US paying lip service to Africa climate needs, activists decry

John Kerry

US Special Envoy of the President of the United States John Kerry (centre) during the Conference of African Ministers on the Environment in Dakar on September 15.

Photo credit: Seyllou | AFP

African climate campaigners have called out Mr John Kerry, who is United States President Joe Biden’s Special Climate Envoy, for “showing a lack of comprehension of the magnitude climate change portends for the African people”.

 While responding to a speech delivered by the envoy at the 18th session of the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) in Dakar, Senegal, the campaigners said Mr Kerry chose to play with “semantics” and termed his presence at meeting a “public relations gimmick”, which they say is characteristic of the US government.


The activists, drawn from diverse backgrounds in 40 plus countries and sectors, came together under the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (Pacja). According to the lobby’s Executive Director Mithika Mwenda, they were disappointed that Mr Kerry did not deliver a bold commitment that would offer hope to families in the Horn of Africa, Sahel and the rest of Africa whose livelihoods have been turned upside down by a problem they have very little to do with.

In his speech, Mr Kerry denied that the West and developed nations bear the responsibility of climate change and urged every country to carry the burden of its impacts. He further went ahead to rub the African campaigners the wrong way by stressing the need for mitigation despite knowing that Africa tends to favour adaptation.

Mr Mamadou Barri, an activist from Senegal, pointed out that Africans had expected Mr Kerry to commit to supporting its agenda for the 27th Conference of Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) set for Egypt in November.

“Top on our agenda in COP27 is recognition of Africa as a region of special circumstances,” he said.

Mr Mwenda further noted that since the beginning of the year, African Civil Society Organisations (CSOs ) have been consulting among themselves and with governments, and have identified critical “no-go zones” in engaging with the global community during COP27.

“A COP in Africa, undoubtedly, should recognise what has united all of us; special needs and circumstances on the continent that personify the impacts the climate crisis has had on humanity,” Mr Mwenda said.

He says African CSOs consider it a mockery to the people on the continent when a top US diplomat repeats what Africans have heard over the years without telling them why his country continues to churn out tonnes of carbon emissions and failure does not honour its commitments on climate finance.

“Mr Kerry’s mere recognition of the climate crisis facing the African continent is tired rhetoric which we hardly want to hear,” he said.

Mr Augustine Njamnshi, who is the chair of the Technical and Political Committee at Pacja, said actions speak louder than words and asked the US to provide adequate funds to enable communities to rebuild their livelihoods.

“We take note of his acknowledgement of the current devastation occasioned by floods in South Africa, Mozambique and Uganda, which have killed hundreds and displaced tens of thousands, and the Horn of Africa countries that are in their fourth year of drought, with more than 18 million suffering food insecurity as a result,” he said. But added that mere acknowledgement does not help if the largest greenhouse gas emitters to honour its commitments and pay its climate debt.

Mr Ndjamnshi went ahead to explain that the $8.2 billion Mr Kerry said has been given to Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia and Mauritania in response to their drought crises, is a drop in the ocean based on the massive losses and damages being experienced by communities.

“We call on the US to stop dilly-dallying and avail to the African people their fair share of climate finance to build their resilience,” he said.

Climate resilience

Mr Julius Ngoma from the Civil Society Network on Climate Change in Malawi said more perturbing to Africans is the shameless announcement by Mr Kerry of his government’s intention to set aside $5 million for Africa to scale up methane reduction.

“Our urgent need is for efforts that address adaptation and building climate resilience among frontline communities,” he said.

He also criticised the envoy’s announcement of a $25million funding commitment to be made during COP 27 as part of the $50 million promised by the US under Glasgow’s COP21 Adaptation Fund, terming it “hopelessly inadequate”.

The campaigners have asked African governments to avoid carrot dangling and manipulation by the US and other rich countries that want to advance their selfish interests in the name of climate action.