Kenya's President William Ruto, speaking at the opening ceremony of the inaugural Africa Climate Summit, said Africa has the power to decarbonise the world and boost investment for the continent.
Dr Ruto told the three-day summit at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) that Africa should seize the opportunity to transform Africa's climate dialogue.
More than three decades after climate talks gained momentum on the global stage, this is the first time African countries have convened a regional meeting exclusively to discuss their agenda.
Over the years, Africa has raised its concerns at global climate conferences through its regional groups that are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), such as the African Group of Negotiators and the Group of 77 (G-77).
Although the continent contributes a negligible 4 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, its grievances are often sidelined by promises made by high-emitting countries that are often not kept.
For this reason, Dr Ruto said it was time for Africa to change the way it deals with climate issues.
"We come together with a clear understanding of the inadequacy of our climate finance needs, but we will not shy away from the realities that must bring about positive change," he said.
"Climate change is not just an abstract concept; it is proven by science and emerging experience. That is why we are not here to catalogue grievances and lease problems. We are here to talk about solutions," he added.
On decarbonising the world, President Ruto said Africa should harness its rich potential in renewable energy as it could benefit other people outside the continent and bring in development funds.
"Our assets must be in the form of partnerships. The reason we have not made so much progress is because Africa has not consolidated and brought its ideas to the table. The day we do that, we will be a wealthy continent," he said.
"It is not just the volume of our renewable resources that stands out, but also their non-seasonality. We will always have the sun," Dr Ruto said.
Dr Ruto subtly called out Africa's lenders for their inequitable payment of loans, in line with one of the key agendas of the summit, which is to restructure new ways of paying debts, as their plight is derailing the continent, which is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
"It is no secret that we pay at least five times more on our loans than the advanced economies. I see this as an opportunity to unleash the creativity of local investment. My call to everyone at this summit is to have African priorities. This is a moment to imagine a bold and radically positive African future," he said.
"The future is not something to be hoped for or wished for, it is for us to realise and imagine now. That is what we have come to do at the Africa Climate Summit," he added.
Other delegates at the event backed the African agenda, despite the furore in the weeks before the event that suggested outsiders had hijacked the summit with their ideas. Environment Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya said the overarching goal of the summit was to chart a green growth path for the African continent.
"Climate change has entered a new era, it is not just about an environmental or development angle, it is now about climate change in the context of climate justice," she said.
Speaking on behalf of civil society, Mithika Mwenda, Executive Director of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), said it was time for climate summits to move away from being a battle between the global North and the global South.He warned developed countries against using such summits to escape responsibility for their high emissions, saying the narrative of change should be two-way.
"The outcome of this summit should not only provide solutions for people whose livelihoods are affected by climate change and its false solutions, but also reflect African realities, and adaptation should be at the heart of it," he said.
Josefa Sacko, Commissioner for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment at the African Union Commission, said climate change was a pandemic in Africa.
"What we are seeing is a situation where governments are abandoning development and spending their money on the climate crisis. Africa needs to move from a donor-recipient relationship to building investment," she said.
Youth and Indigenous Peoples were represented and shared the need for their voices to be at the centre of the climate talks.