Climate Summit: A look at 1990 and 2023 Nairobi Declarations

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

What you need to know:

  • The 1990 declaration was done under the United Nations (UN) framework
  • The 2023 declaration is designed under the African Union (AU) framework.

The “Nairobi Declaration”, which is the decision adopted by world leaders at the end of the 2023 Africa Climate Summit in Kenya’s capital, is very different from the 1990 document going by the same name, experts have said.  

The “Nairobi Declaration”, signed 33 years ago, followed an international climate conference organised by the Africa Centre for Technology Studies and the Woods Hole Research Centre, and was held at the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) headquarters in the city.

Both documents sound the same in that they emphasize why global emissions need to be lowered and highlight the existential threat that climate change poses to the world. But how are the two declarations different? 

UN versus AU framework

First, the 1990 declaration is a 33-page document that was done under the United Nations (UN) framework while the 2023 declaration is designed under the African Union (AU) framework.

“They are different. If the 1990 Declaration would have been designed under the AU framework, then in the preamble of the 2023 Declaration, the first order of business would have been to recall it. But since the 1990 was designed under the UN framework, it means this is the first ever ‘Nairobi Declaration’ by African leaders,” Dr Philip Osano, Africa director of Stockholm Environment Institute, told the Nation. 

Examining impact of climate change versus policymaking

The 1990 document, themed  ‘International Conference on Global Warming and Climate Change : African Perspectives’, notes in its executive summary that the objective at the time was to examine the possible impacts of global climatic change on the world’s ecosystems, economies and infrastructure of African countries.

Going down memory lane, Dr Osano reminds us that in November 1988, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and UNEP established the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to assess present scientific knowledge, socio-economic impacts, and options for policy responses by countries.

Africa Climate Summit: President Ruto makes the Nairobi declaration

The UN General Assembly (UNGA) in December 1988 adopted a resolution calling for the preservation of global climate as part of the common heritage of humankind. It also adopted a resolution convening a UN Conference on Environment and Development in 1992. 

Therefore, the 1990 document and conference were part of groundwork that was done two years earlier. Additionally, the purpose of the 1992 conference was to put in place a coherent international plan of action for environmental issues. According to the 1990 Declaration, participants from the continent and other researchers from around the world presented the most recent data at the time then, models and case studies on the anticipated global warming and its impacts. 

“The Declaration is addressed particularly to African policy makers and researchers as well as to governments and interested parties globally,” the 1990 document says.

By contrast, the 2023 Declaration has African leaders committing to develop and implement climate policies, regulations and incentives to attract local, regional and global green investment, and to drive Africa's economic growth and job creation in a way that not only limits the continent’s own emissions but also supports global decarbonisation efforts.  

World leaders have also committed to finalising and implementing the draft African Union Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan to realise the 2050 vision of living in harmony with nature, supporting smallholder farmers, indigenous peoples and local communities in the green economic transition, among other initiatives. 

‘Nothing to write home about’

But for climate finance experts like Dr Fadhel Kaboub, associate professor of economics at Denison University and president of The Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, the 2023 “Nairobi Declaration” is nothing to write home about.  

“As an African economist, attending the first Africa Climate Summit on African soil, I had high expectations, but unfortunately the “Nairobi Declaration” leaves much to be desired. I was hoping that our leaders would advance a bold, transformative, coherent and comprehensive vision on climate and development for Africa,” the Tunisian expert says.

He goes ahead to point out what he did not like. 

“While external debt is a serious problem that limits our economic and monetary sovereignty and reduces the fiscal policy space to act on climate and to invest in national priorities, it is important to recognise that external debt is a symptom of much deeper structural deficiencies: food deficits, energy deficits and low value-added manufacturing. The economic transformation that our leaders needed to rally behind cannot ignore the importance of food sovereignty (not just food security), renewable energy sovereignty, and pan-Africain high value-added industrialization,” Dr Kaboub notes. 

He reckons this year’s meeting in Nairobi was a missed opportunity to harmonise our climate, energy, adaptation and development strategies. Instead, he says, we “find false solutions proposed in the Nairobi declaration like carbon markets, which simply amount to cheap pollution permits for Global North historic polluters who can pass on the cost of the permits to their customers in the Slobal South”. 

Dr Kaboub says he expected African leaders to state the facts. 

“Africa is owed a climate debt by the historic polluters. Climate reparations must be delivered in the form of debt cancelation (not debt restructuring), transfer of technology (not impoted green tech), grants (not loans) for adaptation and economic resilience, and transformation of the global trade, finance and investment architecture.”