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All Eyes on Africa: What COP27 Entails for the Continent

Interview with Chukwumerije Okereke

INTERVIEW - 7 November 2022

From November 6th to November 18th, 2022, the 27th edition of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, commonly referred to as COP27, will be held in Sharm-El-Sheik, Egypt. As the concomitant issues of climate change and energy transition become more and more pressing, and with Africa standing at the forefront of their impacts, we asked a leading scholar on climate governance Professor Chukwumerije Okereke about the significance and implications of this event for the continent.

COP27 will be held from Nov. 6th to the 18th in Sharm-El-Sheik (Egypt). What are the main themes that emerge in preparation for the conference? Do you think COP27 will deliver on Climate Finance as many developing nations hope?   

In annual preparatory meetings for CO27, five issues stood out:

Implementation

The Egyptian government emphasized its aim to make this COP an implementation one. Officials have repeatedly stated that they wish to move the conference from being mostly a talk shop to that of proactive policy-making and enforcement. However, what that means remains unclear, as the COP is traditionally not designed to be a place where you implement. If you ask Africa (especially the Egyptian government) what they mean by making progress on implementation, the answer you might get is that they would like to see specific new promises on increased mitigation plans by developed countries, especially the G7 and G20. The latest IPCC report shows that emissions across all ranges of greenhouse gasses have increased over the past 20 years and continue to rise. It also makes the crucial point that the combination of all the current pledges of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) do not put us on the path of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, hence disclosing an important ambition gap. This means that when the Egyptians or African countries say that they want to see implementation, they are expecting countries to come up with some new ambition pledges.

Finance

Another theme that repeatedly came up in preparatory meetings for COP27 has been the issue of finance. The Hundred Billion Pledge has not been met. Back in 2009, during COP15 in Copenhagen, wealthy countries committed to jointly mobilizing a hundred billion dollars annually by 2020 to help support developing countries' climate needs. They have had nearly 11 years to put this into action, but this goal has yet to materialize (by 2021 the money was still not there but some calculations seem to suggest that the pledge may be reached around 2023 or 2024). Therefore, Egypt and African countries are gearing up to put pressure on industrialized countries during COP27 to meet this promised target. This will require new pledges coming from other sources. After Biden won the US election, he notably made a pledge of about $11 billion.

Another issue with finance is that developing countries in Africa are increasingly thinking about the nature and quality of finance beyond quantity.

However, because of Covid-19 and the Ukraine crisis, the slowing down of economic growth across many industrialized countries complicated climate finance mobilization. Another issue with finance is that developing countries in Africa are increasingly thinking about the nature and quality of finance beyond quantity. By nature and quality, they are pushing for climate investment to take the form of grants, not loans; and they want climate funding to be more predictable. Developing countries are in dire need of that money because developed nations have been primarily responsible for pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere.

Africans are also saying that there have not been enough processes put in place that would enable African countries to receive substantial amounts of this promised money. Some, therefore, argue that an African COP will be a good place to set aside money for African countries for them to better assess funds. 

Energy transition

The second area touched upon when discussing finance concerns energy transition. One of the key events that happened during the COP26 in Glasgow in 2021 was that South Africa received about $8.5 billion from development partners to help it scale up transformational action to wean off its dependence on coal. Since then, some people have been calling for greater transparency in defining climate finance: how do you define it, and what counts as such? Indeed, some people are asking whether the deal that South Africa struck is part of the Hundred Billion Pledge, but rather a side deal reached mostly through bilateral negotiations with a select group of developed countries (US, UK, France). This deal was presented as a breakthrough considered by some as one option to help other African countries mobilize money to achieve their energy transition.

This deal was presented as a breakthrough considered by some as one option to help other African countries mobilize money to achieve their energy transition. However, there are questions about exactly the ways in which South Africa will utilize the money and what leverage and freedom it will have to implement its energy transition. Meanwhile, South Africa is already calling for more money that is five times more than what it was promised at COP26 through the deal.  So, it is too early to determine if the deal was the right one: there are some positive signs but also worrying ones. Chances are that some people that need the money will not get it as they may not have the capability to negotiate, nor emissions as big as South Africa.

There are questions about exactly the ways in which South Africa will utilize the money and what leverage and freedom it will have to implement its energy transition.

All of the elements that South Africa has that make the "right" place to start this model may not apply to others, which can present a challenge. We, therefore, need to be careful that these bilateral deals do not replace multilateralism, which tends to create greater opportunities for countries regardless of their negotiating powers and abilities. 

Loss and Damage debate

The third area that somewhat relates to the subject of finance is that of the establishment of loss and damage facility. Interestingly, African countries have not been very prompt and vocal in joining other countries to push for these. I think that part of the hesitation is about what impact, if any, such a facility might have on other pots of money, especially adaptation but also lack of clarity about how such a facility would work in practice. I think that COP27Some African countries are hence likely to be asking more questions before jumping in to support loss and damage facilities. 

Adaptation

Finally, African countries are also claiming that adaptation needs to be higher up on the agenda. One way this has been expressed is by stating that the funding going to climate change needs to be equally split between mitigation and adaptation. Indeed, a huge amount of the money left to African countries goes to climate mitigation, while they are continuously emphasizing that adaptation is one of their key priorities.

Countries tend to work in coalitions during COP negotiations to have their voices heard. What common interests do African countries share? On the contrary, what are the specific interests of some African nations that are not shared with the rest of the continent - can we see some divergence in climate strategies within the continent?  

Two things tend to unite Africa. First, climate justice. There is a  wide perception that Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change. In the past it tried to position itself as the conscience of the international climate change regime, being on the one hand the continent that contributes the least to global emissions, but on the other, the one that suffers the most. One thing that is going to unite most African countries is therefore this push for climate justice. The African Union released a call not long ago during the African Climate Week in Gabon for all African agencies to unite in this cry for climate justice and to highlight its impact. In concrete terms, climate justice means emphasizing that industrialized countries have to close the ambition gap because it is the lack of ambition that will irremediably render Africa all the more vulnerable to climate impacts. Along with being united in calling for greater ambition from developed countries, especially the G20, African countries will also be in sync in asking for a greater focus on the Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA), established under the Paris Agreement of 2015. The GGA was broadly championed by Africa, and it helped to bring adaptation, at least rhetorically, at par with mitigation.

The best Africa will likely be able to do is to make sure that it is retained on the agenda and that there is a call for the working program to come up with concrete suggestions on how to operationalize the GGA.

However, since then, the emphasis on how to operationalize the goal has not taken off. During COP26, African countries managed to set up a work program on the operationalization of the adaptation goal, but it kind of fell off the agenda. Africans have hence made adaptation a priority and will emphasize the need for urgent action on it during COP27. Unfortunately, this work program is not built to conclude until 2 years. The best Africa will likely be able to do is to make sure that it is retained on the agenda and that there is a call for the working program to come up with concrete suggestions on how to operationalize the GGA. Some people have called for the IPCC to be brought into the program. The extent to which this might happen is still unknown. Climate justice and adaptation are hence two major uniting factors in Africa. 

However, there are some areas of divergence – coal is one of those. At the Kigali Convention (2022 SEforALL Forum), some were pushing for a communiqué that called for gas to be explicitly admitted as a transition fuel and for more money to be poured into African gas exploration, while others disagreed. In the end, only 11 countries signed the communiqué. The role that gas has to play in future African development is likely to be a divisive issue. This may not be a big issue for landlocked countries that do not have access to the gas resource. It is however a big issue for other countries such as Senegal and Nigeria, and potentially Ghana.

In your view, what impact can the European energy crisis play on African countries' ambitions in anticipation of the COP? Would this impact future commitments (especially mitigation targets) from African countries?

The European energy crisis instigated by the war in Ukraine will have a daunting effect on the ambition of the COP, especially on the quality and quantity of good finance, but also on the commitment to ambitious mitigation targets. The event is taking place in the context of multiple crises at different levels: Covid-19, the war in Ukraine, and food and energy insecurity, all unfolding simultaneously against the backdrop of widening climate impacts. As a result, African countries are now calling for energy security as the main priority for this COP. Without this crisis in Ukraine, that call would have been more urgent, as Europe would have doubled down on its efforts to stop the exploration of fossil fuels. However, the energy crisis caused by the war, and the rising gas prices, have both entrapped the continent into talks that go against this goal (reopening coal factories in Germany, relaxing the fracking ban in the UK, and asking Africa to supply them with gas.

We must tell both Africa and Europe that you can't use the pretext of the war in Ukraine to keep engaging in fossil fuels exploration and to push a neoconservative agenda forward. Even though Europe should look for energy alternatives where it can to avoid freezing in the winter, it must balance this need for immediate energy security with long-term climate mitigation. At the same time, it is important to ensure that any investment that is made in the fossil fuel area does not replicate the previous patterns where investment has been mostly for export purposes aimed at satisfying Europe's energy demands.

We must tell both Africa and Europe that you can't use the pretext of the war in Ukraine to keep engaging in fossil fuels exploration and to push a neoconservative agenda forward.

African leaders must seize this opportunity to ensure that deals that are struck prioritize local demand, but also think across the value chain to guarantee investments are done in a way that generates value and triggers opportunities for climate innovation in Africa. In the longer term, we must focus on investing in renewables and not using the war in Ukraine as a pretext for making all sorts of investments not consistent with climate ambition. 

The discussion about the need to attend to climate change has really standardized and taken hold, and continues to be the dominant narrative before COP27. However, we could witness hypocritical attitudes from some countries during the event, which will attend the talk whilst still quietly pursuing fossil fuel investment. However, this does not imply that the general commitment to fighting climate change is not strong. In the run-up to COP26, I wrote a piece stating that the emphasis on zero carbon should also go alongside an emphasis on zero hunger and zero poverty. I wrote another paper advocating that the energy crisis in Europe exposed the hypocrisy of the continent. I hope that the wider West will now be more humble in understanding the sort of conflict that Africa faced all these years:  needing to act on climate change but also having to tackle the urgent and immediate needs of poverty alleviation and hunger. The crisis in Europe confronts the continent with the challenges Africa has faced, which have usually been swept under the rug. The take-home message is that, rather than try to boss Africa around as was the case in the colonial era, there is a need for a clear, mature, respectful conversation about the pathway Africa can follow to achieve sustainable development while also making substantial contributions to climate action. 

I strongly believe this COP can deliver on Loss and Damage. Through coalition building, Africa, especially given what is happening in Pakistan (catastrophic floods caused widespread devastation, major financial losses, and killed over 1,400 people), might get loss and damage facilities on the agenda this year, which could be seen as something to celebrate. However, one thing to bear in mind is that it is possible for the West to cave into diplomacy and moral cajoling by poor countries and agree to set up a loss and damage facility, and then take forever to define what it would do and how it will operate. In sum, while I would like to remain optimistic I worry that the wider geopolitical context may result in a COP with very limited gains for Africa. 

 

 

 

Copyright: AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP

 

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