COP26: ‘We cannot just ask African countries to stop exploiting their coal, oil and gas’

By Fred Harter
Posted on Monday, 1 November 2021 11:36

Climate COP26 Summit
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, left, and United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, right, greet Zambia's President Hakainde Hichilema during arrivals at the COP26 U.N. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant, Pool)

Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale is the chair of the African Group of Negotiators on Climate Change and is leading talks on behalf of the continent at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow. On the eve of the summit, he sat down with The Africa Report to outline Africa’s demands going into the negotiations.

Gahouma has called for $1trn in annual funding to help developing countries deal with the effects of climate change, a 10-fold increase on the existing commitment of $100bn. He says this money will help countries implement their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs): a set of climate plans submitted by all countries party to the talks.

He has also highlighted the responsibility that big emitters have towards developing countries when it comes to dealing with the effects of climate change and the disproportionate impact rising temperatures are due to have on Africa.

The COP26 officially opens on 31 October and runs until 12 November.

On the eve of the opening of COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland, Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale sat down with The Africa Report. 

What is the continent’s negotiating position at COP26 and what do you hope to achieve at the talks?

Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale: These negotiations are crucial for the continent. The science clearly states that Africa is most at risk from climate change, yet the continent is not responsible for this situation because we have no historical emissions. We are calling for these special circumstances to be recognised.

We also need more money to help developing nations implement and achieve their NDCs. Developed countries have already pledged $100bn a year in climate finance, but this is a political figure. It is not based on the true cost of the NDCs. To implement the NDCs, we believe we need 10 times this amount.

How would that money be spent?

The best way to use this money is to make the NDCs real. All African countries have outlined their priorities for mitigation and adaptation in their NDCs, and we can use these plans as a roadmap for climate change-related investment in Africa.

This money can also be used to improve the business environments in our countries and attract private investment. Public finance cannot do everything, so we also need the private sector to engage with us in this fight.

Why is it important that developed countries help developing ones deal with the effects of climate change?

They have a historical responsibility. Global emissions increased during the industrial period due to a small number of countries, which is why we have rising temperatures.

We are asking industrialised countries to take responsibility and support the efforts that less-developed countries need to take to deal with the situation that they [the developed countries] created.

In Paris, developing and developed countries agreed to share responsibility for bringing down emissions. We accept that, but we also need support in terms of finance, technology and capacity building.

Could Africa lead the way in tackling climate change without outside help?

At the moment, Africa is not the problem. We are responsible for just 4% of global emissions and half our population has no access to electricity.

It is clear that Africa will develop in the future. We could take the trajectory that others took in the past in order to develop, or we can take a different trajectory and be responsible, but we cannot do this with our national budgets. That is why we are asking for additional money to help us find a new way of doing things.

How will infrastructure in Africa have to develop in order to deal with climate change?

In terms of infrastructure, the biggest issues are coastal erosion and urbanisation. In many African countries, big cities are on the coast, this is part of the legacy of slavery, and climate change will be a big threat because of that. We will need to develop smart cities and invest heavily in the management of water and pollution.

How much leverage do African countries have in these negotiations?

We are approaching these talks as a multilateral process. Africa is one of the most important groups because all 54 countries are speaking with one voice and together we represent more than 25% of those in the conversation.

Are you confident that a deal will be reached at COP26?

We don’t want to block these negotiations because we have important things to achieve during COP26, but it is clear the decisions need to be taken with the future of Africa in mind.

We want progress in themes we think are important. For us, adaptation and finance are at the core of the Paris Agreement, so we want to see outcomes on that. This is why we are here, but among some parties, there is a desire to delay work in these areas.

Which African countries are leading the way in implementing climate change policies?

We don’t really have any countries committed to net zero, but some countries such as Morocco and Rwanda have made a lot of efforts. They want to be carbon neutral. Morocco has put in place some very interesting solar energy projects.

There are a lot of big oil producers on the continent, such as Nigeria, Algeria and Libya. Are they going to have to cut their output of crude in order to meet global climate change targets?

This is what we call the stranded asset. Many African countries have large reserves of oil, gas and coal. During this COP, there is a push to announce an end to the use of coal for energy all over the world, and maybe in 10 years it will be the same for oil.

However, developed countries extracted these resources to fund their development. We also need to allow African countries to find equitable measures to deal with these stranded assets. If we do not, this will create a disadvantage with regards to the development of African countries.

We understand the use of these assets could be against the Paris agreement, but we need to find just and equitable measures to deal with this situation. We cannot just ask African countries to stop exploiting their coal, oil and gas because developed nations have already used these resources to fund their development, yet we need to develop ourselves.

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