“It’s really very unjust”: Egypt’s chief climate negotiator dissects COP28
Mohamed Nasr, who formerly headed the COP27 presidency team, looks back at the outcomes from COP28 and what they mean for Africa.
To better understand the implications of the talks’ outcomes for Africa, we spoke to Mohamed Nasr, Egypt’s chief climate negotiator who formerly headed the COP27 presidency team. Edited excerpts below:
What were the major outcomes from COP28 from an African perspective?
One key outcome from Dubai was the operationalisation of the Loss and Damage Fund and the initial mobilisation of resources of around $700 million, which was beyond expectations. Both the Egyptian and Emirati presidencies played their part in the creation of a global fund through which developing countries can access finance to compensate for irreversible harm caused by climate change.
On the Global Stocktake, the first inventory of where we are in terms of achieving the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement and how to move forward, the most important outcomes are the goals related to fossil fuels and renewable energy. The final text calls on countries to “transition away” from fossil fuels and triple renewable energy output.
However, there are concerns among some African countries on the language on fossil fuels. Countries like Somalia, Mozambique and Chad are finding fossil fuel reserves but cannot get investment for them. Yet developed countries like the US and UK, which talk about phasing out fossil fuels, do not have domestic targets to actually end their use of oil and gas. They haven’t even decided to stop oil and gas exploration projects.
Despite principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities” under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), many African countries that were not responsible for historic carbon emissions are being asked to do more than developed countries. This is unfair and unjust.
Could you elaborate on the importance of a just transition for Africa?
Climate change is not just an environmental issue. It is a major transformation for the global economy, and it is happening very quickly. Under UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, we agreed to address issues like poverty eradication and sustainable development. This is the path forward. We cannot only focus on the environmental agenda.
There is a very strong call for Just Transition from most developing countries, with a focus on shifting to implementation and how we will achieve phase-outs and phase-ins as part of our development model. The problem that many developing countries, particularly in Africa, are facing is that we don’t have a safety net.
If you are a small economy within the European Union (EU), you get a safety net from the EU for the energy transition. The EU also has the capacity to subsidise industries to shift to greener pathways. If you are a developed country like the US, you of course have the means to undertake an energy transition through things like the subsidies we see with the Inflation Reduction Act. If you are a big economy like China, you similarly have the means to enact a transition. To some extent, even middle-income countries like India are better off. But developing countries like those in Africa face many more challenges.
The Just Transition work programme that was discussed at COP28, is meant to address economic and social costs of the transition and is very important from an African perspective.
What did COP28 achieve in terms of climate finance?
The mention of New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG) for climate finance, which will come into effect in 2025, in the Global Stocktake offers assurance that there will be financial support for the implementation of countries’ current climate plans, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). We cannot keep moving the goal posts and talk about the next round of NDCs when we haven’t implemented existing NDCs and national adaptation plans.
The previous climate finance goal, made in 2009, was that developed countries would mobilise $100 billion per year to developing nations by 2020. At COP28, developed countries claimed that this goal was finally met in 2022, but we still need to see the data that shows this. OECD projections alone are not enough. Nonetheless, if the goal was met, it was met three years late.
We now need to make sure that climate finance flows exceed $100 billion per year so that the average for the period between 2020 and 2025 is $100 billion.
What do you think about the COP28 agreement on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA)?
As a global community, we could have done better. Since the creation of the GGA under the Paris Agreement, we have felt that there is no appetite for a global discussion on the Global Goal or on developing countries’ need to adapt to climate change more generally.
One reason is that loss and damage discussions have gained more ground and interest among all parties. The other is the focus on forward-looking aspects like building resilience for the future which developed countries seek. But developing countries across Africa, Asia and Latin America need adaptation for today. If we don’t adapt now, we will end up with much higher levels of loss and damage in the future.
There is a need for adaptation in sectors like agriculture, water, urban planning. Science shows that these are the most impacted areas that we need to focus on for the next few years. But while we follow the science on mitigation, we fail to do so for adaptation.
Currently, developing countries are paying for adaptation from their own resources. We don’t count it as adaptation, but it is adaptation. If there are heatwaves that impact agriculture and water resources, governments have to intervene and support farmers for loss of crop yield. This is adaptation finance. The damage has occurred because of climate change. But nobody is supporting such adaptation needs of developing countries. We are paying for our own adaptation. On top of this, we have to pay for the transition. It is really very unjust.
Many developing countries’ concerns were not captured at COP28. One of these was unilateral trade measures such as the EU’s Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism that would impose a tariff on carbon-intensive imports.
The whole of Africa objects to unilateral trade measures. Firstly, they are not in line with equity and common but differentiated responsibilities. Second, they mean that developing countries would de facto be funding the greening of European industry. Thirdly, they are against the rules of the World Trade Organisation and trade liberalisation because it impacts competitiveness of products. This was recognised in the 2023 Nairobi Declaration.
As part of the COP agenda, developing countries need to establish a common understanding on unilateral measures. This time, it was only an agenda proposal by BASIC countries (Brazil, South Africa, India and China). This group should have conducted an outreach with other developing countries because Africa and others in Latin America are in agreement already. We need to have a coordinated approach as G77 on unilateral trade measures. The reason we have a decision on loss and damage today is because the G77 came together. With a united G77, we can ensure our voices are heard on unilateral trade measures too.