An indelible first voice of the African people on climate

President William Ruto (centre) surrounded by other African leaders delivers his closing speech during the closure of the Africa Climate Summit 2023 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi on September 6.

What you need to know:

  • Apart from just being the cradle of mankind, Turkana hosts a blend of the good child of climate change and its bad child.
  • It has the country’s largest wind power station and an oil exploration project in the works.

Twice when making his speech, President William Ruto reminded delegates attending the Africa Climate Summit (ACS) that Kenya is the cradle of mankind –teasingly saying that they are welcome back home. This is because more than half a century ago, renowned archaeologist Louis Leakey and colleagues discovered more than 10,000 fossils in Koobi Fora, Turkana County.

Decades later, Kenya’s former president Mwai Kibaki in 2012 announced the discovery of oil in that region –a different type of fossil (fuel), one that is proven by science as the largest contributor to climate change. As delegates laughed at President Ruto’s joke inside an air-conditioned Tsavo Ballroom at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre , the inhabitants of Turkana who may not have been aware of the summit were likely bearing the brunt of the scorching sun.

Apart from just being the cradle of mankind, Turkana hosts a blend of the good child of climate change and its bad child – it has the country’s largest wind power station and an oil exploration project in the works.

Her people, like many others in different parts of the country and Africa, are the faces of the climate crisis, and now more than ever, hosting an inaugural climate summit was a much needed silver lining.

The summit’s theme was ‘Driving Green Growth and Climate Finance Solutions for Africa and the World’.

The term green growth was first coined in 2005 at a Seoul Ministerial Conference on Environment and Development. Its pillar revolves around embracing renewable energy and letting fossil fuels (coal, oil, and gas) remain unexploited.

Climate Finance, on the other hand, is the most contentious aspect of negotiations especially from high polluting countries who even fail to live up to a pledge made by them.

It is for this reason that Kenya, as host of the summit, and the African Union, came up with a bold agenda of changing the narrative to suit Africa’s needs using African voices.

A few weeks to the summit, however, a faction of climate civil societies flagged the involvement of a US-based consultancy in the summit's activities, saying it came to influence the African agenda.

An analysis by this writer on the ACS website using backdated data shows that on July 22, Mckinsey and Company was one of the earliest partners enlisted.

By August 28, the company had been expunged from the main website but reasons for its removal are not known. Environment Cabinet Secretary Soipan Tuya dismissed allegations of any fishy involvement during a press briefing on the sidelines of the Africa Ministerial Conference on Environment.

As Kenya spruced up the venue of the summit, children and youth had started the pre-summits to come up with a representative voice that was submitted to President Ruto and the chairperson of the Africa Union Commission Moussa Faki during the summit's capstone. Of note is that they all want to be at the table when their issues are discussed by world leaders.

Philipa Clydoll of Sierra Leone who represented the children emphatically expressed her disappointments, on behalf of children, questioning why they were not involved in the planning stage of the summit.

“We suffer the consequences even though we pollute less. We are also secluded from the climate discussions. But today, we are calling for our involvement in these discussions,” she said. Most leaders echoed that Africa, as a youthful continent, gives the continent an opportunity to invest in innovative ideas inclined to green growth to secure a better future for the African youth.

As the three-day event made Africa scoop a whooping USD 23 billion basket of investments, most of the money came from world’s largest polluters. One of the shifts the summit hoped to embrace is to move away from being beggars for climate reparations to coming up with new ways of making money using Africa’s natural resources.

Africa is burdened by debt and Kenya’s president reminded the lenders not to kill the continent when it’s just about to let out her shine. This is because of the unfair loan repayment plans offered by the multilateral banks.

“It is not a secret that we are paying at least five times more of our loans compared to the advanced economies. I see that as an opportunity to unleash the creativity of local investments. My call for everyone at this summit is to have Africa’s priorities. It is a moment to imagine a bold and radically affirmative African future,” he said.

Dr Ruto added that assets need to be in the form of partnerships and that the reason we have not made so much progress is because Africa had not consolidated and brought her ideas to the table.

“The day we do that, then we will be a wealthy continent. The future is not something to hope for or wish for, it is for us to actualise and conceptualise now. This is what we have come to do at the Africa Climate Summit,” he added. Delegates attending the conference were proud of Africa for her boldness to host a summit that birthed the Nairobi Declaration.

John Kioli, chair of the Kenya Climate Change Working Group, told Climate Action, that the summit did well in regards to policy dialogue, which came with key pillars encompassed in the Paris Agreement. “The issue of climate finance was bold; even that of the phase down on fossil fuels. It was great to see leaders assign the African Union to come up with a framework which is capped to at least 2025,” he said.

“For the first time, we have shifted the narrative of begging and realising that we own the resource called carbon sinks,” he added. On the summit’s second day, John Kerry, the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, who spoke after Dr Ruto, alluded that it was time for leaders to act on their pledges on climate change for a better future for all.

The parliamentary caucus on climate change and other stakeholders said talks on climate adaptation have to be on the frontline of discussions, the key issue being the doubling of adaptation finance. Even so, Kenya inked a deal to have the Global Centre for Adaptation headquartered in Nairobi.

Nancy Githaiga, Africa Wildlife Foundation country director, said communities on the frontline of climate change are the most vulnerable and have knowledge on adaptation.

“We must ensure new additional funding reaches the communities directly, empowering them to adapt to the changing climate and contribute sustainable solutions,” she said.

Dr Sheila Ochugboju of Alliance for Africa saidAfrica’s extreme vulnerabilities are because it lacks an adaptive capacity due to development challenges and the failure to meet sustainable development goals. While Agriculture was not widely discussed at the main plenary, experts that Climate Action spoke to were happy with the final declaration.

Representing the indigenous people, Judy Kipkenda of Kenya’s Ogiek Community reiterated the need for their knowledge and recognition at a global level. Before the summit, World Animal Protection sent a communiqué to Kenya's Climate envoy and some of their demands were included in the final draft.

For instance, a clause on supporting smallholder farmers and the need to strengthen resilience on food security was accepted. Dr Victor Yamo, Humane and Sustainable Agriculture campaign manager, told Climate Action that it is time to focus on implementation of the declarations, especially at a global level.

“For now we are happy that there is a semblance to recognition, we hope that this is carried forward to COP28,” he said. Even as the climate finance, adaptation and debt restructuring talks took the centre stage, some important conversations were left behind.

For instance, promoters of the inclusion of Climate and Health felt that it did not have any kind of prominence at the summit, not even did it get a slot as a key agenda. This came barely weeks after Malawi hosted a regional Climate and Health summit. This year, COP28 Presidency considered setting aside Health Day for the first time in the almost three decades that Conference of Parties have been held.

Power Shift Africa Director Mohamed Adow said that the summit deviated from the original plan and focused on carbon markets, influenced by the West. “The final declaration was disappointingly similar to previous summits that produced inadequate results. We want to see Africa forging a path that embraces Pan-African solidarity, putting people before profit, and that harnesses our unique position in history and vast renewable energy potential,” he said.