Kenya occupies an interesting position in Africa’s climate equation. The East African country has been gravely affected by changing weather patterns and a fall in disposable income available for necessities.
Extreme weather, alternating between severe droughts and devastating floods, has not only destroyed homes and imperilled lives, it has also exerted a heavy toll on agriculture, a major economic activity and driver of growth in the country. In the first half of 2022, the agriculture sector contracted by 1.5%, according to the Alliance for Science.
The organisation also estimates that in that same period, 3.5m people in Kenya faced food insecurity, while climate and climate-related pressures are estimated to occasion long-term fiscal liabilities of 2% to 2.8% of GDP each year. In 2022 alone, the World Bank estimates that an adverse climate costs the Kenyan economy about 0.3% of GDP. For ordinary people, that means higher food prices in the market.
A leader in renewable energy
Perhaps because of its exposure, Kenya is a regional leader in the use of renewable energy, which accounts for over 80% of the energy generated in the country, according to the Kleinman Centre for Energy Policy.
While hydropower and geothermal sources have long been a part of its energy mix, recent expansions in the use of solar and wind have taken it closer to the target set by President William Ruto, of 100% renewable sources by 2030. More than a third of the country’s 170 MW of installed solar capacity, for example, was added in 2021 alone, pointing to a ramping-up of efforts and the potential for even more growth.
It is not surprising, then, that Kenya would seek to play a leading role in focusing the climate conversation in Africa, following what was dubbed the African Cop in Egypt last November and ahead of the crucial Cop28 opening in the United Arab Emirates on 30 November. That is the rationale behind the Africa Climate Summit, which is to be held from 4 to 6 September in Nairobi under the theme “Driving green growth and climate finance solutions for Africa and the world’.
Joseph Ng’ang’a, special envoy of President Ruto in charge of overseeing the summit, hopes that it will help focus African minds around the issue of climate and strengthen Africa’s voice.
Finance and investment is at the heart of the current constraints on the continent, says Ng’ang’a. Climate-focused investment in the continent is the lowest in the world. Even the $100bn that was promised to the whole developing world is a mere drop in the $3.5 trillion ocean that is needed.
A new climate narrative is needed
“We need to think about how we can tackle climate change together,” says Ng’ang’a. “Africa has the resources and the world has the money and the technology. So how can we sit around the table and come up with solutions that effectively address the problem? This summit is to address our current liquidity and financing challenges – but we must then create new pathways to a new climate narrative.”
A new narrative means seeing the opportunities that Africa presents for investment and return, rather than it being merely a target for the world’s charity. Africa’s renewable energy resources, for example, offer immense potential in the energy transition.
The current system of global finance, built in the immediate aftermath of the Second World War and focused on the reconstruction of war-ravaged Europe, is unfit for the purpose of tackling climate change. Ng’ang’a’s view that reform of the system is essential echoes a consensus that is gathering momentum especially in the global south. Reform of multilateral development and finance institutions, Ng’ang’a says, will be critical to the success of efforts at addressing global climate change.
“There needs to be reforms so they can channel more capital towards climate investments and infrastructure but even with all that, we will still need them to do more and that is where the new conversation comes in.”
Welcome to Africa’s climate finance summit
The summit will provide a forum for this new conversation. Holding it before the World Bank meetings in Marrakech in October is no coincidence. Big powers and polluters such as China and the USA will be welcome as much as countries such as Colombia and Pakistan that are facing the threat of devastation from climate change and are looking for solutions similar to those sought by African states.
President Ruto has defined the terms on which he wants the conversation to take place: “The president believes that we are in this together. It is not about who polluted and who did not. It is not about north versus south. We all have a role to play, whether we are from the government or the private sector. So we want everyone to come who has something to contribute in helping us address these climate challenges.”
Conversation must be driven by Africans
But, Ng’ang’a insists, the conversation must be driven by – and be seen to be driven by – Africans, acting in solidarity with the global community.
Tied in with the reform of the global financial architecture is a proposal for a globalised system of taxation. The idea, one of those to be canvassed at the summit, is to have a common bucket into which revenues from maritime, aviation and fossil fuel taxes would be deposited. “So when you put all that revenue into that bucket, then we have to ensure, from the governance of that revenue, that it is driven by the climate imperative first and foremost and not regional or national priorities,” Ng’ang’a explains.
While Kenya is happy to lead the conversation, it is less eager to adopt a prescriptive approach to the solutions. On some African countries’ push to extend the period of transition from fossils to clean energy, for example, Ng’ang’a thinks allowances must be made for countries to move at their own pace.
“All of us are going to be impacted similarly by climate change and so all of us must be part of the solution. Oil and gas may be a resource today but with the transition away from fossil fuels, some of the African countries with fossil fuels may not be cost-competitive in 10-20 years. So they must define their own paths towards sustainability. It makes sense to exploit those resources but being prepared to have a transition is crucial to their own sustainability.”
A global crisis demands a global intervention
Such diplomatic deftness will be needed as Ng’ang’a seeks to steer the summit towards success as defined by the host nation. Those measures of success include an African declaration for a green growth agenda that is agreed to and signed by African leaders, a push for financial structures that are fit for the purpose of driving green investments in Africa and actual investments committed to the continent’s climate agenda.
“His Excellency [President Ruto] has been clear that he wants this to be an action summit and so we have to be accountable for whatever we discuss and commit to,” he stresses.
Ultimately, the test of this summit, and others like it, is whether action can be galvanised towards major results at the Cop summits. Recent initiatives from the USA, EU and China point to a worrying unilateralism that is emerging in the face of a threat that is universal in its impact. The greatest benefits, Ng’ang’a argues, will be derived from action that is coordinated globally, with dollars spent where the most impact will be made.
“His Excellency uses an analogy: if you are sitting in an air-conditioned room in a burning building, you are also going to burn. So regional initiatives are interesting but the reality is that a global crisis demands a global intervention.”
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