View(s) from Africa: Did the Africa Climate Summit fulfil its vision?
A month on from the first ever Africa Climate Summit, a panel of experts reflect on its successes and failures.
The run-up to the inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS), held on 4-6 September in Nairobi, was full of mixed emotions and varied expectations. The best hope was that the ambitious meeting of minds from African governments, civil society and business would result in a unified pan-African agenda on climate change that would centre the continent and allow it to speak with a much louder voice in international discussions. The worst fear was that the summit’s agenda, captured by Western interests, would pursue false solutions and be more of a trade fair than an opportunity to forge consensus and present bold ideas that are genuinely in the African peoples’ interests.
Now the dust has settled, we asked a panel of climate experts to reflect on the Africa Climate Summit and its resulting Nairobi Declaration.
Lorraine Chiponda: No unified vision, no fossil fuels, but some positive notes
The Africa Climate Summit had initially offered a glimmer of hope for African leaders to coalesce around a common pan-African climate agenda. There was, however, a serious lack of a unified African vision at the summit, with countries pushing individual investment interests. This resulted in a fragmented summit.
Less than half of African Heads of State attended the talks. Their absence undermines the effectiveness of the summit and subsequently the legitimacy of its outcomes. While some failed to attend due to valid reasons, others failed to show up owing to their recent position on fossil fuels. The summit, therefore, failed to present a truly unified pan-African vision to address the climate crisis.
Africans were expecting their leadership to call out the extractive, polluting, and export-oriented oil industry that puts profits over people. This did not happen. That the climate crisis is a legacy of the fossil fuel industry is not in doubt. Millions in Africa have not benefitted from the oil industry and the billions of dollars it mints annually. Today, more than half a billion Africans live in energy poverty. More than 1 billion others do not have access to clean cooking. These people are, however, on the receiving end of the damage wrought on the planet by the oil merchants. The Nairobi Declaration, however, failed to emphatically call for the phaseout of fossil fuels.
On a more positive note, the Accelerated Partnership for Renewables in Africa (APRA) launched at the summit, with Zimbabwe, Kenya, Ethiopia, Namibia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone on board. The partnership that also brings Denmark, Germany and the United Arab Emirates into the fold seeks to accelerate renewables on the continent through finance and technology transfer. If these commitments are followed through, this could illustrate the kind of strategic partnerships needed to transition towards renewables.
The Summit also called for the redesign of the global finance architecture, including the Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs). Doing so would effectively address the steep and structural financing inequalities within the global finance system to elevate funding for both mitigation and adaptation. It is only through such reforms that we can start to talk about climate justice.
- Lorraine Chiponda is a Coordinator of the Africa Movement Building Space.
Brian Mukhaya: A necessary first step but with key flaws
The first annual African Climate Summit should be commended for gathering African heads of state to try and articulate – for the first time – a coherent vision of continent’s climate future. However, I have three key takeaways on what the Summit failed to do.
First, of Africa’s 10 largest economies, only Kenya, Ethiopia, and Tanzania’s presidents attended. The Nairobi Declaration would have much more significance if the leaders of Nigeria, Egypt, South Africa, Morocco, and Algeria had participated, as these countries are strategic players in Africa’s future development and attainment of any climate goals.
Secondly, while the leaders spoke effusively of African-created solutions, the biggest talking point ended up being the $23 billion in non-binding, external commitments – magnitudes lower than the trillions needed for a true transformation of the African energy systems. Moreover, the leaders did not elaborate new strategies to address the 600 million people without electricity nor how to meet the other Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.
Finally, the Summit rightfully highlighted how the high cost of capital – “typically 5 to 8 times what wealthy countries pay” – has made it burdensome to finance projects in Africa. However, the proposals put forward (such as re-evaluation of the credit rating system, debt relief, and restructuring) do little to allay the credible concerns expressed by investors. I wish the leaders had articulated proactive measures centred on building African wealth and making the countries more attractive business prospects instead of focusing on external dependence.
The summit is a positive step, and the leaders should utilise future summits to articulate a stronger agenda that better captures the real needs of the continents.
- Brian Mukhaya is a Research Associate in Energy and Climate Innovation, Africa, at Clean Air Task Force.
Nnimmo Bassey: A summit stuck in a valley of false solutions
The African Climate Summit was quite a paradox. The least some of us expected from African political leaders was a determined stand for climate justice and the best interests of the continent. We expected them to reject carbon slavery and colonialism. We expected them to roll out a plan to power the continent with socialised renewable energy.
We expected clear demands for payment of a climate debt owed the continent by those who have grabbed and filled the sky with greenhouse gases. This would supersede the Green Climate Fund and even the undefined Loss and Damage fund. In other words, we expected to hear loud calls for climate reparations.
We expected to hear clear demands for the clean-up and restoration of lands and territories sacrificed in the extraction of fossil fuels by transnational fossil fuel companies. We expected to hear the declaration of an end to the installation of pipelines of conflict on the continent. We expected to hear clear calls insisting that there must be no expansion of sacrifice zones in the extraction of so-called critical minerals needed for renewable energy on the continent.
African leaders missed the opportunity of stepping up as champions of real climate actions, rejecting false solutions and supporting our agroecological farmers that are actually cooling the planet.
The African Climate Summit came at a time the world needs to be liberated from mechanics of climate bondage. Sadly we saw the trading of Africa on the ephemeral currencies of carbon bonds and other fictitious tools bound to accelerate the opening of the region for illicit financial extraction. They stayed in the valley while at the summit. It was a paradoxical moment.
- Nnnimmo Bassey is the Director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation.
David McNair: A meeting that felt entirely different
“We are not here to catalogue grievances and list problems. We are here to scrutinise ideas to unlock solutions.” These were the words of Kenyan President William Ruto opening a Summit which felt entirely different to meetings I have been to before. This was about putting proposals on the agenda and building the political will to drive them forward. African leaders, for the first time, laid out an agenda for the reform of the World Bank and IMF. A call for increased development bank lending on the scale of $500 billion a year, fairer governance of the institutions, a new $650 billion issuance of Special Drawing Rights, and debt reform to name a few.
African leaders have clearly recognised the urgency and jeopardy the planet is facing. They have something to offer in the form of critical minerals, solar potential, and biodiversity. They have recognised their new-found geo-political leverage in the wake of Russia invasion of Ukraine. And they are ready to use it. The leadership and shareholders of the IMF and World Bank are clearly listening. The big question is whether they act fast enough to contain the climate crisis and seize the political window of opportunity for reform ahead of key elections in 2024.
- David McNair is the Executive Director for Global Policy at ONE.
Mohamed Adow: Africans have, once again, been swindled
As the dust settles, Africans are realising that they have, once again, been swindled. The writing was on the wall long before the summit when more than 500 civil society wrote to President Ruto calling for a reset of the summit agenda. They expressed concern over foreign interference and a lack of focus on Africa’s real interests. These concerns were unheeded by the organisers and the result is a deeply flawed process and a summit declaration that sold Africans short.
Foremost, the discussions and the subsequent Nairobi Declaration centred on some dangerous distractions including carbon markets. These are, essentially, “polluter permits” that allow historical emitters to continue to poison the planet, with lives and livelihoods in vulnerable countries ruined as a result.
Tragically, there were no discussions on how to harness Africa’s strategic minerals for the continent’s economic and energy transformation for millions who lack energy. While African leaders committed to increasing Africa’s renewable energy share from 56GW in 2022 to at least 300GW by 2030, the declaration said nothing about phasing out oil and gas and expansion projects for these fossil fuels.
The summit should have elevated adaptation and resilience as the overriding concerns for the continent. But these themes did not feature prominently in the declaration. The language was unassertive, the substance outright weak, with no reference made to increase adaptation funding.
It is noteworthy that the summit was the largest mobilisation yet of African voices in the climate discourse. Thousands of members of the civil society were allowed to protest, to hold a vigil and to make a People’s Declaration on the sidelines of the main summit. This means that the democratic space in Africa is opening up. There can never be climate action in the absence of human rights.
- Mohamed Adow is an international climate activist and director of Power Shift Africa.
Shelot Masithi: Jarring on one front, refreshing on another
The Africa Climate Summit provided an important platform for African leaders and young individuals. But it also exposed the challenges faced by young people in accessing this space due to bureaucratic processes. For example, most young people couldn’t access the formal plenary room from Tuesday until Wednesday because they did not have a “special” access badge. The experience was jarring because this is where most important decisions by world leaders were happening. Regrettably, the Nairobi Declaration did not adequately address the detrimental effects of climate change on the well-being of young people who are striving to tackle issues they did not contribute to.
“How real is climate finance? It’s real, but not enough” was the sentiment from some of the investors whose work is mainly in East Africa. Most startups have expensive capital due to their environments and the solutions they’re providing. We have companies like Acumen and KawiSafi Ventures who are riding the wave of humanitarian and commercial investments, recycling and multiplying the capital to reinvest in other startups. This side of the summit was more refreshing. Africa’s a booming laboratory for business models and standards are closely understood by the players. Emerging markets investors have their arms open for projects that are impact-driven.
- Shelot Masithi is a climate justice activist and the Executive Director of She4Earth, a youth-led non-profit.