COP or no COP, Africa needs a Pan-African climate initiative

It is unclear what Africa as continent gains from the COPs, wherever they are held.
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For the next two weeks, the 27th climate Conference Of Parties (COP27) takes place in Sharm el Sheikh. Egypt thus becomes the fourth African country to host COP, after South Africa and Kenya (once each) and Morocco (twice). Besides advancing the noble climate action cause, the four countries, which are aggressive tourism marketers, have clearly done their hospitality sectors good by hosting the COPs. It is unclear, however, what Africa as continent gains from the COPs, wherever they are held.

The African Union actually spells out what it wants from COP27, in line with AU’s own Climate Change and Resilient Development Strategy and Action Plan which guide the Continent’s response to Climate Change for the period 2022-2032. And the Committee of Africa Heads of State and Governments on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) is supposed to see to it that the continent gets it. The CAHOSCC assesses at the end of every COP what has been and has not been achieved, and working through its Experts and Ministers, charts a way forward and keeps communicating throughout before coming up with firm positions for the next COP.

Now the African delegations that are converging in Sharm el Sheikh will try to raise their voice to demand that developed countries contribute the agreed $100 billion annually toward climate adaptation and mitigation actions (that includes transition to clean energy), which they have so far failed to do. These delegations expect that developed countries will meet this target by 2025. So far, the rich countries are blaming the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine conflict for not meeting their National Determined Contributions (NDCs).

Besides, the African delegations and negotiators will continue to demand that Africa should also be allowed to pollute a little bit before the party is over. This by the way is a serious, well-reasoned demand, because the current oil producers are allowed to continue extraction and selling until transition to clean energy is attained; they are not agreeing to an immediate cessation of oil extraction. So the Africans are saying that the emerging and intending oil producers also need to extract their oil deposits for the same duration so as to finance the required transition to clean energy like the rest are doing. And they are serious; only last week, they managed to get the Africa-Caribbean-Pacific (ACP) parliamentary meeting to support the continuation of the 1,444 kilometre East African Crude Oil Pipeline EACOP that is meant to evacuate crude from western Uganda to the Tanzanian port of Tanga on the Indian Ocean. In turn, ACP resolved to push the European Parliament to rescind its recent resolution against the project.

 

The determination of Africans to advance Africa’s interests is encouraging given that African delegations at COP27 will most likely be promised billions of dollars in climate funding that might never be disbursed.

A pan-African climate initiative

The AU’s climate strategy, which is still work in progress, envisages key outcomes like strengthening policy and governanceadopting pathways towards transformative climate-resilient development, enhancing the means of implementation towards climate-resilient, low-emission development, and leveraging regional flagship initiatives which will ride on AfCFTA to push for policies toward zero rate tax on environment related goods and services. This is rather a soft strategy in that it would have to rely on the goodwill and seriousness of individual member states, which even if they existed continent-wide, they certainly come in different levels or doses.

At any rate, the continent needs some specific project initiatives to enhance its own survival without relying on external donors to fund the AU’s non-binding strategy. The CAHOSCC would do well to set up an expert continental climate coordination mechanism that would moot joint, multi-state projects both in the regional blocks and also following specific geographical features that are shared by several countries.

A continental climate coordination mechanism would determine those things that Africa can and should do without waiting for the global climate billions that will most likely never come in the first place. Africa has been home to stable climatic zones for millennia, like the hot deserts, thick forests, snow peaked mountains, large fresh water bodies including the Nile on whose banks civilization started. Can Africa manage to restore its natural features without begging the countries that fueled the destruction? The answer is yes.

What can unite Africa better, even politically, than the realization that its peoples’ fate and destiny are intertwined by the shared physical features? Why do the countries that share the river Nile sound war drums instead of singing peace songs together, for instance? Egypt and Ethiopia should coordinate ways to harness the Nile River instead of living on the verge of war over it.  Sudan and especially Egypt can easily afford to help develop rain harvest in the upstream Nile Basin countries. Indeed, people in the upstream countries shouldn’t go looking for dirty water in contaminated wells immediately after a rain shower as if they urgently need some water borne diseases. And while still at the joint exploitation of fresh water, Nile Basin countries could plan a joint project to make the entire Nile River navigable, which would dramatically multiply the trade volumes between central and north Africa a hundredfold by using the cheapest form of (water) transport known to man.

And talking of transport, there should be a joint strategy for Africa to deal with the likely dumping of (ordinary) vehicles that use fuel on the continent probably starting at the end of this decade as they lose demand in the developed world where production of the electric vehicles is increasing exponentially.

Finally, Africa can coordinate better its mitigation measures to climate change. Why can’t Africa plant a billion trees in a decade, for instance? Did Ethiopia really plant 353 million trees in one day in 2019 as was widely reported? If so, what was the trees’ survival and growth rate? If not, what was the problem and what can the continent learn from it? What came of the Algerian green belt planted by the youth service six decades ago to roll back the desert? What of the large green belt Malawi’s eccentric ‘Ngwazi” inspired six decades ago?

This cannot be the first time all the above questions are being asked. The answers to these questions would help Africans devise better ways to coordinate their efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change on our lives. Hosting COPs will not be enough. As counterintuitive as this may sound, African countries will have greater bargain power and influence at the COPs table, wherever COPs are held, only if they already have their own projects which do not rely on external funding.

As the saying goes, “He who does not feed you can demand nothing of you.”

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