COP27: Africa at the heart of the climate crisis

By Anne-Marie Bissada
Posted on Wednesday, 2 November 2022 17:59

View of a COP27 sign on the road leading to the conference area in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh town as the city prepares to host the COP27 summit next month, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt October 20, 2022. REUTERS/Sayed Sheasha

This year's COP27 in Egypt in will highlight the environmental challenges that Africa is facing, from drought to climbing temperatures and rising sea levels. Will policymakers rise to the challenge?

The climate crisis is here, bringing storms, drought, flooding, and extreme temperatures across the globe.

Analysts predict that Africa will be hit hardest, but, for the most part, African governments have the fewest resources to deal with the threats. Africa contributes the smallest amount to global pollution levels, and it does not have the money to prepare for the onslaught.

With the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27), also known as the United Nations Climate Change Conference, to be held in Africa for the second time since Morocco in 2016, African voices in the climate debate will be in the spotlight.

Egypt is host to this year’s event that opens on 6 November. Ahead of time, diplomats are working hard on developing common African positions on issues like finance for mitigation, Africa’s ability to continue using oil and gas as transitional fuels, and many other topics.

Unpredictable weather

Rising sea levels have contributed to unpredictable weather patterns this year. In April, close to a year’s worth of rain fell within 48 hours in parts of South Africa.

It killed 400 people and displaced 40,000. In mid-August, flash floods paralysed the Senegalese capital, Dakar, and killed six people.

The ongoing drought in the Horn of Africa reached new levels this year, affecting nearly 22 million people.

In Somalia alone, one million have been displaced, with 2.7 million livestock killed. The World Food Programme has warned that more than seven million Somalis will continue to face severe levels of food insecurity.

Many African countries need to brace for a rough ride. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change describes Africa as the “most vulnerable” continent. Yet Africa only contributes 4% of the world’s total emissions.

One voice

The global response to the Covid-19 pandemic showed what can happen when the world’s powers get together and decide to work jointly to stamp out a problem.

So why is climate change not bringing about the same sense of urgency?

During the last week of August, government officials, international organisations, non-­governmental organisations and business leaders attended Africa Climate Week in Libreville, Gabon.

Its host, President Ali Bongo Ondimba, said its aim was to ensure the continent speaks with one voice and offers “concrete” proposals for COP27.

That voice lashed out at the world, demanding an end to ‘climate injustice’.

In 27 years of climate summits, the world has not been able to move forward fast enough to meet milestones set out to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Rather, each year produces a new set of talks, ideas, and goals to stop global temperatures from rising by another 1.5°C and for the world to be able to reach ‘net-zero’ carbon emissions by 2050.

Mitigation and adaptation

A huge gap remains between the position of developed countries versus the developing ones.

An estimated 80% of global emissions come from the countries making up the G20. The Glasgow Climate Pact in 2021 called on all countries to submit their nationally determined contributions (NDCs) on how to cut emissions to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) ahead of COP27 in 2022 – rather than every five years, as had been agreed on at the Paris Agreement (COP21, 2015).

Ahead of COP27, only 18 countries have submitted their new or revised NDCs to the UNFCCC. The majority of these governments are from countries with developing economies.

COP26 in Glasgow failed to deliver on promises of regular finance to assist in mitigation and adaptation for developing countries, such as following up on the historic $100bn annual climate finance that developed countries aimed to deliver each year from 2020 to 2025.

“It is equally concerning that climate finance commitments especially the $100bn goal, are still lagging in implementation, while the needs of developing countries continue to rise.

“[They were] most recently estimated by the UNFCCC’s Standing Committee on Finance to amount to $5trn-$11trn,” said Sameh Shoukry, Egypt’s foreign minister and COP27 president during Africa Climate Week.

As Gabon’s President Bongo added: “The time has come for Africans to take our destiny into our own hands.”

African countries are asked to join the rest of the world in stamping out dependence on greenhouse-gas-emitting fossil fuels. But who is going to pay for that transition?

Many African policy-makers are asking why – since the ‘developed’ world was able to use fossil fuels extracted from Africa to advance their development – Africa shouldn’t get a chance to catch up.

‘Inconceivable’

There are two main schools of thought. Senegal’s President Macky Sall clearly stated one view in June: “It is inconceivable that those who have exploited oil, coal and fuel oil for more than a century should prevent African countries from developing their resources.”

The International Energy Agency strengthens Sall’s viewpoint when it argues that African countries using fossil fuels in the short term – for domestic use, not exports – would have little impact on global emissions.

Nigeria’s vice-president, Yemi Osinbajo, shared this sentiment at the launch of a Nigerian energy transition plan this year, set to cost $410bn: “For Africa, the problem of energy poverty is as important as our climate ambitions.”

But the other main line of argument, outlined by Evan Osano, the director of capital markets at Financial Sector Deepening Africa, is that, since Africa does not have the same problem of ‘legacy infrastructure’ as the West, it can bypass the fossil-fuel development phase and put in place a new order.

Renewable energy investments despite risks

Protecting and enhancing the vital sectors of agriculture, water, energy and mineral resources – the core drivers of economic growth in most African countries – could steer countries towards growing local ‘green’ manufacturing.

This could be an opportunity for African countries to reset the balance of power between the North and the South by getting it right from the start, or learning from the mistakes of the West.

Patrick Verkooijen, the CEO of the Global Centre on Adaptation, says the only way to halt the climate emergency is to “ensure money is flowing to Africa”.

That flow must be done in real-time, says Verkooijen, noting that the climate crisis we are living through must be addressed immediately.

But money is not the only factor. Mahmoud Mohieldin, the UN climate change high-level champion for Egypt, told The Africa Report: “The issue here is not just about funding or finance. It is also about technical expertise.

“We are more comfortable globally to talk about sources of renewable energy because there ha[s] been [a] major cost reduction of almost 95%-plus in the case of solar energy in the past 10 years.”

The time has come for Africans to take our destiny into our own hands.

Many corporations are still reluctant to invest in energy projects in Africa, saying the risks are higher than elsewhere.

In the case of Egypt, such risks are often linked to human rights records, as in the case of political activist Alaa Abdel Fattah, and of environmentalists ahead of COP27.

Egypt has said it will create a “facility adjacent to the conference centre that will provide them the full opportunity of participation, of activism, of demonstration, of voicing that opinion, away from the central conference centre”. 

Ahead of the climate change conference, headlines were made on 2 November after Ajit Rajagopal, an Indian climate activist, was arrested by Egyptian security forces during his solo walk of climate awareness from Cairo to Sharm-el-Sheikh. Some 67 other people have also been arrested across Egypt to stop any planned protests ahead of COP27.

Dependence on hydropower

Renewable energy capacity in Africa has grown by more than 24GW since 2013. Much of the growth has been led by solar and wind projects in North and East Africa, particularly in Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco and Ethiopia.

Zambia’s successful Bangweulu solar plant, with the capacity to produce 54MW, has helped the country to reduce its dependence on hydropower.

The same solar photovoltaic technology helped Senegal build its cheapest energy source.

South Africa is following through on what will be its largest renewable-energy investment: its Redstone concentrated solar power project, with 100MW capacity. Kenya’s Lake Turkana Wind Power project produces 310MW of energy that can power over one million homes.

Even if Africa pursues all its climate mitigation and adaptation projects, this will not protect it from the onslaught of climate change brought on by the West’s inability to meet its own goals.

Mohieldin, the UN climate change high-level champion for Egypt, says pressure is mounting to ensure COP27 will not be another conference of “useless promises, pledges and buzzwords”.

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