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Africa secured a few major wins at COP26 — we must now mobilise for COP27 and a Green New Deal


Dr Roland Ngam is programme manager for climate justice and socioecological transformation at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation Southern Africa. Views expressed are not necessarily those of the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation.

We need to do more and fast. The next COP must snap out of the dull mind-numbing ‘blah-blah-blah’ of fine speeches, glossy magazines and corporate sponsors that it has become in recent years — the number of heavy polluter corporate sponsors that I saw at COP26 last year shocked me – and start making key decisions for systems change now.

The 2020s are confirming what we discovered already in the 2010s: the world is witnessing an increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events.

After an unprecedented multi-year drought in southern Africa, the heavens have opened up and it is absolutely bucketing down in some parts while other areas continue to contend with drought conditions. The rains are not waiting for the water to drain into rivers and aquifers before bucketing down some more. This is obviously leading to flooding and damage, especially in townships where drainage systems are often non-existent.

All this is happening on the back of unprecedented floods in Germany, France, Belgium, and England last year, which caused $60-billion worth of damage, with over $40-billion of that occurring in Germany alone, according to Munich Re. Looking at the battery of solutions that were deployed very swiftly by then chancellor Angela Merkel and then finance minister Olaf Scholz to deal with the catastrophe, one wonders what would happen if something similar were to occur in a low-income country.

While Europe was drowning last year, parts of the US and Russia were experiencing unprecedented heat waves. It has just been revealed that the last eight years were the hottest years on record. That is how climate change works: while people are dying of thirst in southern Africa, others are drowning in western Europe as rivers burst their banks.

To complete this tough context, we are still in the midst of the worst pandemic in a century. Some people were predicting in early 2020 that we would be over the Covid-19 pandemic within months. It is 2022, we have slogged through Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta and Omicron variants, and God knows what next. So much for the three-month prediction!

Covid-19 is going to be with us for years if not decades… and the way we are carrying on, humankind will have to contend with other pandemics sooner rather than later.  

The planet is changing and people generally agree today that we need to take action in order to repair some of the damage that we have caused and limit the harm that we are yet to cause. Unfortunately, those who bear the biggest responsibility for our planet burning refuse to lead when it comes to finding urgent apposite solutions.

It is almost as if we are waiting for an epic, Roland Emmerich-style, very visible and very graphic catastrophe, complete with explosions and fires, to shake off our complacency.

The Australian bushfires, the heat dome over North America’s west coast, hurricanes Ana, Kenneth and Idai, the floods in western Europe, the drought in southern Africa, disappearing vegetation in West Africa… people want to see all of this happen at the exact same time before they sit up. 

Activists and organisers around the world are still coming to terms with the disappointment that was COP26. India, China and other fossil-dependent nations like Saudi Arabia and Qatar worked hard to water down the final resolution calling for a phase-out of coal and other fossils over the next couple of decades. About 38% of all energy produced in the world today still comes from coal and new coal power plants under construction will definitely push up coal’s contribution to global energy supply to at least 40% in 2022. We are going backwards, not forwards.

Before India and China, the Nigerian delegation had soured the mood at COP26 when they announced that they had vast reserves of oil and gas and they had every intention to continue using these God-given resources without outside pressure “and a colonial mentality”. This echoed similar sentiments made earlier by South African energy minister Gwede Mantashe, who fumed that the West wants to tell South Africa to jump and they must just obey. 

Nobody is buying the idea that Nigeria’s Buhari, Senegal’s Macky Sall or South Africa’s Gwede Mantashe are the new Amilcar Cabral, Thomas Sankara or Ahmed Sekou Touré, champions against neocolonial oppressors who want to call the shots on the continent. What is happening is simply that large deposits of oil and gas are popping up everywhere in Africa: Senegal, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Uganda, Cameroon, Namibia, South Africa… it is everywhere! Some people in power want some relatively quick and conditions-free money to buttress their legacies and others just want a piece of the action.

Therein lies the dilemma and warning: if the global Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries are serious about limiting CO2 emissions, they need to step up to the plate now or else many African countries will join the pollute now, clean up later paradigm.  

Rampant capitalism has to be dismantled. The continued plunder of environmental resources and an unfettered belief in Promethean and GDP growth has driven us to the brink. The capitalocene and its celebration of unfettered greed continue to funnel global wealth to just 1% of people, leaving the rest of the world to deal with battered landscapes, toxic fumes, überisation and a rising global precariat.    

Africa had some major wins at COP26 and that must be acknowledged: over 100 world leaders pledged about $20-billion to end and reverse deforestation by 2030 and South Africa received pledges and concessional loans worth over R140-billion to kick-start its just transition process.

These measures are important because: 1) to end deforestation in the Congo Basin rainforest, we need to support the Central African rainforest Initiative CAFI and other processes by giving Congo Basin countries more for environmental protections than what they get from selling timber and charcoal; and 2) to significantly scale back Africa’s emissions, we must do something about coal which contributes about 50% of all CO2 produced on the continent.   

However, we need to do more and fast! The next COP must snap out of the dull mind-numbing blab-blah-blah of fine speeches, glossy magazines and corporate sponsors that it has become in recent years — the number of heavy polluter corporate sponsors that I saw at COP26 last year shocked me — and start making key decisions for systems change now.

Africa contributes very little to global emissions and this is of course due in great part to what some refer to as the environmentalism of the poor. However, we must interrogate which kind of future we want for ourselves and our children as the continent slowly becomes the centre of the world’s urban future. Simply copying the casino capitalism of the West will be a grave mistake.

So what do Africans want from COP27?

The event that is coming to Sharm El-Sheikh on the Red Sea should call, first and foremost, for a Green New Deal agenda in Africa. We need a Marshall Plan – an African Green New Deal.

We need to start preparing for Africa’s tomorrow metropolises today, equipped with efficient rapid transit systems, renewable energy, decent housing, massive public parks, walkways, etc. We need to build power stations and help rural communities tap into the abundant aquifers in West Africa to irrigate their plantations and gardens. The Great Green Wall has to be funded. All this can be done with support from the major global economies who are already spending more on Operation Barkhane and similar initiatives than what Africa requires to build resilient communities. Support can come in the form of carbon trading, green bonds, loss and damage initiatives, etc.  

The collapse of Libya, together with coastal erosion, salinisation and multi-year droughts is piling pressure on previously self-sufficient communities and causing unprecedented hunger everywhere. This is pushing an ever-growing number of people to migrate to other countries and across the Mediterranean in search of food and stable living conditions. Vulnerable people who can no longer feed themselves and who constantly have to contend with terrorists are losing hope in civilian-led government institutions and throwing their lot behind armies. Coups are in fashion again.

Disappearing vegetation is also causing unprecedented feuds between farmers and herders in Nigeria, Cameroon, Niger, Chad and so on. Recent feuds claimed over 30 lives in Cameroon in 2022. They have claimed over a hundred lives in Nigeria since the start of the 2010s.

Secondly, South Africa has made commitments at the highest level to power past coal. This commitment must be supported through heavy investments in the energy sector, the auto manufacturing sector, transport etc.

Resolving Eskom’s coal problem will immediately eliminate half of Africa’s methane and CO2 emissions. South Africa’s energy minister has often been criticised for supporting coal and gas projects, although he argues that his only interest is protecting communities linked to the coal/gas value chain. It is only by pumping money into just transition projects that we can convince the sceptics that the world is ready to support just transition initiatives.

Every activist certainly has a very long laundry list for COP27. However, we can deal with all of Africa’s demands by calling for a continent-wide GDN to add to the gains of COP26. And rich countries must start paying their debts. We need to move beyond pledges.

The Covid pandemic has proven that we can act with some sense of urgency when we need to. When faced with the coronavirus, the world shut down within days and the planet got some days to breathe again. Free of the toxic fumes that had been choking them for decades, people of Punjab province saw the Himalayas again for the first time in 30 years. We must now tackle our climate challenges with the same urgency, starting at COP27. DM


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