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  • Writer's picturestephannie Adinde

What COP27 means for Africa

Updated: Nov 6, 2022

Key Takeaways

COP27 is the annual meeting of the group of countries that signed the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in 1992.

This year's summit will be held in the Egyptian city of Sharm El-Sheikh from 6 -18 of November–the theme is "together for implementation".

Africa is disproportionately affected by the climate crisis despite contributing less than 4% to global emissions. There is an expectation that addressing the region's climate needs will be high up on the agenda at what has now been nicknamed, the "African COP".
Thirty years ago, 192 countries ratified an international treaty known as The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The primary objective of the treaty was to prevent dangerous human interference with the climate system by minimizing global warming (mitigation) and developing strategies to cope with the inevitabilities of temperature increases (adaptation).

Every year, Parties to the Convention meet in the Conference of the Parties (COPs). These COPs are considered the biggest and most important annual climate-related conferences in the world.
The summit is pivotal in fostering conversations and agreements geared towards the goal of reducing carbon emissions and creating a safer planet for all. For instance, during the 2015 Paris Agreement, parties to the convention committed to a legally binding treaty to limit global warming to 1.5°C (2.7°F) above pre-industrial temperatures, and to increase climate action financing.

The most recent, COP26, was held in Glasgow, Scotland last November. It brought together 120 world leaders and representatives from almost 200 countries which led to the Glasgow Climate Pact–which reaffirmed the 2015 Paris Agreement.

For the first time since 2016, the COP is coming to Africa.

In fact, COP27 has now been dubbed the "African COP". This is based not only on the geographical location of the summit but also on the expectation that African countries will be at the front line of the discussions. From the 6th -18th of November, multilateral agencies, world leaders, ministers, negotiators, civil society, businesses, the media, and members of the public will flock to Sharm El-Sheikh, an Egyptian resort town situated between the desert of the Sinai Peninsula and the Red Sea to attend the annual summit.

The theme for this year's conference is “together for implementation”. The Egypt presidency plans to highlight the climate issues that are pertinent to Africa and other developing regions. At the heart of the conference will be discussions on climate finance–especially how developed nations can fulfill their obligations to the developing world– mitigation, adaptation and collaboration.
COP27 must be an African COP: African solutions developed for Africa by Africans. I urge you to seize the opportunity of COP27 to place the priorities of Africa at the centre of the global response to the climate crisis Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary General, United Nations

Despite the excitement of an African COP after six long years, there are some criticisms concerning Egypt playing host this year. The biggest issue relates to the human rights violation that has been ongoing in the North African country which includes restricting freedom of speech and imprisoning thousands of demonstrators since 2013. Amnesty International argues that COP27 could become a rebranding opportunity for the Egyptian government to deflect criticism of its abysmal human rights record, a practice known as "greenwashing". Another piece by the Centre for Foreign Relations cites that the country's longstanding history of repression and dependency on fossil fuels might undermine its effort to attract substantial financial support.

Other critics have highlighted Egypt's lackadaisical approach to climate change action. For instance, in accordance with the Paris Agreement timeline, Cairo was more than a year late in updating its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). The NDC refers to the commitments of countries to lower greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change.

Against this backdrop, one of the burning questions as we approach COP27 is, can Egypt deliver for Africa?

Why COP27 matters

COP27 comes at a time of global economic uncertainty. The extreme climatic events of 2022 –from Europe experiencing its hottest summer on record to the devastating floods in Pakistan and the seasonal deprivation in the Sahel–emphasize that no country or region is immune to the climate crisis. Now more than ever, countries need to unite and strengthen their climate mitigation and adaptation efforts before it is too late.

Let's not forget the Russia-Ukraine war which has had far-reaching implications in terms of food and energy security, inflationary pressures, and deprioritized climate change discourse, as many countries struggle to grapple with the lack of access to Russian gas.

In a bid to avert its energy crisis, Europe has been courting Africa to replace gas imports from Moscow by any means possible. Earlier in the year, Olaf Scholz, the German Chancellor, came looking for gas deals on the continent. In September, the President of Poland arrived in Senegal with a similar motive. Despite being accused of "climate hypocrisy", winter is coming, so we expect Europe to keep scouting for alternatives to gas at COP27. The onus is now on African leaders to ensure that the deals being struck in Egypt prioritise local demand and favours the continent.

Why COP27 matters for Africa

Africa is the most vulnerable region to the adverse impacts of climate change. Despite contributing less than 4% to global emissions, the continent is expected to bear the brunt of climate change. Even within the region, all emissions are not equal. According to a report by the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, around 80% of Africa's emissions emanate from only six countries - Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria and South Africa – home to 33.7% of the continent's population.

In the past decade, climate change-related risks such as flooding, drought, heatwaves and food insecurity have had negative effects on millions of lives and livelihoods, threatening to reverse decades of economic progress. One profound example is the Lake Chad Basin which has been experiencing extreme climatic shocks since the 1970s. The dire situation in the region has led to violent conflict, extreme poverty and gross underdevelopment.

Africa is the least-climate resilient region and as such requires support to bolster its mitigation and adaptation efforts. Estimates also suggest that Africa loses between 5% to15% of its GDP yearly because of the climate crisis. Furthermore, in eight of the ten most climate-vulnerable countries in the region, an estimated 60% of the working population is employed in the highly climate-sensitive agricultural sector.

When it comes to energy access, the situation is equally gloomy. Africa is home to approximately 9% of the world’s gas reserves and produces around 6% global natural gas. Yet, over 640 million Africans do not have access to electricity, and even in places where there is access, it is epileptic, unreliable and expensive. Today, around 970 million Africans still lack access to clean cooking fuels. Africa is the only region in which the number of people using unclean cooking fuels is rising, with an increment of almost 50% since 2000. While the use of Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) is gaining traction in urban areas, energy inflation makes it highly unaffordable for millions, forcing households to revert to dirty fuels.

There are a number of relevant issues that will be discussed at the summit such as food, water, industry decarbonization, climate adaptation and the energy transition. However, the most relevant to the continent is related to climate financing as all the laudable targets cannot be achieved without adequate funding.

Climate finance is a hot topic

Fighting climate change requires billions of dollars, and most African countries do not have buoyant coffers to accommodate this expensive but urgent expenditure.

The weak fiscal capacity across the continent has been further exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the state of the global economy and other geopolitical conditions. According to a recent press release by the IMF, public debt in the region has reached about 60% of GDP and 19 of the region’s 35 low-income countries are now in debt distress or at high risk of distress. Considering the decrepit state of public finances in the continent, the expectation is that richer countries will step up and help bridge the climate finance gap.

Over the years, developed countries which are the biggest culprits of environmental damage and carbon emissions have made ambitious pledges to tackle the climate crisis and support developing regions. In 2009, governments around the world made a pledge to allocate $100 billion annually by 2020 to enable developing countries to tackle the impacts of climate change. However, many countries have reneged on their obligations, missing the target by more than $16 billion in 2020. In fact, investigations carried out by Oxfam indicate that many rich countries inflated their climate finance contributions to developing countries in 2020 by as much as 225%. So, not only are these countries not redeeming their pledges, but they are also misrepresenting financial inflows, putting developing countries at risk.
For too long, most developed countries have persisted in counting the wrong things in the wrong way. There are too many loans, too much debt, too few grants, too little for adaptation, and too much dishonest and misleading accounting Oxfam

According to a 2022 report by the Climate Policy Initiative, Africa requires approximately $2.8 trillion between 2020 - 2030 to implement its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) under the Paris Agreement. However, annual climate finance inflows to Africa stand at a mere $29.5 billion which represents only 11% of the estimated $277 billion needed annually to implement its NDCs and meet the 2030 climate goals. And, this financing chasm is likely to widen as countries often underestimate their financial needs, especially in regard to adaptation, due to insufficient data and methodological flaws in costing their NDCs.

Africa is not a country, so even across regions, we notice discrepancies in climate financing gaps.
Research suggests that Central and East African countries are likely to face the largest climate investment gaps as a percentage of GDP–26% and 23% on average, respectively. Meanwhile, North African countries face the lowest climate investment gaps–3% of GDP.

Furthermore, climate financing is not spread equally across regions. Financing is concentrated in 10 out of 54 countries namely: Egypt, Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, Mozambique, Cote d’Ivoire, Tunisia and Ghana. So, even though African countries are all facing the same tides, they are in different boats.

Climate adaptation is also on the agenda

Climate adaptation will get a lot of attention at COP27. Climate adaptation refers to "adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts". In simpler terms, these are actions that enable communities and countries to withstand and minimize the existing ravages of climate change.

Despite the importance of climate adaptation, it is still struggling to attract sufficient capital. At COP26, countries joined the Adaptation Action Coalition (AAC), a state-led initiative of 40 member countries fostering adaptation efforts to achieve a climate-resilient world by 2030. Developed countries also committed to doubling the level of financing for adaptation to an estimated $40billion by 2025. While commendable, this is not even going to scratch the surface of the capital requirements for climate adaptation.

Adaptation is particularly important for developing countries that are highly vulnerable to climate change but possess fewer resources to deal with it. According to the UN, adaptation costs in developing countries are estimated at $70 billion–and this figure is expected to reach $140-300 billion in 2030 and $280-500 billion in 2050. In Africa, adaptation spending is perhaps the continent’s most urgent climate investment priority. The costs for adaptation action for agriculture and food systems in the continent are about $15 billion–around 0.93 percent of regional GDP, according to a 2021 report by the Global Centre for Adaptation.

At COP27 we expect to see a prioritization of climate adaptation solutions and mobilizing and strengthening access to financing for implementing these solutions–as mentioned earlier, to tackle climate change, countries need money.

From pledges to action

The world has made remarkable progress in addressing the burgeoning climate crisis and is slowly pivoting towards cleaner and greener energy policies and solutions. However, we are far from reaching set targets that safeguard the environment for present and future generations. To ensure that global warming is kept below 1.5°C–as stipulated in the Paris Agreement–emissions need to be reduced by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. The sobering reality is, we are running out of time.

The expectations of COP27 are high and the challenges are daunting. But, it is not a Sisyphean task.

COPs are not a silver bullet to the climate crisis. Instead, they offer a unique opportunity for countries and key actors to reassess and redefine their priorities and their role in the fight against climate change. Africa has a lot to lose if it takes a back seat in these negotiations and decisions and therefore must be proactive in setting the agenda for ongoing efforts.

The true litmus test of whether or not COP27 will be a success will largely depend on the extent to which countries are able to drive the implementation of already set policies. Furthermore, the moniker "African COP" will only carry weight if the continent is prioritized in these implementation efforts. Anything less is a waste of time, effort, and resources and would land us right back where we started at COP28 scheduled to be held in Dubai, UAE next November.

In the words of Leonardo da Vinci, ‘‘Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do". It is now time for the world to do.
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