooking."

President Ruto also connected the Climate Change agenda with Africa's surging debts – at a time the World Bank projects that almost half of the countries in the sub-Sahara region are either in debt distress or at the doorstep.

The Summit called for a 10-year debt relief period and increased global funding and compensation by the largest of the polluters. In addition, the Nairobi Declaration called for a $650 billion Special Drawing Rights liquidity mechanism.

President Ruto said on debt: "So instead of spending billions of dollars paying debt this year, we use that to do other things. And then in 10 years' time, we would have stabilised our economies, we can pay."

The Pan-African position will also put pressure on rich nations to meet their annual pledge of $100 billion to help developing nations achieve their climate goals. This has remained unfulfilled and African nations will focus on that pledge.

Another call was on new global taxes and reforms to international financial bodies to fund climate change activities. Now, Africa only receives 12 per cent of the nearly $300 billion in annual financing.

Read: Ruto urges global lenders to be fair to Africa

It also called on the 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" to drive climate positive investments.

The Nairobi Summit had also been turned into a listening space – as the France delegate put it: "I am here, first, to listen. To listen to African voices, African priorities, and African solutions. Africa is at the heart of the solution to today's global challenges, particularly climate change."

And part of the problem – as voiced during the Summit - and aptly put by France was that there was a "huge climate injustice facing African countries. We see that the least responsible are the most vulnerable."

Said the French delegate: "No country should have to choose between fighting poverty and fighting for the planet."

According to President Ruto, the search for African solutions was also global and not tied to the continental realities: "We have successfully demonstrated that African Solutions are not just appropriate for Africa's Problems: They are necessary for global well-being."

As President Ruto said, the Agenda 2063 will benefit the "entire humankind". 

With its young demography, Africa also put the youth as part of the agenda and saw them as "the future."

Another highlight of the meeting was the $10 billion Africa and Middle East public-private collaborative initiative, which will scale up climate-resilient agriculture by irrigating some two million hectares of African farmland and enhance the climate resilience of 10 million smallholder farmers, especially women and young people.

"The Initiative aims to invest in the future of these regions by unlocking green investments, promoting climate-smart agriculture for rural farmers, and creating green jobs," a statement by The Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), a treaty-based international, inter-governmental organisation said.

John Kamau writes for the Sunday Nation.

Mutuma Mathiu is an independent journalist and consultant for the African Climate Summit Secretariat.