African Leaders Gather for Climate Summit, Eyeing Common Ground #AfricaClimateHope

President William Ruto leaders at the African Climate Summit.
5 September 2023

Nairobi, Kenya — The world is facing an unprecedented climate crisis.

Africa is warming up at twice the global average, and the consequences are devastating.

The continent is disproportionately affected by the climate emergency, even though it contributes only a small amount of greenhouse gas emissions. This is causing damage to food security, ecosystems, and economies, and is displacing people, and worsening conflict over resources.

A new report from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) again emphasised that Africa is suffering disproportionately from the effects of the climate crisis. The report, titled "State of the Climate in Africa 2022," found that the rate of temperature increase in Africa has accelerated in recent decades, with weather- and climate-related hazards, such as droughts, floods, and heat waves, becoming more severe and frequent. The report shows that the continent is warming at an alarming rate, and the impacts of climate change are already being felt. The report confirms that the amount of financing available for climate adaptation is still far short of what is needed.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that extreme weather events are likely to increase in frequency and magnitude in the years to come. This will further disrupt food production and distribution, putting even more people at risk of hunger.

The 2015 Paris Agreement was a major step forward, but progress has been slow. This is despite the fact that developing countries are more vulnerable to the impacts of the climate crisis and need more funding to meet their climate goals. Many rich countries are not doing enough to reduce their carbon emissions, and the world is still on track to warm by more than 1.5°C.

The IPCC report is a wake-up call. We need to act now.

In response to the climate crisis, the Africa Climate Summit, which is being held in Nairobi, Kenya, is focusing on the theme of "Driving Green Growth and Climate Finance Solutions for Africa and the World." The Africa Climate Summit, which runs in parallel with Africa Climate Week, brings together leaders, experts, and innovators from across Africa and the rest of the world to discuss and develop solutions to the climate crisis. The summit is expected to produce a roadmap for Africa's transition to a green economy and to mobilise billions of dollars in climate finance.

Mithika Mwenda, Executive Director of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, called on climate summits to move beyond the North-South divide. He warned developed countries against using these summits to avoid responsibility for their high emissions and said that the narrative of change should be two-way. He also stressed that the outcome of the summit should reflect African realities and prioritise adaptation to climate change.

In his opening speech, Kenyan President Ruto said that the Africa Climate Summit is not like other summits. He explained that the traditional way of talking about Africa and climate change often creates divisions.

"We are not here to talk about Africa or climate change in the traditional way, which often creates divisions between us. These divisions include north versus south, developed versus developing, and polluters versus victims," Ruto said.

"Even within our own governments, economic development, which is so important for us to achieve stable and dignified livelihoods, is often seen as a trade-off with environmental stewardship. This is a false dichotomy. Economic development and environmental stewardship can and must go hand-in-hand," he said.

The president called Africa "the key" to decarbonising the global economy and urged everyone to take action to protect the planet for future generations.  He urged African governments to increase their investments in green opportunities, such as renewable energy, green industrialisation, climate-smart agriculture, and nature conservation. He said that this would help Africa unlock its potential, accelerate global decarbonisation, fuel sustainable development, drive economic growth, and create millions of jobs.

Renewable energy

Ruto highlighted the dual role of renewable energy as an environmental necessity and a catalyst for socio-economic prosperity. He said that renewable energy has the power to reduce carbon emissions, improve energy access, and create jobs, all while boosting economic growth.

"Africa can power all energy needs with renewable resources. The continent has enough potential to be entirely self-sufficient with a mix of wind, solar, geothermal, sustainable biomass, and hydropower. In fact, Africa can be a green industrial hub that helps other regions achieve their net zero strategies by 2050," he said.

"The numbers are stark," he added. "Nearly 600 million Africans lack access to electricity, while another 150 million have to deal with unreliable power. And almost a billion people have no access to clean cooking energy. But the abundance of our renewable resources, the possibilities offered by new technologies, and opportunities created by new climate financing, offer enormous possibilities. We have the capability to provide reliable, and cost-effective energy access to all Africans by 2030," he said.

Food security

Africa stands at a crossroads, where its youthful population and burgeoning growth converge with the looming specter of a 50% surge in food demand by 2050. However, this promising potential is veiled by an array of formidable challenges - climate change, land degradation, and conflict - that threaten to cast a shadow over the continent's future. Food security has long been a concern in Africa, with millions of people suffering from malnutrition and hunger.

Kenyan Environment Minister Soipan Tuya stressed that the overarching goal for this summit is to chart a Green Growth pathway for the African Continent, setting the stage for Africa to lead the globe towards a more ecologically responsible global industrialisation, catalysed by financing that is accessible, adequate, and affordable.

She said that the climate change debate has entered a "new era".

"It is no longer just about tackling an environmental or development problem, but about addressing climate change in the context of justice. This is why we are persuaded that if we do not develop adequate response measures to deal with the climate change crisis, it will destroy us. Let us therefore step and lead the world to find solutions for climate change by listening to all voices at this climate summit, including from youth, indigenous communities, and civil society from Africa, among others," she said.

Tuya concluded by saying that the summit is keen on changing the perception of the place of Africa in climate change action.

Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, said: "The world is asking African nations to develop but to do so in a way that does not emit as much carbon as developed countries did when they were developing. This is a global responsibility, and we all need to work together to figure out how to make it happen. That's why we're here. We want to help African nations come to COP28 leading in action and ambition. The discussions taking place here will help us to understand the challenges, barriers, solutions, and opportunities for climate action and support in Africa. The UNFCCC Secretariat can work with you to identify the solutions that will help you seize those opportunities."

Josefa Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union (AU) Commission, said Africa is committed to addressing the climate change challenge by implementing sustainable solutions.

"The African Continent remains a key player in charting the way towards a low carbon future. Despite being the least contributor, Africa has been hit hardest by the climate crisis. Our strength lies in our unity and in the fact that we are a continent that is vibrant, fast-growing, youthful, energetic, and diverse. Our solution for African climate change is rooted in large-scale investment in climate resilience," she said.

Sacko said that Africa's best solutions to climate change lie in large-scale investment in climate resilience, with a focus on energy access to drive sustainable industrialisation. This would be one of the fastest ways to reduce poverty and fundamentally change the nature of Africa's economy, with large-scale investment in sustainable value chains. She added that there are already several policy frameworks in place to support climate action in Africa, including the African Union Climate Change and Resilient Development Strategy and Action Plan, the Continental Green Recovery Action Plan, and the Integrated African Strategy on Meteorology. These frameworks provide a roadmap for how Africa can build a more climate-resilient future.

Sacko said that Africa has the potential to be a leader in the fight against climate change. "We have the resources and the people to make a difference," she said.

Climate Finance

Speaking during the ministerial panel discussion, Barbara Creecy, South Africa's Minister of Environment, Forestry, and Fisheries, highlighted the critical issue of climate finance for Africa. She noted that while about half of global climate finance comes from the private sector, this figure is only 14% in Africa.

Creecy argued that a common currency for Africa could be a game-changer in the fight against climate change. She explained that climate projects often involve long-term commitments, and a common currency could provide greater confidence in the stability of investment returns, encouraging more significant flows of climate finance. By eliminating the need for foreign exchange reserves and reducing currency risk, African nations would free up fiscal space that could be allocated to climate projects, renewable energy initiatives, and climate resilience programs.

Creecy emphasised the importance of accessing grant and concessional finance, a position she has also advocated for at the UN climate summit, COP27, last year. South Africa believes that non-debt finance instruments, such as grants and concessional loans, should be used, and that sovereign guarantees should not be required for such financing.

Mohammed Adam, Ghana's State Minister of Finance, emphasized the need for Africa to use its own currency in trade and tap into private sector funds to supplement public finance in responding to the climate crisis. He argued that a single currency would make intra-African trade more efficient, reducing trade barriers and transaction costs. This would stimulate economic growth and create additional fiscal space for investments in climate resilience and renewable energy projects.

The  African Climate Summit is also expected to build momentum toward positive and impactful outcomes at COP28, which will be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in November 2023.

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