Leveraging COP28 Conversations to advance the African agenda

People wait outside a building adorned with a COP28 logo ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on November 28, 2023. Photo: AFP

People wait outside a building adorned with a COP28 logo ahead of the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on November 28, 2023. Photo: AFP

Published Nov 29, 2023


By Ejiro Gray

“Global inequality persists; climate impacts are unfairly distributed. Even with unconditional nationally determined contributions we are facing 2.9 degrees centigrade warming. Developing countries face a staggering adaptation finance gap, 10-18 times as big as international public finance flows. The next decade will shape our future.”

These are the words that jump out at me, as I scroll through UNEP’s soundbites and rallying cry on climate action. They leave me wondering what exactly lies ahead for the African continent in light of the statistics.

The 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) scheduled to take place in the United Arab Emirates emerges as a pivotal platform to propel global commitments and expedite progress toward a sustainable future, with a particular emphasis on the African continent.

At the core of COP28's agenda lies four key pillars: Technology and Innovation, Inclusion, Finance, and Just Transition. These interconnected themes possess the potential to usher in transformative change, ensuring that the benefits of climate action are equitably shared.

Technology and Innovation: Unleashing the Power of Ingenuity

With its burgeoning population, rich natural resources, and entrepreneurial spirit, Africa stands as fertile ground for harnessing technology and innovation potential. It is, therefore, imperative for African leaders to present a clear vision on how technology can address the continent's climate challenges at this year’s conference. This involves the adoption of clean energy technologies, investing in climate-resilient infrastructure, and sharing best practices to overcome challenges like inadequate infrastructure and a heavy reliance on singular solutions.

Compelling research sheds light on a paradox: Africa contributes less than 4% of global carbon emissions, but bears the disproportionate brunt of climate change's devastating effects. To rewrite this narrative, there is a resounding call for African leaders to usher in a new era where sustainable solutions emerge from our own ingenuity, paving the way for a resilient and empowered future.

Inclusion: Empowering Communities for sustainable development

The impact of climate change is keenly felt in vulnerable communities, a stark reality for a developing continent like ours. Africa, which is home to a diverse population with a spectrum of perspectives, experiences, and vulnerabilities, must advocate for climate action that is not only sustainable but highly inclusive and responsive to the needs of all Africans.

While COP28 endeavours to cultivate climate action that uplifts marginalised groups, including women, indigenous people, and the youth, it necessitates African leaders stepping into the forefront to champion this cause. A critical facet of this inclusivity is ensuring robust representation of African women in climate discussions.

It is incumbent upon African leaders to take decisive measures to elevate the involvement of women stakeholders at every level. This entails providing essential travel logistics support to delegates from African civil society organizations, indigenous peoples' groups, and other marginalised communities.

Additionally, a commitment to inclusivity mandates that all program documents and materials are accessible in multiple African languages. To further amplify African voices, organising side events and workshops dedicated to African perspectives and solutions becomes not just an option but mission-critical to galvanizing the much-needed support.

By addressing these aspects of inclusion, African leaders can genuinely champion a climate action agenda that leaves no one behind, propelling us toward a more sustainable and equitable future.

Finance: Mobilising Resources for a sustainable future

The continent urgently requires an estimated $1.3 trillion (R24trl) annually to adapt to climate impacts and transition towards a low-carbon economy. Regrettably, the current climate finance flows to Africa fall significantly short of meeting this critical need. This shortfall is compounded by the high-risk profile of most countries on the continent, which makes it challenging to connect available funding to bankable projects. As a result, Africa faces a double-edged sword: insufficient funding and obstacles to accessing available funds.

However, in the face of these formidable challenges, Africa stands as a reservoir of untapped potential. To achieve a truly inclusive and just transition, funding should not only be made available for renewable energy projects but also for projects aimed at decarbonising existing energy sources. Examples of such endeavours include implementing advanced carbon capture technologies in traditional power plants and upgrading existing infrastructure to reduce emissions.

This approach enables Africa to leverage its natural resources optimally for the development of the continent and effectively advance its energy transition agenda. African leaders play a pivotal role in unlocking access to climate finance, not only at COP28 but also in the ongoing pursuit of sustainable development. Their crucial responsibilities involve catalysing private sector investment in sustainable ventures, streamlining access to climate finance, and championing innovative financing mechanisms. Key actions to this end include:

- Strengthening Africa's voice in climate finance negotiations: Collaboratively articulating a clear and unified vision for climate finance that authentically reflects the continent's unique needs and priorities. This includes emphasising decarbonisation efforts to optimise Africa's resources for development while driving its energy transition.

- Enhancing capacity and expertise: African leaders must articulate their commitment to creating conducive environments for climate financing. This involves fortifying capabilities through the formulation of investor-friendly policies and regulations, championing transparency and accountability, and strengthening institutions, technical skills, and financial literacy.

- Promoting innovative financing mechanisms: African leaders should actively explore inventive financing mechanisms, such as blended finance, climate risk insurance, and green bonds. These efforts aim to galvanise additional resources for climate action.

- Leveraging the private sector: African leaders should actively foster an enabling environment for private sector investment in climate-resilient infrastructure, clean energy technologies, and sustainable agriculture. By encouraging collaboration with the private sector, Africa can unlock new avenues for sustainable and impactful climate financing.

Just Transition: Ensuring equity and social fairness

A just transition signifies a shift toward a low-carbon economy committed to a fair distribution of benefits and costs and safeguarding the livelihoods and well-being of workers and communities impacted by the move away from fossil fuels. But it is crucial to recognise that securing a just transition for Africa extends beyond addressing climate change; it necessitates confronting long-standing issues of poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment.

Therefore, African leaders must intentionally invest in the practical application of STEM for African youths through initiatives such as scholarships, grants, and funding. Additionally, a revamp of the education curriculum is essential, incorporating subjects like development finance, green finance, and climate adaptation and mitigation.

The above must be supported and driven by a comprehensive framework for our transition plan, ensuring communities dependent on fossil fuel resources are adequately catered for during the transition through investments in decarbonisation technologies and sustainable alternatives.

Anticipating COP28: A call to unite for lasting impact

As COP28 looms on the horizon, it must be more than a platform for rhetoric. This conference demands beyond resolute commitments; it demands concrete actions. The success of COP28 relies on the collective endeavours of governments, businesses, Development Funding Institutions, and individuals. As African leaders send forth their representatives to Dubai, UAE, a conscientious call reverberates “seize this moment to thrust the African agenda and narratives onto the global stage”. In simpler terms, Carpe Diem!

This conference must transcend mere environmental discourse; it must embody a spirit of collaboration and shared responsibility. Climate action, as outlined in the anticipated outcomes of COP28, is not just about preserving the environment — it is an unwavering commitment to social equity and human well-being.

This conference serves as a defining opportunity for Africans to chart a course toward a more resilient and sustainable future for all.

The Call to Action: In the words of Malcolm X “…tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it, today”. Let us unite, act now, and determine our future. Together.

Ejiro Gray is a director of Sahara Group Foundation.