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COP27: Africa deserves climate justice, not handouts

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Greg Nott is the head of the Africa Practice at Norton Rose Fulbright. He specialises in energy projects and deals.

In the last two and a half years, we have patiently waited for international climate change agreements and pledges to get realised while the weather has battered our continent in unprecedented ways.

The last time I issued a rallying cry in Daily Maverick for a new deal on climate change, we were heading into the peak of the pandemic, and our continent was dealing with the public health and economic fallout caused by the virus. 

I cautioned that we needed to prepare for a climate change crisis while dealing with the (then) pandemic, because it stalled the momentum of climate change action in Africa and abroad. 

I wrote about how the climate crisis required bold reforms and investment in a New Deal for a green economy through public-private-civil-labour partnerships for a sustainable, inclusive and low-carbon future. 

A New Deal for a green economy in Africa should open the way for others into the economic space. African governments can’t be the leading players and referees regarding climate change and the future economy.

Unfortunately, in the 18 months since I wrote that article, African nations and their cities are facing an increasingly dire reality of climate change with droughts, flooding, extreme precipitation and rainstorms manifesting in new and harmful ways. 

According to the non-profit organisation CDP, although Africa accounts for only 3.8% of global greenhouse gas emissions – the smallest of any continent – we are particularly vulnerable to climate change. This reality contrasts with emissions from First World economies such as China (23%), the US (19%) and the European Union (13%). 

The State of the Climate in Africa 2021 reveals that rainfall patterns on the continent get disrupted, glaciers are disappearing, and key lakes are shrinking. Rising water demand, combined with limited and unpredictable supplies, threatens to aggravate conflict and the displacement of citizens.

According to World Meteorological Organization Secretary-General Petteri Taalas: “The worsening crisis and looming famine in the drought-stricken Horn of Africa shows how climate change can exacerbate water shocks, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of people and destabilising communities, countries and entire regions.”

In South Africa, extreme flooding and landslides in Kwazulu-Natal in April 2022 caused the death of 448 people, displacing over 40,000 others, destroying more than 12,000 houses and severely damaging valuable infrastructure. 

In the last two and a half years, we have patiently waited for international climate change agreements and pledges to get realised while the weather has battered our continent in unprecedented ways. 

With COP27 under way in Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, where I am in attendance, these pledges are again in the spotlight and open for debate. 

Without the pledges being honoured, it will be impossible for Africa to adequately prepare for and mitigate climate change disasters that are becoming more commonplace, which scientists say are primarily caused by the disproportionate impact of the world’s largest economies. 

African nations are increasingly vocal about climate change commitments.

The topic of loss and damage is included on the agenda for the first time at the COP in Egypt, and calling for action on previous commitments at this event has been strong. The issue of “loss and damage” is the idea that worst affected emerging economies get compensated for incurred costs from climate-fuelled weather extremes.


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Current chair of the African Group of Negotiators on climate change, Ephraim Mwepya Shitima of Zambia, spoke on behalf of Africa’s 54 countries, calling on wealthy nations to keep their promise made at the 2009 Copenhagen Climate Summit. 

The commitment includes the mobilisation of $100bn of annual climate assistance for developing countries by 2020. 

“For the African Group of Negotiators, COP27 should be about advancing [the] implementation of the National Determined Contributions (NDCs), including adaptation and mitigation efforts and delivery of finance to enhance implementation.

“We need to advance the implementation of our climate actions. We will continue calling for the global goal for adaptation to be operationalised and guide the adaptation efforts of countries. 

“We will also reiterate the importance of delivering the $100-billion a year by 2020 – [a] goal that was not met by developed countries.”

Senegalese president Macky Sall, and current chair of the African Union, also spoke at the conference. He said it was time for the rich nations that bear disproportionate blame for the climate crisis, and not just to meet that pledge, but to double it to $200-billion.

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa highlighted that multilateral support is currently out of reach due to risk-averse lending policies that carry onerous costs and conditionalities. 

“We need a clear road map to deliver on the Glasgow decision to double adaptation financing by 2025,” Ramaphosa said.

Meanwhile, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced an extra £5-million in “loss and damage” cash for climate-hit communities. She pledged the money to send an “important message” to rich nations about providing compensation to developing countries. 

However, the Financial Times reports that former UK prime minister Boris Johnson said on Monday that the UK did not have the financial resources to pay reparations to low-income countries. Johnson said climate action had been a collateral victim of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Wealthy nations must make compensation promises a reality.

UN secretary-general António Guterres called for a new “climate solidarity pact” where wealthy countries double down and assist poorer nations financially. Guterres singled out the US and China, saying they had a particular responsibility to make it a reality. 

“The two largest economies – the United States and China – have a particular responsibility to join efforts to make this pact a reality,” he said. 

“We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator.” 

Unfortunately, China’s president Xi Jinping is skipping COP27. Leaders of other fossil fuel-dependent nations not in attendance include India’s Narendra Modi, Anthony Albanese of Australia and Justin Trudeau of Canada. 

It was announced at COP27 that South Africa’s just energy transition project had received endorsement from the International Partners Group (IPG) in a first-of-its-kind climate deal for an emerging market. 

The IPG group consists of wealthy nations UK, US, France, Germany and the EU. The plan was formally handed over by President Ramaphosa for approval to the IPG at the start of COP27. 

The IPG members seemed bolstered in their responsibility to increase their commitment to climate change action.  

“We will not sacrifice our commitments to the climate due to the Russian threat,” France’s Emmanuel Macron vowed.  

Germany’s Olaf Scholz urged: “There must not be a worldwide renaissance of fossil fuels … And for Germany, I can say: there will not be one.” 

The UK’s Rishi Sunak, in marked contrast to his predecessor, Liz Truss, said that Putin’s war and consequent rising energy prices “are not a reason to go slow on climate change. They are a reason to act faster.”

As nations debate the practicalities of administering the much-needed promised relief, climate change threatens current and future generations. Decisions must get made and executed. 

Steadfast leadership and the will to act is the only factor within our control which must get realised through this conference. BM/DM

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