Africa: Did the 'Africa COP' Live Up to Expectations?

At the Sharm El-Sheikh Climate Change Conference (COP27).
8 December 2022

Cape Town — It's fair to say that COP27 didn't live up to its billing. A lot of issues were swept under the carpet during my two weeks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. However, the voices of activists and environmentalists attending the annual Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change are getting louder and harder to ignore as they call for change. After intense negotiations, a historic deal on loss, and damage was a breakthrough but much remains to be done on implementing the fund.

As much as the African COP was hosted on the continent, it had too many misses and just one hit, the crowning achievement of the Loss and Damage Fund, a huge victory for developing countries that are vulnerable to climate change after decades of advocacy. COP26 in Glasgow practically denied the fund. However, much else fell short, including increasing climate action commitments to 'keep 1.5 alive' and strengthening nature-climate links, in addition to the recognition of the right to a healthy environment.

The 'African COP' was chaotic.

Some are calling 'African COP' a success, others a failure but to answer this question is not easy and, given the mixed results.

Firstly, let us talk about how the "rich" flinched on phasing out all fossil fuels. It's everyone's responsibility to take care of our planet, but it seems the burden always falls to the poor to try harder while the rich benefit. While Africa, contributes the least to the climate emergency, the continent is being hit the hardest by its effects. COP27 failed in addressing the continued use of fossil fuels. It just goes down to show that the rich countries want to continue to benefit from fossil fuel extraction in the name of helping less developed countries, while in return the less developed countries face the worst of the climate consequences. Again, the rich countries settled on a "phasing down". This is evidenced by the 636 fuel lobbyists who registered for COP27 which was just a blow to Africa, as well as a death sentence to its people.

Reminder, the Global North still hasn't met its pledge of U.S.$100 billion by 2020. African nations had hoped that the "African COP" would recognise its special needs and circumstances to help adapt and mitigate climate change.

The other main takeaway was that COP27 failed to deliver what the science tells us needs to be done. As they said the call to "keep 1.5 alive" hangs in the balance and is still on "life support". COP27 did far too little on the all-important issue of mitigation - that is, cutting emissions.  There is no doubt that the planet has already warmed by about 1.1°C. As a result, the continuing debate over how countries will reduce their emissions remains at stake, with some negotiators expressing concern that the 1.5C target might be at risk.

It was disappointing that the place of women at negotiation tables still remains a concern. Too few women are participating in COP27 climate negotiations. Around 110 heads of state attended COP27. Yet only seven of those were women. We still have a long way to go to fight patriarchal societies. It is disheartening to see this lack of representation, yet women and girls suffer climate change's harshest and most violent consequences, and we still are not included in conversations about it. COP27 failed to advance meaningful gender participation and action. Despite, a Gender Action Plan being discussed, the final text was watered down, underfunded, and left women and girls out. In the end, COP27 ended up being a contentious negotiation process over the text of the declaration with no binding commitment.

Coca-Cola's presence at COP27 was baffling to environmentalists, who were informed that the soft drink company, named as one of the worst plastic polluters for the fifth year in a row, according to Break Free From Plastic's latest global brand audit report - was a sponsor of COP27. Coca-Cola's presence enraged climate activists, as the company holds a status "incompatible" with the fight against climate change - given that 99% of plastic is made from fossil fuels. Climate activists were not impressed and slammed the sponsorship deal labeling it as pure "greenwashing".

It wasn't just Coca-Cola that drew controversy. Corporate European Observatory and Corporate Accountability compiled research found that 95% of COP27 sponsors were fossil fuel companies, including banks and gas-fired power firms. Only two out of the 20 COP27 sponsors, renewable energy provider Infinity Power and real estate developer Sodic, have no strong ties to the fossil fuel industry, the analysis found.

As much as it was an African COP, we saw problems with African delegates struggling to get access to Egypt. The Guardian reports that only 20% of grassroots activists secured accreditation, and only a handful had funding to cover expenses such as travel, accommodation, and visas, according to a coalition of African youth climate leaders. In addition, the costs of travel and accommodation were astronomical. And to think that COP28 will be held in Dubai where the country recently put in place a visa ban on all citizens of Nigeria, Ghana, and 17 other African countries. A nightmare for African delegates and activists.

Security experts warned COP27 attendees not to download the conference app for fear of being spied on. It was believed that the app would monitor locations, record phone conversations, and monitor private conversations and photographs. It would also give the Egyptian government access to users' locations and emails. What's unclear is whether this was done on purpose. A number of rights groups and news websites critical of the Egyptian authorities were also blocked by the government.

We cannot forget to mention that at this year's African COP, Egyptian and international activists were restricted and kept from the proceedings, unless they got permission, limiting their ability to voice criticism of the COP. Activists wanting to demonstrate at COP27 were required to request accreditation 36 hours in advance, providing information such as the names of the protest organisers and details of the proposed march. Approved demonstrations are only allowed during working hours and in a specific purpose-built area. This just shows that those in power still stifle climate activism.

Everyone is already talking about COP28 being hosted in Dubai next year, as it is one of the world's largest oil producers. This has already raised concerns among anti-fossil fuel campaigners about the outlook of next year's talks. And, as the Emirates prepares for COP28, I pray they will offer some hope in accommodating the African continent and its people. The UAE must make up for COP27's shortcomings and try to deliver.

Though the climate negotiations were not so encouraging, we can't afford to lose hope.

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