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Nairobi climate summit shows African leaders are yet to find a common voice

The Nairobi Declaration, a supposed forerunner to COP28, has not proven that the continent’s approach will be anything significantly different from what it is – beggarly

Last week, Nairobi held the first of its kind African Climate Summit (ACS). The summit was an opportunity to showcase progress, exchange perspectives and begin to converge on common priorities for global discussions. But ultimately, it showed that African leaders are yet to find a common voice on African priorities.

ACS follows a roundtable on climate finance to facilitate climate mitigation, resilience building, and response efforts in Africa that was convened by the African Union Commission (AUC) earlier in August. The roundtable sought to build a conversation around new strategies to bring African stakeholders together for the urgent task. Among its recommendations are to make early warning systems and technologies accessible to all and not only governments, increase member states’ uptake of risk transfer for disasters, provide technical assistance to AU member states to facilitate access to climate finance and investments, and promote innovative finance, including carbon credit market development, green and blue bonds, debt swap and debt for nature, to leverage private sector savings.

The roundtable, in its communiqué, also called on Africa to:

  1. Enhance capacity building and policy reform, e.g. carbon trading legislation and guidelines.
  2. Include both adaptation and mitigation in Priority areas for investments and development.
  1. Use a coordinated approach to break silos in the design and deployment of climate finance and investment solutions/initiatives.
  2. Develop and maintain a portfolio of bankable climate projects, deals, and term sheets (in-country and regional) to enhance investor-readiness of AU member states and companies through initiatives such as AfDB’s Adaptation Compacts.
  3.  Advocate for Africa’s climate finance needs at global fora, and strongly support initiatives that could facilitate large-scale mobilisation of climate finance.

A desire for practical steps and just funding architecture

The leaders agreed there is no better time to take action on climate adaptation and mitigation strategies as well as demand global cooperation in addressing what they termed an unfair funding framework.

Ethiopia’s President, Sahle-Work_Zewde, challenged her colleagues not to turn the summit into “a talk show” but that “actionable actions” should be taken to save Africa from the disaster. She highlighted the place of research in arriving at an evidence-based African consensus on the subject.

  “As Africans, we should prioritise research investment on the subject,” she said, calling for capacity building in resilient adaptation plans, she drew from Ethiopia’s 10-year national development plan and its focus on a green economy as a pillar.

Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, a strong advocate of seeking African solutions to African challenges, commended the summit as much as it would articulate a plan on the continent that would mobilise domestic solutions for climate adaptation and mitigation. The Ghanaian President spoke about the role of the private sector in building climate-resilient projects while calling for global responses to complement national efforts.

A major concern to African leaders, in the opinion of Akufo-Addo, is how to streamline access to global funding. He sought a better understanding of access to climate funds to guarantee “a different future from the past” and called on developed countries to show more commitment.

Akufo-Addos’s Tanzanian counterpart, Samia Suluhu Hassan, said COP 28 should serve as an avenue to demand strong commitment from the developed countries and “heavy polluters”.

At COP 15 in 2009, the developed countries committed to mobilising $100 billion yearly from 2020 for climate action in developing countries. With the promises gone unfulfilled, Hassan said, the stakes are high for Africa and it must “seize the moment, capitalise on its potential to offer solutions to green growth and decarbonisation while creating resilience for community and economies”.

President Paul Kagame regretted that Africa continues to carry the huge burden of climate disaster despite making the smallest contribution to global greenhouse emissions. But he submitted that it is even more dangerous to continue to talk about it without doing what is required to fix the problem.

“This is unfair. But in the long run, playing the blame game is not the answer. A more pragmatic approach is for Africa to be a key player in the search for a global climate solution,” the Rwandan President advised.

Sierra Leone’s President, Julius Maada Bio, called for the creation of programmes and projects that could attract climate funding across the globe. He said the focus of the gathering was unequivocal – “to collaborate and not to capitulate, seek cooperation and not charity.”

The actions of polluters, he said, must “pivot from the mere declaration of being committed to actionable technology-driven reparation”. To the global community, he said, Africans must demonstrate a unified front against the existential crisis and demand climate justice and not moral imperative as advocated in the past.

“Let us come together, not just in spirit but (also) in actionable solidarity. For in unity, we find not just strength but also salvation,” Bio appealed.

Afwerki’s lone but loud voice

Participants took turns to call for solidarity among blocs and countries in Africa as well as cooperation from the West, who contributes much to carbon footprints.  President Isaias Afwerki thought differently. The call for cooperation and support from the developed countries amounted to a “waste of time” except the continent addressed the fundamental internal challenges, including corruption. For Afwerki, Africa must have a strategic and independent approach to dealing with climate-related challenges: it must clarify its goals first and only then, mobilise its own resources to achieve these goals.

In that process, the Eritrean leader said Africa will have to deal with “corrupt governments” first. Otherwise, it would squander any resources the continent secures to address the climate crises.

Afwerki warned the leaders that PR statements and relying on charity would not help, urging them to articulate the goals of the continent without which they would be wasting their time discussing resource mobilisation.

“I remind the august gathering that Africa mobilise its resources rather than extending hands for handouts that may aggravate the existing situation by inviting interference and corrupt practices,” Afwerki, a strong critic of the Western socio-economic dominance, recommended.

The Eritrean President’s position aligned with the sentiment of an ordinary African who sees those in political offices as facilitators of Western interference. The ordinary Africans, not the leaders, are the ones bearing the brunt of extreme weather conditions – challenges caused or intensified by climate change. Perhaps, resolutions from the Nairobi meeting should have reflected the will of those individuals.

The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference  (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) will be a watershed moment in the global search for a safer environment for several reasons. It is even years after the important Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It is also seven years to 2030, a timeline scientists have given to the global community to halve its carbon emissions. It is, thus, a crucial halfway point for the climate change campaign. African leaders are, indeed, determined to present a common voice at COP28.

Sadly, resolutions at the maiden edition of the ACS now known as the Nairobi Declaration were not remarkably different from what has become a tradition – tying the fate of over 1.4 million people to the decision of external influencers who either pretend to be committed to some moral justifications for a better planet, indifferent to the plight of the continent or actively exploiting it for self-serving motives. In other words, the Nairobi Declaration, a supposed forerunner to the November conference, has not proven that the continent’s approach will be anything significantly different from what it is – beggarly.



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