Why Uganda, South Africa and Nigeria skipped Africa Climate Summit

Africa Climate Summit

President William Ruto takes a group photo with delegates at KICC, Nairobi on September 4, 2023 during the Africa Climate Summit 2023.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

When 14 African presidents jetted into Nairobi this week for the inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS), President Yoweri Museveni was a no-show, as were Presidents Cyril Ramaphosa and Bola Tinubu.

But why?

The Nation has learnt from three senior Kenyan foreign ministry officials that Uganda’s Museveni wrote to Kenya declining his invitation, stating categorically that he could not sit and be lectured by US climate envoy John Kerry, who hails from a Global North country that is among the world's biggest polluters.

As you may know, not all countries are equally responsible for the climate crisis.

William Ruto

President of Kenya William Ruto (C) 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, 2023.

Photo credit: PCS

According to the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), more than 30 gigatonnes of CO2 are released into the Earth's atmosphere every year: this is the main source of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, and most of these gases come from the use of fossil fuels, non-renewable energy production and polluting human activities.

The top ten polluters include China - 10,065 million tonnes of CO2, the United States - 5,416 million tonnes, India - 2,654 million tonnes, Russia - 1,711 million tonnes, Japan - 1,162 million tonnes, Germany - 759 million tonnes, Iran - 720 million tonnes, South Korea - 659 million tonnes, Saudi Arabia - 621 million tonnes and Indonesia - 615 million tonnes of CO2, while Africa, an entire continent, accounts for only four per cent of global carbon emissions, despite being the continent suffering the most devastating effects of the climate crisis.  

That is why, according to the 1992 Rio Declaration, now known as the polluter pays principle, those who cause pollution should bear the costs of dealing with it to prevent damage to human health or the environment, as the world agreed that the biggest polluters must take action to reduce their carbon emissions, but also to offset their carbon footprints by supporting environmental projects around the world.

According to President Museveni, it was 'very disrespectful' to sit in a room and be lectured on climate change by the very people who have plunged Africa and the global south into this devastating crisis, a senior official explained.

President William Ruto leads African leaders to the venue of Africa Climate Summit at KICC, Nairobi, on August 5.

Photo credit: PCS

Secondly, the Ugandan president was also unwilling to engage and associate with a leader from the US, given that America protested and 'punished' Uganda after he signed into law an anti-LGBTQ bill that is considered the harshest in the world, as it allows for the death penalty for homosexual acts.

The new law prompted an official statement from US President Joe Biden, who described it as "a tragic violation of universal human rights - one that is unworthy of the Ugandan people, and one that jeopardises the prospects for critical economic growth for the entire country.

"In his letter declining to attend the ACS, President Museveni made it clear that Africa is not a slave to anyone and reserves the right to conduct its own affairs as it sees fit," another senior official told the Nation in an interview.

President Ruto's closing remarks during the 3rd day of the Africa Climate summit

A member of the Ethiopian delegation to the ACS, who spoke to the Nation but was not authorised to speak on the record, agreed with the senior Kenyan official.

"President Museveni refused to attend the ACS because of John Kerry's involvement and the fact that he came to address African leaders, yet he comes from the global north, the world's biggest polluter."

The Kenyan official also revealed why Nigeria and South Africa pulled out of Africa's first climate summit this week.

"South Africa also formally withdrew because the government is protesting against pressure from some European partners to abandon coal and go the way of renewables, yet 80 per cent of energy in South Africa comes from coal.

They simply did not want to be lectured to and be in the same room with European partners from the West who are the world leaders in pollution but who are planning to impose levies on certain carbon-intensive imports from South Africa at a time when they are struggling with load shedding," he said.

Nigeria, Africa's top oil producer, wrote to Kenya saying it did not want to come to the summit and become a bystander to be lectured by the worst emitters.

Africa Climate Summit: President Ruto makes the Nairobi declaration

"We tried to talk to some people in the government there, but they did not feel comfortable coming and listening to the phase-down and phase-out of fossil fuels at the same time, or discussions on the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty initiative."   The treaty initiative is spurring international cooperation to end new fossil fuel development, phase out existing production within the agreed climate limit of 1.5°C, and develop plans to help fossil fuel-dependent workers, communities and countries build secure and healthy livelihoods.

Nigeria is currently pumping 1.67 million barrels of oil and condensates a day, up from just under a million barrels a few months ago, according to the Nigerian government.

Nigerian delegates

Nigerian delegates pose for photos at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre following the official close of the Africa Climate Summit on September 6, 2023.

Photo credit: Evans Habil | Nation Media Group

At the climate summit, leaders failed to agree on a new development model that would end the continent's dependence on fossil fuels.

The Nairobi Declaration calls for 'commitments to a fair and accelerated process of phasing out coal and the elimination of all fossil fuel subsidies', missing the opportunity to recognise the urgent need to phase out all fossil fuels as an essential first step towards a just transition in Africa.

In an interview with the Nation on Thursday, Dr Fadhel Kaboub, associate professor of economics at Denison University and president of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, said he was not surprised.

"It is sadly not surprising, but extremely disappointing, that the Africa Climate Summit got stuck in the fossil fuel trap. While it could have been an opportunity for African leaders to demonstrate their potential for climate leadership, and for the countries of the North to help the continent benefit from it, this summit merely reproduced the usual economic dynamics that underpin inequalities and are known as 'development policy'," he told the Nation.

"Africa is not a bottomless pit for the rich countries. On the contrary, they owe the African people a monumental debt. It is time for them to show real international cooperation, which means helping the continent to gradually and equitably move away from dependence on fossil fuels to accelerate its energy transition," Dr Kaboub said.

 "It is time for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, the missing mechanism to enable Africa and the world to build a fossil fuel free future."