Africa will arrive at Cop27 with solutions

As the next UN climate conference approaches, African countries are playing their role in combating climate change, but industrialised countries must make good on their funding pledges.

Opinion by

Image : Michele Spatari/AFP

This November’s United Nations Climate Change Conference  (Cop27) will come at a time of economic and geopolitical turmoil, affecting food security, public health, and more. But the immediate challenges we face must not distract us from an unassailable truth: the single most important battle our generation will face is the fight against climate change.

Earlier this year, extreme rainfall caused one of South Africa’s deadliest disasters this century (at least 435 were killed in flooding in Kwa-Zulu Natal). Today, the worst floods in Pakistan’s history have left one-third of the country under water. Far from freak occurrences, such severe weather events are becoming the new normal. Experts believe that extreme rainfall is now twice as likely, owing to climate change, which has also led to other types of devastation, such as droughts and wildfires.

Africa is especially vulnerable to these effects. According to the acting chief economist of the African Development Bank (AfDB), climate change is costing the continent between 5% and 15% of its per-capita GDP growth. As time passes, those losses could increase considerably, with agriculture suffering the most. This would have devastating consequences not only for economic development, but also for food security.

Many are calling Cop27 – being hosted in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt – “Africa’s Cop”. But we in Africa prefer to see it instead as “the implementation Cop,” a meeting that will move beyond lofty aspirations and vague pledges to deliver a comprehensive results-oriented agenda. And, yes, that agenda should include delivering greater support – financial and otherwise – to Africa, which has contributed the least to climate change.

Africa takes concrete action on climate

To echo AfDB President Akinwumi Adesina, we Africans do not come to beg; we come with resources and solutions. We are already taking concrete action to accelerate the green transition and protect ourselves from the worst effects of climate change.

For starters, African countries are embracing green energy. In recent years, the continent’s renewable-energy capacity rose sharply, with double-digit annual increases in solar, wind, and hydro power. Africa is home to two of the world’s largest solar projects (in Egypt and the other in Morocco), and two of Africa’s 20 fastest-growing companies in 2022 are in the solar-energy business. From Nigeria to Namibia, countries are embracing climate-friendly technologies like green hydrogen.

The AU Commission is fully engaged in tackling climate change on multiple fronts. To this end, it broadened the mandate of the AU Commission for Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy, and Sustainable Environment (ARBE) to reflect the importance of a sustainable environment and blue economy directorate, and promote resilience building, adaptation and mitigation.

ARBE has been working on a number of defining projects with partner organisations, including elaborating on the AU Climate Change Strategy. It also recently facilitated the validation of an integrated African Strategy on Meteorology, Water and Climate Services which guides the development and application of weather and climate services in Africa. 

Meanwhile, specialised agencies of the African Union, such as the African Risk Capacity (ARC), are helping African countries take advantage of technology-based early warning and preparedness systems to improve their resilience. The organisation works closely with governments to strengthen their capacities to proactively respond to natural disasters, thereby protecting lives and supporting reconstruction of damaged infrastructure in the wake of natural disasters. Through ARC Ltd, the insurance affiliate of the Group, it provides parametric insurance against extreme weather events.

For its part, the AfDB has shifted its attention – and resources – toward climate change. In 2020, 63% of AfDB funding went to projects related to climate-change adaptation, the largest share of any development finance institution. In September, the Bank committed another $12.5bn toward climate-adaptation financing through the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Programme (AAAP) – an African-led multi-stakeholder body established in 2021.

Africa’s adaptation-financing needs are estimated at $52.7bn annually through 2030. The AAAP’s funding target was set at $25bn, with rich countries expected to make up the rest. But, even as Africa pursues – and funds – climate action, the international community’s commitments continue to fall short.

Climate funding pledges must be monitored

And commitments are only the first step. We commend the British government’s success, at Cop26 in Glasgow last year, in mobilising not only the international community, but also the private sector and civil society, thereby crowding in record climate-finance pledges. But a year on, many of these pledges remain just that: promises.

Perhaps we should not be surprised. After all, at the 2015 Cop in Paris, rich countries committed to deliver $100bn in annual funding to help developing countries advance mitigation and adaptation goals by 2020. Two years after the target date, rich countries’ commitments remain largely unfulfilled.

That is why we are calling for the introduction of improved mechanisms for monitoring and tracking climate-finance commitments. It should not be difficult to attach clear timelines and implementation benchmarks to pledges. Processes for accessing these funds must also be simplified.

It will be essential at Cop27 to shift the focus from decisions to action. We do not need more agreements on future progress. Rather, we must translate the achievements of past summits into global cooperation on comprehensive climate action. For example, initiatives to strengthen disaster risk management must take a holistic approach, covering everything from resource mobilisation and early-warning systems to technology transfer and capacity-building.

A more holistic approach is also needed in Africa, which is not only highly vulnerable to climate change, but also has considerable development needs. Such an approach will demand a significant capital outlay, which cannot be financed by borrowing without driving already debt-distressed African countries toward crisis.

Beyond fulfilling funding commitments, international actors must provide a broader selection of financing options for all African countries, regardless of their financial position. This effort should include the private sector. To support implementation, African countries will need access to appropriate technical support. The scale of the climate challenge cannot be overstated. Confronting it will require a combination of mitigation, resilience-building, and adaptation, enabled by strategic partnerships, effective knowledge-sharing, and the delivery of adequate financial support and technical knowhow.

Africa is doing its part. The rest of the world must do the same – beginning at Cop27.

Josefa Leonel Sacko is commissioner for agriculture, rural development, blue economy and sustainable environment at the African Union Commission. Kevin Kariuki is vice-president for power, energy, climate and green growth at the African Development Bank. Ibrahima Cheikh Diong is United Nations assistant secretary-General and African Risk Capacity Group director-general.

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