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COP 28: Empowering Africa’s Climate Action through a Vital Platform

Amidst a growing climate crisis, COP28 must demonstrate true leadership, operationalise pledges made in the past and make the difference that is needed says Ibrahima Cheikh Diong.

Arguably, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference has become increasingly important as a platform to consolidate milestones achieved, debate critical issues and agree on new commitments – amidst a growing climate crisis. But unless there is a concerted effort to honour decisions taken at the summit, much of this work will be mere talk. As global leaders and stakeholders in the climate change environment head to COP28 in November 2023, the world is waiting in anticipation, eager to see how the summit will build on previous achievements and progress key decisions, particularly contentious issues.

The landmark decision to grant loss and damages to developing countries following extreme climate events was a significant milestone from COP27, and expectations are that we must move the needle on this and other decisions. While we await recommendations from the Loss and Damages transitional committee, the fund must take lessons learnt from existing funds where access has been challenging and ensure a lean and functional structure that will ensure the availability of, access to and affordability of critical resources by all.

For Africa, a continent that has been at the receiving end of climate change and is experiencing the worst of this threat, the value of the summit is even more important. In many African countries, climate change is playing out in the devastation of lives and livelihoods and costly destruction of critical infrastructure, and this is a serious threat to sustainable development. COP28 is a vehicle that aligns global thinking and is an opportunity for robust and progressive solutions that speak to the needs of the continent.

Consolidating the African voice

Ahead of COP28, under the leadership of the African Union, African countries have been working to consolidate the African voice. The inaugural Africa Climate Summit held in Nairobi, Kenya in September served to do just that and was the culmination of all preparations for the upcoming event. It concluded in the Nairobi Declaration, an affirmation of Africa’s position in the global climate change process that pushes for green growth and a transformed climate finance environment that leaves no one behind.

The Nairobi Declaration calls for the global community to act with urgency to reduce emissions, honour past commitments and support Africa’s climate action. It recognises the scale, urgency and importance of these collective actions, and clearly outlines Africa’s commitment to the process. The declaration will form the basis of the continent’s negotiations and guide the articulation of the African position at the summit. The message is clear – African leaders have pledged their full support for a successful and ambitious COP28 that should go beyond just talk.

Previous climate summits have achieved several important milestones but the need to intensify collaborative action to curb to worsening climate crisis remains. COP28 will be especially important to help us take stock and use lessons learnt to strengthen response. Significantly, it must be a springboard for the acceleration of critical initiatives and push for decisive action on outstanding matters for faster and more urgent climate action.

The challenge of unmet climate commitments remains one of the greatest threats to the global climate agenda. Year after year, many countries have not lived up to their pledges. Global emissions reduction targets are nowhere near what has been committed to, despite multiple calls to keep warming 1.5 degrees below pre-industrial times – and we are approaching the tipping point. In addition, the lack of climate finance to fund identified critical initiatives has been a huge hindrance to building sufficient momentum towards mitigation, resilience and adaptation efforts.

In the meantime, extreme weather events are increasing in occurrence and intensity, increasing the vulnerability of exposed communities. This is compounded by the increasing burden of disease that is driven in part by climate change, not to mention other factors like Covid-19, the Ukraine and now the Gaza crises. Due to Africa’s low adaptive capacity, the continent is extremely exposed. Recent climate events on the continent have been costly and wiped out huge chunks of development gains – Tropical Cyclone Freddy that affected a few countries and droughts in the Horn of Africa and in the Sahel region are a case in point. These pose a significant threat to sustainable development and the attainment of Agenda 2063 goals, Africa’s blueprint and masterplan for “creating the Africa we want”.

To make any notable progress towards strengthening response, availing climate finance to support climate goals is the starting point. COP28 must therefore continue to drive for the operationalisation of standing commitments and advocate for more funding to cater for the diverse funding needs across the globe.

Africa’s funding needs are vast and have to be driven concurrently. Building on a 2022 call to action by the UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, to ensure everyone on earth is protected by early warning systems within five years, access to essential life-saving early-warning technologies to guide decision-makers in times of crisis is critical as a basis of any climate response. Similarly, building resilience and promoting adaptation using multiple and complementary solutions must be prioritised. The continent has committed to green growth but this requires massive investments to fund identified projects.

Africa must be a partner, not a mere observer

Africa has made it clear that it does not want to be a mere observer but a partner and decision-maker in the global climate agenda. This is a dynamic environment that is continually evolving. The African Union continues to take a leadership role in guiding the continent’s climate journey and has put frameworks, policies and structures in place to support efforts.

African organisations like the African Risk Capacity, a specialised Agency of the African Union mandated to support member states in strengthening their preparedness to respond to climate threats and disease threats, stand ready to lend their expertise to support African countries in operationalising their climate actions. As Africa organises itself and mobilises capacities, it is important to identify and leverage such resources to help fast-track the implementation of commitments made under the loss and damages fund and other climate financing initiatives for Africa.   

In a dynamic climate ecosystem, COP28 is an opportune time to demonstrate true leadership, optimise collaborations for efficient implementation and make the difference that is needed as we keep the spirit of COP27 where the world recognises that the global climate crisis calls for global solidarity.

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