East African countries quest for new financing to deal with climate change shocks remains suspended between a rock and a hard place even as the inaugural Africa Climate Summit came to a close.
The summit had been billed as the forum where the continent would raise empathy from perennial polluters to pump money into climate action and access to cleaner energy.
Instead, the ‘Nairobi Declaration’ on climate change was a repeat of past climate forums that called on rich polluters to recompense the poor, but which the rich largely ignored.
Traditional donors, including the US and the European Union, remained non-committal on fulfilling their pledges. The US ruled out paying reparation despite being among leading contributors of emissions.
When asked about Africa’s call for reparation for countries that have been damaged by floods, storms and other climate disasters, the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry repeated the answer he gave at a hearing before a House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee in July.
“No, under no circumstances,” he said in response to a question from Brian Mast, the committee chair.
After the guests departed from Nairobi’s Kenyatta International Convention Centre, leaders were left with the continual challenge: How and where to raise additional resources to enable them to implement the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), which are at the heart of mitigation and building climate resilience.
NDCs contain efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Estimates by several agencies including those of the UN show that the East African region needs over $200 billion to implement NDC interventions and strategies over 10 years.
Source of funds
The immediate dilemma facing cash-strapped governments in the region, however, is where to find the money to deal with adverse weather shocks including food insecurity, droughts, flooding and landslides while choking on debt.
“We don’t want to suggest we want a debt write-off. No, we want to pay,” said Kenyan President William Ruto, co-host of the AU-sponsored meeting in Nairobi this week.
“One way would be to allow debt repayments to be extended and for a decade-long grace period to be introduced, allowing money to be invested elsewhere so that instead of spending billions of dollars paying debt this year, we use that to do other things. And then in 10 years we would have stabilised our economies,” said Ruto.
Kenya currently pays up to $8 billion annually to service its debt.
But Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame warned that Africans should not just keep talking about the effects of climate change but should act and fix the problem themselves.
His sentiments were echoed by South Sudan President Salva Kiir who said that the continent should not haplessly await resources that have never come, noting that the $100 billion a year climate finance promised to poor and middle-income nations was still a drop in the ocean.
He noted that Africa requires $3 trillion to combat the effects of climate change.
Like most African countries, South Sudan stares at a dilemma: keep its oil flowing and fill its coffers or pretend to transition to greener but expensive energy.
Rwanda contributes just 0.003 per cent to global greenhouse gas emissions but is vulnerable to the consequences of hotter weather and changing rainfall patterns, including damages from flooding, worsening human health and low crop yield.
Earlier this year, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo faced the wrath of weather vulgaries after a landslide and floods swept villages on both territories.
“Africa continues to carry the burden of rising temperatures despite contributing the smallest share of global greenhouse gas emissions. We cannot just keep talking about it without doing what is required to fix the problem.
“This is unfair but, in the long run, playing the blame game is not the answer. A more pragmatic approach is for Africa to be a key player in the search for global climate solutions,” said Kagame.
The World Bank warns that climate disasters could reduce Rwanda’s GDP by as much as 5–7 per cent and push the economy away from reaching goals set in Vision 2050, the National Strategies for Transformation and the Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy.
In Rwanda, the floods in May killed up to 131 people and displaced more than 5,800 families. They also destroyed food crops and infrastructure, including 6,391 houses, two health centres, 29 bridges, many roads, power lines, five power stations and more than 55 schools.
The cost to deal with the impact of these landslides and flooding alone is estimated to be over $1.5 million. And the country needs $11 billion by 2030 to implement its NDCs.
In the Horn of Africa, Igad says that by the end of November 2021, six member states had submitted their updated NDCs and increased their ambitions as well as their chances of donor funding.
Ethiopia said it needs $316 billion, Kenya’s $62 billion, Somalia $55.5 billion and South Sudan $100 billion for the implementation of all NDC interventions and strategies over 10 years.
Tanzania estimates that about $19.2 billion is needed to implement the national plan to adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change for a period of five years to 2025.
“We need to face the fact that Tanzania, and indeed the rest of Africa, continue to face the unprecedented impact of climate change, with limited capacity to finance mitigation and adaptation needs,” said President Samia Suluhu of Tanzania.
The region is however optimistic that climate politics may still birth something.
President Ruto called for a carbon tax for polluters to pay on every tonne of emissions.
The suggestion didn’t go well with the rich countries. Kerry replied that President Joe Biden has “not yet embraced any particular carbon pricing mechanism.”
“Our hope is that the climate will be recognised for what it is. It is not a bilateral (issue) ... it is a universal threat to the planet,” said Kerry during a press conference in Nairobi.
However, with 17 of the 20 most impacted countries by climate change being in Africa, African heads of state and others spoke strongly and passionately on the issue.
“Africa needs more than $570 billion in adaptation finance over the period 2020–2030, but at the moment the continent is receiving about 10 percent to 20 percent of those needs,” said Nazanine Moshiri, senior analyst on Climate, Environment and Conflict for Africa at Crisis Group.
The UN has estimated that loss and damage in Africa due to climate change are projected to be between $290 billion and $440 billion in the period from 2020 to 2030, depending on the degree of warming.
Rich polluting countries are now overdue on their promise to mobilise $100 billion a year in climate finance for low- and middle-income countries, watering down the Nairobi Climate Summit declaration that among its resolutions, calls “upon the global community to act with urgency in reducing emissions, fulfilling its obligations, keeping past promises, and supporting the continent in addressing climate change” including honouring the pledge on $100 billion annually as promised 14 years ago at the Copenhagen climate conference.
President Ruto called for a fair playing field on issues of climate finance, as he listed several reasons why the continent is well placed to lead in tackling climate change.
“Africa is the continent with 60 percent of the world’s renewable energy assets, including solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower. Africa is projected to have 40 percent of the world’s workforce by 2100,” said Ruto.
“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.”
Yet, only $60 billion or two percent of the $3 trillion renewable energy investments in the past decade have come to Africa.
Joining President Ruto’s call were UN Secretary-General António Guterres, president of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, African Union Commission chair Moussa Faki, EAC chair President Evariste Ndayishimiye (Burundi) and presidents Samia Suluhu Hassan (Tanzania), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), and Salva Kiir of South Sudan.
Other heads of state at the summit were Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio, Nana Okufu Addo (Ghana), Brahim Ghali (Sahrawi), Sahle-Work Zewde (Ethiopia), Macky Sall (Senegal) and Mohamed Al-Menfi (Libya), as well as the African Development Bank president Akinwumi Adesina.
The Nairobi summit called for accelerated efforts to reduce emissions to align with goals set forth in the Paris Agreement as well as swift operationalisation of the ‘Loss and Damage’ facility agreed on at COP27.
Dr Adesina noted that although cutting emissions was the goal, African nations could still utilise available resources while gradually transitioning to cleaner energy.
This means that countries like Tanzania or Mozambique, which have recently discovered gas, can go ahead and extract the hydrocarbons. The impact on climate change, argued Dr Adesina, will be minimal. According to him, the emissions from natural gas will amount to less than one percent of the global contributions.
“At the national level we must accelerate actions on climate adaptation. That is why the African Development Bank has committed to providing $25 billion toward climate financing by 2025,” he said.
The Africa Climate Summit resulted in deals on climate mitigation and highlighted Africa’s potential as a carbon sink, there was little on how to adapt. But despite many participants emphasising the need to help fragile or conflict-affected states adapt to weather extremes, the language in the Nairobi Declaration omitted adaptation or implementation.
“As we approach COP28, this reality needs to be addressed with concrete commitments to increase the availability, accessibility and actionability of financing for adaptation in fragile contexts,” said Andrew Ciacci from Crisis Group.