People walk past a COP28 logo ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on November 28, 2023. 


Dubai may be Africa’s last shot

The world is meeting in Dubai for the next two weeks to discuss climate. Scientists say the average surface temperature of the earth has increased by 1.1 degrees Celsius since 1880 and projected to get 1.5 degrees hotter by 2015 and 2-4 degrees by 2100.

Africa, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), is warming faster than the rest of the world and its sea levels rising quicker than the global average. This year, Tropical Cyclone Freddy, one of the worst for the region, killed 1,000 people in Southern Africa. The Horn of Africa is suffering the worst flooding in a long time, after prolonged drought.

Africa, as you would expect, is getting the short end of this climate change stick. Never mind that the continent is responsible for only four per cent of global emissions.

Earlier this year, at the rather successful Africa Climate Summit hosted by President William Ruto, Africa sought to introduce a different vibe in the climate debate. It sought to end the perception of a continent of les déplorables always arriving at conferences cap in hand, seeking alms.

‘We are rich with renewable energy resources; why should we beg?’ was how Africa wanted the interaction framed. If only rich countries could invest in Africa’s energy resources, the continent could leapfrog to a more prosperous and green future.

The brave assertions at the Climate Summit notwithstanding, two realities are inescapable: 900 million Africans do not have access to clean cooking resources, 600 million lack electricity. Africa, the great natural wealth notwithstanding, lags far behind. And the wealthiest nations polluted their way to riches; others, such as China and India, are following the path.

Africa is asking for a just transition to clean energy, whereby they are allowed to pollute a little, by burning natural gas, and we invest the proceeds in green energy. Europe plans to tax goods depending on the pollution involved in their production.

In Cairo, the so-called agreement to compensate countries that have suffered climate change impacts caused by others’ pollution, was hailed as a huge success. I haven’t been following keenly but I’m not aware of anyone having received payment in that respect. Journalists, including myself, have written eloquently about climate financing trickling to peasants through the carbon trade. I farm—I have planted loads of trees—yet I have never met anyone who is earning carbon credits.

I used to know some European who were doing agroforestry more than 10 years. Their trees must be mature now. And I suppose the conservancies have either planted or already have lots of ancient African trees and shrubs on their ranches. I think these folks would be able to drive a much better deal with their polluting cousins back at home much better than Farmer Njoroge with his 60 saplings on 0.003 acres.

In 2009, rich countries committed to mobilise $100 billion a year to help developing countries to cope with climate change effects and transition to greener energies. I have read on Al Jazeera that, by 2020, only $83 billion was being raised annually and probably none of it was coming to Africa, which needs $500 billion between now and 2030 to be able to adapt to a disrupted climate. If rich countries have not been doing enough to help Africa, what makes us think the future will be any different?

It is the same kind of pause-and-reflect approach that can be applied to every facet of Africa’s suffering and hopelessness: If our great friendship and partnership with the our generous, loving, here-to-help wealthy friends in Europe and elsewhere has produced a load of promises, assurances, coups, racism, starvation, poverty, disease, dependency and death, on what do we base our confidence that, going forward, the precious partnership will produce great wealth for Africans, health, love from the West and political stability?

The basis can only be foolishness and a wide-eyed childish trust in Father Christmas, even by the most brutal of African dictators.

If COP28 does not produce tangible solutions and real money, not Rutonian pledges, for Africa, then the continent should tell the rest of the world, “Guys, you’re ahead. We’ll catch up with you later,” then retreat, plan carefully, over generations, and do what we can with what we have.

I’m sure the rest of the world will be OK. They can meet, lie and make fake promises quite successfully without Africa.

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On a personal note, the past two weeks and next week is a season of anniversaries for me: Wedding, my lastborn turning 18 and a whole year since I left mainline journalism for a sabbatical-cum-exile from most things.

I collected a wheelbarrow of books (which I have not read). I meant to write a couple of books; there is a blank page on my laptop.

But there is great satisfaction in sitting quietly, with my dogs, contemplating the cool of a sunset. I know of no greater joy than a colourful sunset on the farm, just before the snakes slither out to pester us. It’s an introvert thing, I suppose.

However, there is a life to live, struggles to wage, trouble to make, money to earn, new directions to find.