Countdown to Africa’s Climate COP begins amid growing global uncertainty

Countdown to Africa’s Climate COP begins amid growing global uncertainty
The developing world, especially Africa, has been explicit that climate finance is top of the agenda at COP27, while youth voices also need to be heard. (Photo: Unsplash)

Climate finance must top the COP27 agenda in Egypt to benefit vulnerable developing countries. 

The Africa Climate COP is around the corner. The 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change begins on 6 November in Egypt. It promises a high-energy two weeks of intense negotiations as different interest groups push and pull their way towards a final declaration on 18 November. 

The developing world, especially Africa, has been explicit that climate finance is top of the agenda. Funding should combine greater movement on mitigation finance with a seismic increase in adaptation finance. 

These are critical priorities for the many countries highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, as seen with the ‘rain bombs’ in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal, floods in Pakistan and a devastating drought in the Horn of Africa. 

Many countries are facing recession, and the escalating war in Europe has global ramifications. At the same time, large parts of the world are on the edge of an energy crisis. All this means the potential for deadlock on climate finance at COP27 is high. But if it succeeds, can Africa emerge and thrive as a climate-resilient continent? 

COP27 host Egypt held a meeting of African ministers of finance, economy, development and environment in September, “calling time on the unfulfilled pledges that have left African countries disproportionately battered by climate change.” This resonates strongly with South Africa’s stance on developed country obligations. 

In September, Egyptian Foreign Affairs Minister and COP27’s President-Designate, Sameh Shoukry, called for the fulfilment of climate pledges and said the aim was to make this an ‘“implementation COP.” He emphasised the need for cooperation and urgency to “save lives and livelihoods.” At a recent Institute for Security Studies (ISS) seminar, Egypt’s Ambassador to South Africa Ahmed El Fadly, reiterated that the upcoming Egyptian Presidency was looking at COP27 “as a transformative moment in climate action.”

Expectations of the conference are high, and the challenges are immense. In the lead-up to last year’s COP26, an encouraging convergence of views dominated the 2021 UN General Assembly with strong calls to build back better and greener. 

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By comparison, the road to COP27 is much more chequered. One factor is the energy crisis and Europe’s unfortunate swing back to fossil fuels to ensure energy security. Another is the United States (US) pushing for higher oil availability, criticising the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries’ latest decision to limit production. Then there are the discouraging messages from Liz Truss, United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister, about environment groups that have been labelled part of an “anti-growth coalition.”

This is the backdrop against which COP27 must deliver. At least some important cards can be played with a reasonable chance of success. One is the developed-developing country partnership for energy transitions — the JETPs (Just Energy Transition Partnerships). South Africa’s JETP with the European Union, Germany, the UK, France and the US — geared to unlock $8.5-billion in investment, loans and grants for South Africa’s decarbonisation — is a vital global pilot.

Several developing countries, including Indonesia, Nigeria, India and Vietnam, have joined the queue to form new global decarbonisation partnerships. And strong statements from all leaders attending the October pre-COP27 meeting in Kinshasa echoed the calls by UN Secretary-General António Guterres and Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed. They asked for increases in climate financing in general and climate adaptation financing in particular. 

There is a reasonable prospect of COP27 creating sufficient political momentum for a meaningful global climate deal in future. The key question is whether Africa has enough capacity to benefit from any positive movement. The ISS has started examining this issue, and a new report on Africa’s positioning in global climate change negotiations offers important insights

First, Africa has pioneered the world’s first presidential-level governance structure — the Committee of African Heads of State on Climate Change. Second, it has a highly functional and increasingly significant African Group of Negotiators on climate change. And third, the African Ministers Council on the Environment is core to the continent’s negotiating position. 

While Africa-wide guidance is an advantage, implementation happens on the ground. A replication of the African Union governance structure at the regional, national and sub-national levels is pivotal. For example, social compacting mechanisms like South Africa’s Presidential Climate Commission are taking root elsewhere in Africa. And an African network of climate scientists is being organised to enable better decisions on a low-carbon, high-growth African development pathway. 

The challenges of Covid-19 and the frequent extreme weather events precipitated by climate change have introduced calamitous shocks around Africa. The challenge of no longer being able to use its fossil fuel assets represents a further dilemma for the continent. 

A positive outcome at COP27 — with Africa prioritising low-carbon investment partnerships and building agency and capability — will be a welcome boost. It could spur the continent into a low-carbon industrialisation trajectory as a catalyst for a global low-carbon economy. After all, in the words of Pliny the Elder, “Ex Africa semper aliquid novi” — “Out of Africa there is always something new.” DM

Dhesigen Naidoo, Senior Research Associate, Institute for Security Studies (ISS) Pretoria.

First published by ISS Today.

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