Will COP27 in Egypt Bring About Climate Justice?

It is important that developed countries keep their financial and carbon reduction commitments

As the countdown to the third African and the 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 27; COP is the supreme decision-making body of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change [UNFCCC]) billed to hold in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt in November 2022 begins, the world’s focus is on Africa to lead the discussions on climate change. In this regard, COP27 presents a unique opportunity for Africa to lead the climate conversation and negotiate better climate deals for the continent.

A better deal for Africa will mean climate justice for the continent as Africa accounts for only 3% of cumulative global CO2 emissions but faces exponential collateral damage from climate change impacts, posing systemic risks to its economies, infrastructure investments, water and food systems, public health, agriculture, and livelihoods, which collectively threaten to undo Africa’s development gains. Yet, Africa and other less developed countries have come under increasing pressure to take a pathway of low carbon development and transition their economies to net-zero by 2050. These campaigns seem to ignore the fact that this radical transitioning may be challenging for most African countries whose economies are based largely on fossil fuels. It will mean that they must abandon their fossil infrastructure, deal with millions of job losses in the oil sector and contend with the huge financial implication of such transition. Despite the risks posed to its economy and the pressure to start the transition to green energy, Africa would receive only 26% of the global climate finance aimed at $100 billion per annum (which has not been achieved yet). Unfortunately, this allocation falls significantly short of what the continent requires to meet the global targets. Worse still, the allocation to African countries comes in trickles, as many African countries are unable to access climate finance because of the complexities involved in the process. This has created a situation where most of the climate finance goes to middle-income countries instead of going to the most vulnerable countries. COP27 presents an opportunity for Africa to change this trajectory.

For this to happen, it is important that developed countries keep their financial and carbon reduction commitments. These countries made promises in the past and most recently at COP26 to double the funding for adaptation to the tune of 40 $billion by 2025. COP26 in Glasgow presented an opportunity for better outcomes to be delivered but these expectations were unmet. In specific, African countries should negotiate for adaptation finance to be increased from a quarter to at least half of the total global climate finance funds. Moreover, COP27 is an opportunity for Africa to demand that major emitters, particularly top emitters like the US, Australia, China, Saudi Arabia, Brazil and Russia, strengthen their 2030 emissions reduction targets to at least align with their 2050 net-zero emission targets. Only in this way will the world be on track towards keeping the global mean temperature within the 1.5oC target.  Keeping global mean temperature at 1.5oC is particularly important to Africa as over 2oC of warming means a loss of GDP of around 5% per annum by 2030 for Africa, according to an analysis by the African Climate Policy Centre. Promises upon promises, commitments upon commitments, COP27 must be the occasion for stock-taking and climate accountability.

Also important is the opportunity that COP27 offers to negotiate for financing options that will not plunge the continent into further debts that would worsen the current Covid-19-induced excruciating socioeconomic conditions. It has been estimated that African countries require a staggering $2.8 trillion investment to transition from their current energy base and achieve the global net-zero emission targets by 2050. Clearly, African countries, having been on the receiving end of climate change, deserve a larger chunk of the international finance in order to make progress towards achieving sustainable access to affordable energy for all Africans. The proposed energy transition can be an opportunity for economic growth for the continent. However, we must negotiate for financial instruments that will effectively deliver private sector climate finance to Africa under very flexible conditions.

Lastly, at COP27, African countries should negotiate for an energy transition pathway that will allow for a mix of fossil fuels since the continent has very large natural gas reserves and can meet its energy need from them even though it will require financing state-of-the-art technology to minimize emissions. Energy poverty remains one of Africa’s biggest problems towards attaining economic development and collective prosperity. With an electricity access rate for African countries at slightly over 40 per cent (the lowest in the world), it is believed that over 640 million Africans have no access to energy. Per capita consumption of energy in sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) is 180 kWh, compared to 13,000 kWh per capita in the United States and 6,500 kWh in Europe as reported by the African Development Bank.

Even though Nigeria (the most populous country in Africa) has the potential to generate about 12,522 MW of electric power from existing plants, the country’s electricity consumption remains among the lowest in the world, with the average electricity consumption per person only 150 kWh per capita. Nigeria is only able to dispatch around 4,000 MW, which is insufficient for a country of over 200 million people. Obviously, the needs are so high that Africa cannot afford to completely abandon its natural resources. Energy transition in Africa must be gradual and must give room for a mix of fossil and renewable resources in meeting Africa’s energy needs. This is also necessary considering Africa’s current stage of development.

In summary, the stakes are high for Africa to get it right at COP27 as the event presents an opportunity for Africa to make very strong demands from the developed economies and negotiate for a fair and just climate deal for the continent. It is also important that we negotiate in such a way that helps the continent keep pace with global trends and targets so that no one would be left behind.

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