30 years of climate talks: Minimal progress, crucial stakes for Africa

Climate change

Despite being the lowest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, the African continent experiences the greatest impact of climate change.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Despite being the lowest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, the African continent experiences the greatest impact of climate change.

In Bonn, Germany

As experts gather in Bonn for the latest round of climate negotiations, there is a palpable sense of urgency and frustration.

Over the past thirty years, these international climate talks have aimed to tackle the worsening environmental crisis. However, many maintain that there has been little progress, prompting crucial questions about the importance and impact of these talks, particularly for Africa.

"Adaptation is a critical issue for Africa. That is why it is always on the agenda. But there is yet to be progress on National Adaptation Plans," Obed Koringo, a climate policy expert from Care International, says.

"I have been a climate negotiator for five years," Marlene Achoki from the Kenya delegation says. The progress has not been as fast as we expected, and that can get frustrating. But we have to keep going because we have been seeing some progress, especially on issues around adaptation."

The Stakes for Africa

Despite being the lowest contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions, the African continent experiences the greatest impact of climate change. It faces rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall patterns, devastating droughts, and an increased frequency of severe and extreme weather events. These changes pose significant threats to food security, access to water, and the well-being of millions of people. The African Group has consistently emphasised Africa's vulnerability to these climate challenges, underscoring the critical importance of the outcomes of climate talks for African nations.

"Look at the flooding that happened recently in Kenya. More than 200 people died. That is the kind of climate disaster we are experiencing on the continent. Who is going to compensate us for that? That is why we must be here," says Anne Tek, a climate justice expert with FEMNET.

"As a continent, it is important that we participate in these talks. This is the only way we get our voices heard, and by being here, we speak on behalf of our people. They have given us the mandate to tell the world what is happening back home and find solutions," Marlene says.

"If we don't participate in climate talks, then we would have failed the continent. The progress is slow, but it doesn't mean we give up," Obed says.

Why the Talks Matter

Platform for Advocacy:For African countries, climate negotiations are a vital platform to advocate for their distinct needs and perspectives. These discussions ensure that the voices of those most affected yet least responsible are heard on the global stage. This advocacy is crucial for pushing for policies and funding addressing the specific climate challenges African communities face.

Funding and Support:One critical aspect of the climate talks is the discussion of financial aid from developed countries to developing ones. This support is vital for Africa to implement adaptation and mitigation strategies. Although the promised $100 billion per year in climate finance from developed nations has fallen short, continued negotiations aim to hold these countries accountable and ensure that Africa receives the necessary funds.

Technology Transfer: Climate talks also facilitate discussions on technology transfer from developed to developing countries. Access to advanced technology can help African nations leapfrog to cleaner and more efficient energy systems, build climate-resilient infrastructure, and create sustainable agricultural practices.

Global Solidarity: These talks underscore the principle of worldwide solidarity and shared responsibility. They emphasise that the climate crisis is a collective problem requiring collective action. Africa's participation in these negotiations underscores its commitment to being part of the global solution despite its limited resources and contributions to the problem.

The road ahead

While the progress over the past 30 years may seem slow and insufficient, abandoning the climate talks is not an option for Africa. The stakes are too high, particularly for Africa.

"The United Nations Climate Change framework provides guidelines and rules under which all countries engage on climate change, in what is known as a multilateral process. These rules of engagement provide an equal playing field for everyone to come to the table and talk. This is the only place where people will listen," Julius Mbatia, a climate policy expert,

The Bonn talks are intended to prepare for the annual mega-conference on climate change, known as the Conference of Parties (COP), and typically involve highly technical discussions. In Bonn, the agenda for the COP is developed. As the newly elected chair of the African Group of Negotiators, Kenya is leading these talks and will also champion the continent's climate agenda at COP 29 later this year.