End the false promises : Why COP27 must be a true African COP

Permanent Secretary in the office of the First Vice President of Zanzibar, Dr Omar Shajak  speaks at the national climate change and energy transition conference held in Dar es Salaam on October 20, 2022. The conference was organised by National Resource Governance Institute ahead of the COP27.

The 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference, more commonly referred to as Conference of the Parties (COP), is underway in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. This year’s COP has been branded as the African COP since it will be happening on the African continent.

Interestingly, this is not the first COP on the African continent (Africa has hosted other COPs before in Morocco, Durban and Nairobi) and if going by the precedent set by past COPs, climate change commitments and targets have never been honored especially by the world leading countries in terms of carbon emissions even after the Paris Agreement. In 2009 at COP15 developed nations pledged an annual contribution of 100bn to be delivered by 2020. At COP15 and COP16 developed nations pledged an annual contribution of USD100bln by 2020. These funds never came, and never came. This timeline was extended at COP26 to 2025.

In most cases the African political leadership was often disjointed in terms of a common position grounded on the realities of the continent’s people, livelihoods, and economies as the least contributors to the climate crisis.  Furthermore, the people’s voices and grievances are often excluded in the negotiations and processes thereafter. The net result has been a technical process which has led to a potentially slow but catastrophic climatic journey to oblivion, with Africa bearing the brunt of climate shocks and stress.

Economic diplomacy suggests, that one of the strategies of winning a negotiation is by determining the location and time.  In designing a winning negotiation strategy, choose a venue and time, which is convenient to you and may be difficult or inconvenient to your counterpart. Have the agenda split on multiple fronts and key meetings held at multiple places and make your already scarce counterpart’s delegation difficult to attend meaningfully in all. It appears this is the strategy already taken at COP27.

The costs at Sharm El Sheikh are too exorbitant for many African delegates. Moreover, the number of accredited delegates is too limited, and the accreditation badges are so scarce, which has reduced the number of African delegates even further. Going by this, the voice of Africa and many who cannot afford the costs at COP27, yet are most affected by climate change, may again be muted.

President Samia participates in a panel discussion at the COP27 conference in Egypt

With this experience and concern, six East and Southern African Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) (Natural Resources Governance Institute-NRGI, Publish What you Pay, Tax Justice Network Africa, Oxfam, Powershift Africa and Eco-News Africa)  mobilised interactive webinar series to learn and share common concerns around climate change and energy transition as they pertain to the African continent and its people. The resounding verdict is that this year’s COP must be a truly Africa COP!

Climate change is here, a just transition is not feasible without people

Despite being the smallest continental contributor to emissions, Africa faces the worst vagaries of climate change and energy transition risks. Previous IPCC reports indicate that Africa is experiencing more rises in temperatures and sea levels than anywhere else in the world. In the next decade, Africa will experience intense heat waves of up to 5 times more than ever recorded, more uncertain rainfall, droughts etc. Africa is facing significant total disruptions and mitigation and adaptation is required to reduce overall risks of climate change.

Currently, East and Horn of Africa is experiencing the worst drought in over 40 years, with between 22 million to 50 million facing starvation and over 3.4 million children already malnourished. The March to May rains were the lowest in 70 years which has resulted in multiple cycles of crop failure and loss of millions of livestock which are essential sources of livelihood.

For us, the potential risks of global warming and climate change are everywhere and daily risk that we face. With a total forest cover of about 7,13,789 sq km which is 21.71% -24.6% of the geographical area of the country, Tanzania is one of the largest remaining carbon sink. Tanzania’s forests contain more than 2,019 million metric tons of carbon in living forest biomass. Yet, it is estimated that between 1990 and 2010, Tanzania lost 19.4% of its forest cover, or around 8,067,000 ha. At this rate, we could lose half of our forest cover by 2030.

A sudden rise in the sea levels by around 3 feet is enough to partially submerge Zanzibar. National Geographic scientists estimate that the islands of Zanzibar and Mafia are likely to disappear under water by 2100 due to a rise in sea level triggered by global warming. Globally, sea level has risen about eight inches since the beginning of the 20th century and more than two inches in the last 20 years alone. Every year, the sea rises another .13 inches (3.2 mm.) New research published on February 15, 2022, shows that sea level rise is accelerating and projected to rise by a foot by 2050.

This year’s CoP27 on Climate Change and Energy Transition negotiations should be about people.  A just transition cannot be achieved if the majority already affected by climate change and are likely to be affected by the energy transition as a mitigation measure are not heard on the negotiation table.

Making technology available

Make climate change mitigation technologies available and affordable on the African continent. The unit cost of several low emission technologies has fallen since 2010 and innovation policy packages have also enabled the costs to go down.

Both innovation systems and policy packages have helped to overcome the distributional, environmental, and social impacts potentially associated with global diffusion of low technology. Unfortunately, this investment and technological advancement are not evenly distributed. They are scantier in less developed countries and Africa in general.

As that transition is happening, Africa is being left behind, but it is rushed and expected to catch up at a similar pace like its developed counter parts. Therefore, a just transition in real sense is required that allows or enables Africa to benefit in the ongoing climate change technological advancement.

Africa should not only be a market but also a producer of climate change mitigation technology. As a matter of essence and fairness, let production of these be based on the African continent to make use of existing technology input resources, adding values, and creating jobs.

Africa’s Oil and Gas

Support Africa to exploit its fossil resources in the short term as it gradually transitions. Africa has vast deposits of coal and is largely an emerging producer of oil and gas. It is evident that Africa will continue to rely on fossils such as oil and gas as a source of energy for a longer foreseeable future than its developed counterparts based on its energy poverty status and growing population. Africa is a small producer of oil and the question is whether new producers such as Uganda should go ahead. The answer perhaps lies in balancing the economics of the opportunity costs, the future markets and exploiting intra-regional trade to African markets which may remain reliant on oil for a longer future.

There are different views on the continent on the future of gas as a source of energy. The question often asked is whether gas can be described as ‘a clean’ fossil. Gas is considered a cleaner transition fossil as it emits 50% less carbon than oil and coal. It is therefore a better option as renewable energies mature technologically and economically to address the intermittence challenge.

The emerging African political leadership consensus appears to support the continued investment and use of gas as a transitional source of energy to bolster their energy mix plans to meet increasing energy demand required to propel Africa into the future. I argue for a balance that allows Africa to use its gas for development in the short term but is careful not to lock itself in unsustainable gas future.

Africa’s coal and transitioning future

Africa has vast deposits of coal. The recent and ongoing Russia-Ukraine war shows that despite earlier predictions, the use of thermal coal as a source of energy may now have a longer lifetime than earlier predicted, as European countries such as Germany plan to re-fire their coal plants as a way of diversifying away from reliance on Russian gas, meeting current energy demand and securing their future energy security. Globally, there has been an upsurge in the demand and prices for thermal coal reached above $400 per tonne up from $176 per tonne last year and around $75 in 2020. Europe is willing to pay more than twice the price for coal last year. This therefore gives Africa the opportunity to exploit and benefit in the short-term demand, with or without totally losing out and locking itself in a coal carbon future.

For coal-rich African countries such as Tanzania, the past few months have witnessed a record boom in coal exports. According to the Mining Commission and reported by Reuters, Tanzania expects to double its coal exports this year to around 696,773 tonnes while production is expected to increase by 50% to about 1,364,707 tonnes.  This could be a risky bet worth trying but the longterm future cannot be guaranteed.  The Ukraine war could accelerate transition in Europe. I would therefore advise countries such as Tanzania to use the windfall revenues collected from coal to invest in cleaner energy systems , and align the legal and policy framework towards phaseout. The developed countries should provide funding for gradual phaseout.

Africa’s transition Minerals and future we want

Africa’s transition minerals should drive economic prosperity and smooth domestic transition. Africa is endowed with vast deposits of minerals which are critical to the clean energy technology required in support of the energy transition and road to net zero. Africa produces less oil but more minerals. According to statistical data between 48% to 70% of cobalt (which is used in the manufacture of batteries for electric car vehicles and phones) and 4% of copper and 1% of lithium is found in the DRC. Tanzania, and Mozambique account for 45% of global graphite, with Tanzania alone ranked the 5th largest global reserve.

Africa has been the source of materials for global progress. Minerals in Africa have been largely a source of misery and death.  A just transition cannot be achieved if Africa’s Minerals are exploited to serve the technological advancement and energy security elsewhere. Africa’s resource rich countries should not be bystanders in this potential energy revolution. This time around we must be thinking about how to position itself, so it doesn’t find itself riddled with the resource curse which has bedevilled us for so long,

Peg Africa’s development on Africa Agenda 2063

Capping global warming at 1.5°C requires a significant phase down by almost a half from fossils to clean energy by 2030 and that global emissions reach net zero by 2050.

This is barely eight years from now and many African countries will not beat this deadline. Africa should not be bullied into energy transition. To have a just transition in Africa, governments and Africa people’s participation is critical in setting the agenda for the CoP27 negotiations and securing targets that are feasible. Listen to people’s concerns first.

Africa needs to develop or redefine its vision and mission on climate change and energy transition. This redefined vision may be slightly different from the global vision but aligned to Africa’s vision, needs and development determinant factors or drivers of development. For example, setting Africa’s energy transition targets to align with Agenda 2063 could plausible idea.

At government level, implementation of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans is critical and leveraging financing of the NDCs will be an essential game changer in turning the tide against climate change.

Harness Africa’s renewable energy future

 Africa’s potential for renewable energy is limitless even with the existing modest technology and investment in place. Its photovoltaic energy potential, for example, could lead to electric production of around 660,000 kilowatts per hour, which is an enormous amount of energy for the Eastern and Southern African region. Solar and wind maps and atlases exist. This includes blue economy maps, which have been developed in countries such as Kenya, South Africa, and Zanzibar, among others.  As such, the potential for job creation in this sector is enormous.

Despite this potential, Africa is still lagging in solar and wind energy generation and use compared to other developed countries with the continent’s total solar and wind power generation far lower than the state of California in the United States alone.

Going by current data, Africa is and could remain a perpetual bystander in renewable energy technology. As noted earlier, clean energy technology is non-existent on the continent with Africa still a net importer of clean energy equipment such as solar panels and wind turbines. For Africa to benefit, investment in technologies and the production of equipment must be done within the continent.

So far no African country has a single manufacturing plant for solar panels or wind turbines. Africa is a consumer continent despite it being the largest continent endowed with solar potential on account of its location along the equator. Africa cannot be a perpetual importer of solar panels whether they are 1st generation, 2nd generation or 3rd generation. With tons of uranium mined from West Africa, no uranium or nuclear energy plant exists in West Africa. This bias and unfair economic imbalance, even within the climate change context, must be urgently addressed.

Financing Climate Change and the African transition

A just energy transition for Africa cannot be achieved without financing. There is sufficient liquidity and capital to finance climate change. In 2010 developed countries committed to provide USD100billion annually towards financing climate actions. Unfortunately, this promise has not been honoured and much is not reaching the African continent.  According to UN Africa Renewal Magazine of September 2022, to date, only $80 billion of the $100 billion per annum commitment by developed countries for developing countries by 2020 has been met. Of this, only around $20 billion was provided to Africa from 2016-2019.

Africa requires and faces acute shortage in access to energy. Around 759 million people in Africa still lack access to electricity. According to the UN Road Map to 2030, it requires only 35bln annually to bring electricity to the 759 million who lack it in Sub Saharan Africa. Indeed, with as low as USD 25 bln annually spent, can raise all 2.6bln people who have no access to electricity, yet we seem not to get this money. CoP27 should be where this stain of shame in the fight against climate change is put to an end.

Financing Africa’s climate change and energy transition pathways is mutually beneficial to both Africa and the developed world, as by virtue of its location and current low levels of emission, Africa so far is the largest existing carbon sink and buffer that so far can help save the globe.

Africa is not ready to finance a just transition because governments have a limited fiscal space to finance it due to debt servicing pressures and competing priorities for social expenditures. Developed countries must provide financing which was committed at all previous cops and follow by curbing illicit capital and financial out flows from Africa to enable the continent to use it to finance the transition.

For Africa to be ready for climate change and energy transition, there’s need to seal the existing financing loopholes that are facilitating for illicit financial flows to the tune of U$ 89 billion annually (according to the 2020 United Nations Conference Trade and Development report). This however shows that Africa could meet and exceed its financing gap of U$ 70 billion for renewable energy if these tax loopholes are closed.

As the delegates convene in Egypt, the developed countries who are the largest polluters and major causers of global warming should be accountable and compensate for the loss and damage that less developed countries such as Tanzania will suffer. They should provide technology which is required to harness clean energy such as solar capture and storage.

Give Africa the financial means and we will deliver on climate change. Provide us with cheap technology and we will deliver on renewable energy. Add value to our green minerals on the African continent so countries such as Tanzania, Zambia and DRC can share the benefits from our mining resources. Provide us with adequate timelines to catch up with you in development of our energy systems and most importantly listen to our voices at COP27 and we can collectively deliver on climate change and targets to net zero. Make COP27 a truly African COP!

The author is East Africa Regional Manager, Natural Resource Governance Institute (NRGI).