The world is coming to Nairobi this week in a key climate discussion at a time when the globe is under immense pressure to adopt a common position on climate policy.
It is the goal of the inaugural Africa Climate Summit, the brainchild of Kenya’s President William Ruto.
The President had earlier managed to pitch the idea before a gathering of African Union member states in Addis Ababa during their annual Summit for the continental body.
Now they must draw up the document known as the ‘Pledging and Commitment Framework’ that will see the continent reaffirm the African Common Position on Energy Access and Just Energy Transition adopted on July 22, 2022, by the African Union (AU) Executive Council.
Yet the gathering, like any climate conference, has attracted guests from beyond Africa.
By estimation, some 30,000 delegates and nearly 20 heads of state are due in Nairobi for the September 4-6 event.
For the first time, the question is whether African leaders will be bold enough to come up with an African collective determination to reshape climate discussions, particularly ahead of the COP28.
President Ruto may bank that as one success story in his first year in power if they do.
To him, this Summit “will be a critical opportunity for us to accelerate the global energy transition and deliver African solutions to the COP28 in Dubai,” in a speech he gave in July.
In February, the African Union Executive Council, composed of AU’s foreign ministers, unanimously agreed that the common position that Africa will pursue is meant to help the continent exploit all forms of its abundant energy resources, including renewable and non-renewable energy to address energy demand.
That is divided into two parts; immediate energy needs such as gas, green, and low-carbon hydrogen and nuclear energy, and the abundant renewables for the long-term.
There is a reality bump, however. Many environmentalists continue to push hard for a total abandonment of oil and gas in favour of renewable energy. Based on the Paris Agreement on climate, which aims for a 50 per cent cut in emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2050.
UN Secretary-General António Guterres, expected to attend the summit, strongly believes in immediate and massive investments in renewables.
“If we want to avert catastrophe, renewables are the only credible way path forward. Only renewables can safeguard our future, close the energy success gap, stabilise the process and ensure energy security,” Mr Guterres said in January adding, “Together let us jumpstart a renewables revolution and create a bright future for all to avoid being in the middle of a climate emergency now.”
According to the UN boss, the world is still addicted to fossil fuels and the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is fast slipping out of reach.
“Under current policies, we are headed for 2.8 degrees of global warming by the end of the century. The consequences will be devastating. Several parts of our planet will be uninhabitable. And for many, this is a death sentence,” he said.
“This Summit is an opportunity for Heads of State and officials to come up and define Africa’s common position on climate change and take urgent actions to mitigate these challenges,” said Mohamed Adow, also founder and Director of Power Shift Africa.
“The summit must be seen to advance the interest of Africans and African countries to develop climate-compatible resiliently. We need to seize this moment, deliver real change for Africa, and position our leaders as major players in international climate diplomacy,” said Mr Adow.
He said one of the biggest gaps African countries are facing is the Finance policy gap, which has affected the continent’s energy investments support.
The concern is that Africa, with substantial renewable energy potentials, currently receives just 2 per cent of clean energy investments yet it is the most vulnerable continent and faces the worst impacts of climate change.
The World Bank estimates that by 2050 there could be as many as 86 million internally displaced people in sub-Saharan Africa due to climate change.
“The finances Africa receives is in the form of loans rather than grants and this contributes to debt distress in the continent, compounded by energy poverty that will ultimately lead to millions of Africans displaced due to climate change,” said Adow.
According to United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Africa's share of external debt has risen from approximately 19 per cent in 2010 to nearly 29 per cent in 2022. Simultaneously, its external debt as a share of exports has risen from 74. 5 per cent to 140 per cent over the same period.
However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the continent. According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), Kenya, Rwanda, and Ghana are on track for full access to electricity by 2030, offering hope to other countries.
“The benefits are huge: reducing premature deaths by over 500,000 a year by 2030, drastically cutting time spent gathering fuel and cooking, and allowing millions of women to pursue education, employment, and civic involvement,” says IEA.
And as the UN’s Africa Climate Week kicks off in Nairobi tomorrow, Kenyan children are calling on leaders to recognise their voice, secure their meaningful participation in climate-related decision-making forums, and take action based on their recommendations.
The children spoke during the Youth Climate Change Summit.
Ms Yvonne Arunga, Save the Children Country Director for Kenya and Madagascar, appreciated that children’s voices should be heard in such forums.
“The combined threat of climate emergency and inequality is eroding children’s rights not only in Kenya, but in the world. Children most affected by economic inequality and discrimination are the hardest hit by the impacts of climate hazards, but their rights are often neglected, and their voices often go unheard,” she said.
“We need to urgently scale up climate finance and support adaptation measures that protect children from the worst effects of climate change. We also need to ensure they have access to essential services like education and healthcare, regardless of their displacement status,” she added.
According to Mr Guterres, the world must be prepared to invest up to $4 trillion in renewable energy projects.
There are fears among non-state actors that the summit, which is supposed to be African-driven, has been hijacked by the developed world.
“With the absence of effective solutions from global leaders, we insist that all deliberations and decisions at the African Climate Summit uphold the human rights of all, especially those who bear the brunt of climate change, such as indigenous people, women, children, persons with disabilities, and impoverished communities,” argued Dr Mithika Mwenda, the Executive Director of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance.
The Alliance is pushing for a common front by African leaders to resist proposals that exacerbate climate risks and burdens already shouldered by the continent, whose nearly 100 million people are facing a severe drought.