Sharm-el Sheik, Egypt — As the world convenes in Africa for the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP27), it is time to recognize Africa’s role in averting a climate disaster without compromising the continent’s growth and poverty reduction.
The 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) summit is being held in Sharm El-Sheikh, a resort town on the Red Sea, in Egypt. The annual conference bring together those who – 30 years ago – signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), an environmental treaty dealing with climate change. The first conference – COP1 – took place in Berlin, Germany in 1995.
It is now seven years since the Paris Agreement was signed at COP21. According to the UNFCCC, “the Paris Agreement is a legally binding international treaty on climate change. It was adopted by 196 Parties at COP 21 in Paris, on 12 December 2015, and entered into force on 4 November 2016. Its goal is to limit global warming to below 2°C, and ideally to 1.5°C, of warming above pre-industrial levels.” This was a landmark deal under which each country was to submit its own pledges on emissions reductions and adaptation measures.
Now, every year almost 200 countries meet to discuss how to jointly tackle the climate crisis and its impacts. The UN summit is an important platform for world leaders, experts, negotiators, businesses, observers, international organizations, civil societies, and the media to all attend and discuss the climate crisis and accelerate global efforts to confront the climate crisis.
The last COP to be hosted in Africa was COP22 which was held in Morocco in 2016. COP27 is billed as an ‘African COP’ because of its location and the expectation that African countries’ exposure to some of the most severe impacts of climate change will be prominent in the discussions. Africa faces exponential collateral damage, posing systemic risks to its economies, infrastructure investments, water and food systems, public health, agriculture, and livelihoods, threatening to undo its modest development gains and slip into higher levels of extreme poverty.
COP27 is taking place over two weeks, from 6 November to 18 November. It starts with a two-day summit for world leaders followed by negotiations on a number of important issues including finance, decarbonisation, adaptation, and agriculture. Gender, water, and biodiversity will also be in the spotlight.
Africa is heating up twice as fast as the rest of the world, requiring urgent action to solve a problem that has escalated over the past decade. Agriculture is facing the tremendous challenge of feeding millions of people and extreme climatic events like heatwaves, cyclones, fires, droughts, floods, and desert locust invasions, are happening more frequently and with more severity, and are driving millions into hunger and poverty. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that most people and communities in Africa are directly reliant on the natural environment for survival and livelihoods and do not have the necessary safety nets to adapt to climate change. Extreme weather is also a driver of world hunger.
What does COP27 mean for Africa?
The first big test for COP27 will be whether countries make new emissions reduction commitments.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) latest report shows that time is ticking ever more dangerously toward the 1.5C threshold of global warming. The biggest emitters of carbon are China, the U.S., India, Russia, and Japan. Africa contributes only 3% to greenhouse gas emissions but suffers disproportionately from its negative impacts. Not only does Africa bear the least responsibility for greenhouse gas emissions, but the forests of the Congo Basin (second only to the Amazon) are vital to absorbing the CO2 emitted from other continents, reports Brookings Africa in Focus.
As a result of the onslaught of climate disasters in 2022, the international community has had little breathing room to respond. The spotlight is once again being thrown on the massive challenges Africa faces in tackling climate change and also, the opportunities it may create.
Akinwumi A. Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, told Deutsche Welle that Africa was not just affected by climate change, but “distressed” by it. African nations generate less than 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions but they’re suffering “a deluge of problems,” Adesina told DW. He added that Africa loses anywhere between “U.S.$7 billion and U.S.$15 billion a year as a result of climate change.”
“One of the major disappointments for developing countries at COP26 was the lack of progress on a finance facility that would expedite financial assistance from developed countries to fight permanent and irreversible damage caused by climate change. While the Glasgow Climate Pact recognized the need to address this loss and damage, the conference ended without a concrete measure in place for a process that would deliver financial support,” reports Eco-Business.
Adesina said 9 out of the 10 most vulnerable countries to climate change are in sub-Saharan Africa. These countries need about $600 billion through 2030, which, he said, amounts to about $60 billion annually. Yet, they are only receiving roughly $18 billion a year toward this effort.
The continent continues to disproportionately face the brunt of climate change although they contribute little to it. African countries are among the most at risk from climate change impacts such as several extreme weather events such as drought and destructive floods, and other natural disasters, thus increasing the threat of food insecurity. Recently, Nigeria was hit by catastrophic floods that have affected at least killed 600 people, displaced millions, and 200,000 homes have been destroyed. More than 1.3 million people have been displaced by the disaster, which has affected people across 33 of Nigeria’s 36 states, said a statement by Nigeria’s ministry of humanitarian affairs, released on Twitter. The government has said unusually heavy rains and climate change are to blame.
The flooding has worsened a humanitarian crisis in Nigeria, where violence, especially in the troubled northern region, has displaced more than three million people, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. The World Food Programme and the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation said last month that Nigeria was among six countries facing a high risk of catastrophic levels of hunger.
In April 2022, massive floods displaced and destroyed the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of people in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. The floods killed 489 people. In 2018, devastating cyclones impacted 2.2 million people in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe.
In the wake of the climate crisis, problems such as poverty, infectious diseases, forced migration, and conflict spread through globalised systems. Covid-19 was a wake-up call to these global dynamics. The pandemic is affecting the lives of millions of people and, also, the environment. According to UNHCR, “climate change makes the chance of disasters striking during the Covid-19 pandemic more likely, and their impact more severe on those displaced.” The World Health Organization estimates that between 2030 and 2050, climate change will cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, and heat stress. Climate change and loss of biodiversity also increase the risk of future pandemics by endangering the fragility of the world’s ecosystems.
The pandemic laid bare the systemic inequalities between the rich and developing countries.
The impact of climate change on electricity access
Africa’s energy crisis will be top of the agenda at the COP27 meeting, as the continent’s negotiators up demands for rich countries to commit to their pledges on climate finance. At least 600 million people in the sub-Sahara region are without access to electricity and almost one billion are without access to clean energy for cooking.
In order to minimise the energy access gap, African countries must adopt a variety of power sources while simultaneously phasing out oil and coal. The transition will require development financing for geothermal, hydro, wind, and solar projects. The continent is blessed with huge potential for solar and wind power generation. However, climate change presents a major threat to Africa’s achieving Sustainable Development Goals. Access to electricity is a human right as enshrined in sustainable development goal 7 – according to the 2022 edition of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report, which monitors global efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG7) of ensuring an affordable modern energy supply for everyone by 2030.
Brookings Africa in Focus reports that “the global transition to renewable energy will mean exponentially scaling up the production of batteries, electric vehicles (EVs), and other renewable energy systems, which require Africa’s mineral resources. For example, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), accounts for 70% of the world’s cobalt, the mineral vital to battery production. Cobalt demand is expected to double by 2030. Conversely, 84 million people (80% of the total population) in the DRC could still lack access to electric power in 2030.”
Africa needs investments of over U.S.$3 trillion in mitigation and adaptation by 2030 in order to implement its NDCs. A major disappointment for developing countries at COP26 was the lack of progress on a finance facility to accelerate financial assistance from developed countries. Developing countries have accused wealthy nations of avoiding substantive talks on a new collective finance goal to help them confront climate change from 2025. African countries went to COP26 asking for about U.S.$1.3 trillion. However, addressing climate change will create significant market opportunities, especially for the private sector and institutional investors.
To keep international cooperation on climate alive, COP27 must deliver support for developing countries dealing with loss and damage caused by climate change. Activists are demanding that wealthier nations take responsibility for climate change and do more to assist developing countries.