“It’s all so, so slow”: Should Africa celebrate or mourn COP28?
A panel of African experts and activists give their verdict on the outcomes from the Dubai climate talks.
In the past two weeks, tens of thousands of people have descended on Dubai with often fiercely opposing perspectives and goals. In the halls of the Expo Centre where COP28 was held, fossil fuel lobbyists (2,400 of them) queued for sandwiches alongside frontline defenders, indigenous groups, and civil society groups from the Global South. Behind closed doors in negotiating rooms, profligate petrostates grappled with small island states at risk of sinking, and rich former colonisers confronted their underdeveloped former colonies. Meanwhile on the outside, journalists and observers tried to measure progress on climate action, some from the much more generous baseline of where we began, others from the much more damning yardstick of where we need to be.
The result of the COP28 negotiations was reams of text and a set of agreements, the most notable being to “transition away” from fossil fuels. A text on Adaptation was also agreed, while the Loss and Damage Fund was operationalised.
We asked a range of African observers, experts, and activists for their verdict on COP28 and where it leaves the continent.
Olivia Rumble: So many tough trade-offs
Sights were set high on a number of goals at this year’s COP: an ambitious and effective Global Stocktake, a Global Goal on Adaptation, and a fossil fuel phaseout. This was in addition to the myriad of other pressing priorities such as just transitions, trade, finance, loss and damage, and agriculture. COP28 certainly delivered on some of these aspects but, in the way that COPs go, it did so by disappointing most. There were a number of wins, not least being the Loss and Damage Fund being finalised, consensus on the Global Goal on Adaptation, and agreement on “transitioning” away from fossil fuels, but these came with difficult trade-offs for African countries.
The thematic targets for adaptation in the goal are neither outcomes-based nor timebound, and lack the related financial commitments African countries had asked for. There is also little that directly pushes developed countries to clearly take the lead in transitioning away from fossil fuels or provide related finance to developing countries to do so. It was a mixed bag, as it often is. To overcome the current trust deficit, countries will need to work hard on marrying financial commitments to ambition, and work collectively in reforming the global financial architecture.
- Olivia Rumble is a legal and geopolitical advisor to the African Climate Foundation.
Mohamed Adow: The elephant is named but without a plan
For the first time in three decades of climate negotiations the words fossil fuels have made it into a COP outcome. We are finally naming the elephant in the room. The genie is never going back into the bottle and future COPs will only turn the screws even more on dirty energy. Some people may have had their expectations for this meeting raised too high, but this result would have been unheard of two years ago, especially at a COP meeting in a petrostate. It shows that even oil and gas producers can see we’re heading for a fossil free world.
Although we’re sending a signal with one hand, however, there are still too many loopholes on unproven and expensive technologies like carbon capture and storage which fossil fuel interests will try and use to keep dirty energy on life support. Moreover, while the transition may be fast – the text calls for a transition away from fossil fuels in “this critical decade” – it is not funded or fair. We’re still missing enough finance to help developing countries decarbonise and there needs to be greater expectation on rich fossil fuel producers to phase out first.
We also need much more financial support to help vulnerable people adapt to the impacts of climate breakdown. Currently rich nations whose emissions have created the crisis are refusing to pay their climate debt and making some of the poorest people in the world fend for themselves. This is why there’s a lack of trust in this process from the developing world. Finance is where the whole energy transition plan will stand or fall. This process may have delivered an agreement to move away from fossil fuels, but it has failed to deliver a plan to fund it. Unless the finance is provided, developing countries will not be able to do it. If rich countries truly want to see a fossil fuel phase out, they need to find creative ways to actually fund it.
- Mohamed Adow is an international climate activist and director of Power Shift Africa.
Babawale Obayanju: 2,400 fossil fuel lobbyists have told us to go roast
The Global Stocktake mentions “fossil fuels” for the first time at at COP and uses some of the language of “equity”, “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities”, and “the need for sustainable development, eradication of poverty and international cooperation”. However, it deliberately leaves out the urgency of climate actions required to keep us safe. It leaves out the need to “phase out” fossil fuels, replacing it with an agreement to “reduce” usage and production “by, before, or around 2050”. It also leaves in false solutions and unproven capital-intensive technologies such as carbon capture and storage and “low-carbon hydrogen”.
The goal of tripling renewable energy is positive but it lacks a commitment to provide the finance and technology transfers Africa would need to meet this target. It similarly leaves countries where transition minerals are located vulnerable to more land grabs, environmental destruction, and violations of their rights and livelihoods. This threat grows because governments have not accepted that we need to transition from the current market-based system of extraction that deepens inequality and inequity to one that puts people at the centre and is just and equitable.
Over 2,400 corporate lobbyists and their allies at COP28 rooms held the yam and the knife and have now served the Global South and world with a platter of Go Roast. They will keep burning fossil fuels, as a result of which my people in Nigeria and others in the Global South will experience more losses and damages, higher temperatures, more sea levels rises, rainfall, floods, typhoons, hurricanes, droughts, and famines as farmers struggle.
- Babawale Obayanju is a communicator and climate justice campaigner with Environmental Rights Action / Friends of the Earth Nigeria
Yamide Dagnet: Imperfect but important
COP28 ends like it started: imperfect, and yet an important and unprecedented step forward in our “course correction” for a just transition towards resilient and greener economies. This is not an end; rather just the beginning of an implementation journey that we know is hard but can be so positively transformative and just if we manage to mobilise, in an equitable manner, all hands-on deck. A climate-just journey and outcome requires vigilance, creativity, and accountability; stronger solidarity and engagement at all levels, promoting human rights, and shared prosperity for all.
More specifically, this COP exposed all the contradictions and challenges faced when implementing the promises of the Paris Agreement, especially a managed, equitable transition away from fossil fuels, and the sustained mobilisation, alignment, and access to financial flows domestically and internationally to decarbonise and build resilience. While some signals got clearer, with more substantive commitments, challenges remain on how we sequence and orchestrate such just and equitable transition. Inclusive processes matter to foster shared prosperity and benefits throughout the journey, together with adequate safeguards to minimise unintended adverse impacts of climate-related measures and technologies, and to protect frontline and marginalised communities.
Similarly, the just operationalisation and continued capitalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund will require vigilance, effective guidance, and mechanisms to make sure commensurate funding is actually mobilised and reaches the communities that need it the most in a timely manner. Adequate mobilisation of finance for adaptation by the donor community is also essential to tackle losses and damages with dignity. We are happy that a dozen of them committed to join OSF efforts in this regard.
- Yamide Dagnet is director for Climate Justice at the Open Society Foundation.
Beatrice Karanja: So much effort for far too slow progress
Climate change is already affecting Africa’s rural and coastal communities the hardest, making life more difficult for people already living very close survival thresholds. Yes we can celebrate today’s deal which for the first time explicitly calls for a transition away from fossil fuels, and we can celebrate the agreement on Loss and Damage earlier in the COP. These mark progress, finally. But it’s all so, so slow, and such a lot of effort for such incremental progress we knew we needed to make years or even decades ago. Now we must accelerate down the paths these deals have opened. We have to stop dallying, prevaricating, getting distracted. Now it’s time for action without delay.
- Beatrice Karanja is a board member of Tusk, an international charity working with dozens of African conservation organisations.
Omar Elmawi: A victory, but don’t underestimate fossil fuel giants
The stars of this COP are the unsung heroes: civil society and the powerful select leaders from the Global South. Together, they have boldly championed the truth, unveiling fossil fuels as the true perpetrator of our climate crisis. A tremendous victory, but this battle is far from won.
Proposing a transition away from fossil fuels may sound like a step in the right direction, a glimmer of hope amidst chaos. However, let us not underestimate the cunning tactics of fossil fuel giants and petrostates. They will cleverly disguise their products as “transitional” fuels, especially in the most vulnerable corners of our world. Moreover, making this transition comes with a steep price tag. Without adequate financing, developing nations will continue to struggle in their quest to decarbonise, perpetuating a vicious cycle.
Yet we must recognise how far we have come. Even the once unyielding fossil fuel giants and petrostates, who shamelessly surrounded us with their army of 2,400 lobbyists at this COP, are now witnessing the inevitable: a world that’s free of their toxic grip. Rest assured, they will fight tooth and nail to claim the honour of selling the last barrel of oil. Let us not be swayed. The end is near, and we must persevere.
- Omar Elmawi is a co-facilitator at the Africa Movement Building Space.
Resson Kantai Duff: We on the frontlines will feel the impacts of the deal
As indigenous people and local communities across Africa continue to bear the brunt of the climate crisis, Africans can only welcome the glimmers of hope that come with the language in the new climate deal, calling for transitioning away from fossil fuels. But we are under no illusions. Until this language is actioned, it is our landscapes, our carbon sinks, and the actions of our local communities that are the real hope in stemming the tide of the crisis. For this reason, echoed in the Naivasha Vision, local communities must not be seen as mere beneficiaries of carbon markets, but as investors who can set terms, people who must be treated with the respect and dignity they deserve.
- Resson Kantai Duff is the portfolio fund director at Maliasili, a Kenya-based nonprofit supporting dozens of grassroots African-led conservation organisations.
Nnimmo Bassey: False solutions remain a threat
Finally, the COP grudgingly acknowledges that there must be a “transition away from fossil fuels in energy systems”. This is a major step, but the COP has not set concrete pathways and deadlines for this to happen. The COP still refuses to understand that fossil fuels are also a big climate issue in areas other than energy. The stubborn continued dependence on fossil fuels is based on the mythological conviction of the permanence of the petroleum civilisation. The COP must recognise that the time has come to halt the expansion of sacrifice zones, recognise the real burden of climate debt, and call for the fossilisation of fossil fuels to give the planet and all beings on it a much-needed sabbath. False solutions such as carbon markets, carbon capture/storage and other geoengineering modes will merely compound the looming climate chaos.
- Nnimmo Bassey is Executive Director of the Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), Nigeria.
Fadhel Kaboub: The ultimate demonstration of Global North hypocrisy
Using the weakest possible language of “transitioning away from fossil fuels” while most rich countries plan to spend billions of dollars building new fossil fuel infrastructure, and avoiding the financial responsibility to finance a just transition for developing countries, is the ultimate demonstration of Global North hypocrisy. The major loophole one can sail an LNG carrier through is the language around “unabated” fossil fuels, which relies on unproven and expensive technologies of carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) and carbon dioxide removal (CDR) that are designed to extend the life of the fossil fuel industry.
Tripling the deployment of renewable energy infrastructure by 2030 should not be celebrated as a COP28 achievement. These are investments that are inevitably going to take place because they represent the winning technologies of the future, with or without COP. Purely on economic terms, renewables beat their fossil fuel competitors hands down. The Global North is taking credit for real progress that is going to happen regardless. The use of “net zero” language meanwhile serves as a tranquilising drug to avoid the scientifically-proven imperative of ending the fossil fuel era. This is like someone sitting on their hands and putting one foot in a bucket of ice and the other foot in a bucket of burning charcoal and thinking “net zero” is a good survival strategy.
While COP28 succeeded in finally creating the Loss and Damage Fund, the amount of pledges did not even reach one billion dollars, far short of the minimum of $2.4 trillion needed by 2030. This signals the intention to rely heavily on predatory and dangerous financing tactics that amount to greenwashed colonial debt traps for developing countries.
- Fadhel Kaboub is an associate professor of economics at Denison University and president of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity.
Lily Odarno: A reality check that climate talks don’t happen in a vacuum
The UAE Consensus adopted at COP28 is an important reality check for the climate community; we are forced to come to terms with the hard truth that climate action is not navigated in a vacuum but in a world of competing priorities, unequal economic development, and shifting geopolitics. It is encouraging to see the first global vision to transition from fossil fuels coupled with an ambitious commitment to triple renewable energy and scale energy efficiency. Of equal significance is the acknowledgement that differences in regional contexts imply that one size cannot fit all as we strive to meet our global climate goals. African governments that are striving to achieve climate objectives while lifting millions out of poverty and building out the region’s energy infrastructure will require solutions that respond to these multiple needs, not prescriptive solutions modelled after developed country priorities and realities. The success of future climate action will depend, in part, on how pragmatic we are with adopting and implementing region-appropriate solutions that are responsive to local needs and drive tangible mitigation and adaptation benefits in Africa.
- Lily Odarno is the Director of Clean Air Task Force’s Energy and Climate Innovation Program, Africa.