Africa Climate Summit: Ruto triumphs in quest to reinvent continent

Hosted by Kenya and the African Union Commission, the first-ever summit of its kind brought together several heads of state and government, diplomats, civil society organizations, United Nations agencies, youth and women's groups, indigenous peoples, and climate experts from all over. It was a who's who of the climate-conscious.

President William Ruto, who has made the climate issue a key pillar of his administration's agenda, basked in the afterglow of the summit.

"During this action-focused summit, various stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, multilateral banks and philanthropists, have made substantial commitments totalling a remarkable $23 billion for green growth, mitigation and adaptation efforts across Africa," said the President.

Crucially, African leaders united in a powerful declaration, highlighting their determination to tackle pressing issues. They underscored the urgency of reducing emissions and achieving Paris Agreement targets, called for the promised $100 billion in annual climate finance, and emphasized transitioning away from fossil fuels.

The summit's outcomes emphasized green growth, renewable energy, and the preservation of vital natural resources. It demonstrated Africa's readiness to lead in climate action, fostering optimism for a sustainable and resilient future on the continent and beyond.

The summit also witnessed the participation of several global players, among them the US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry, Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, and Antonio Guterres, Secretary-General of the United Nations.

The leaders lauded President Ruto's move to pass the Climate Change (Amendment) Bill which underscores Kenya's commitment to addressing climate change. UN Secretary-General Guterres called on large emitters, responsible for 80% of emissions, to assume their responsibilities in the global climate effort.

"Here from a low emitting continent, Africa, I make a very strong appeal to the large emitters, the G20 countries responsible for 80% of the emissions to assume responsibility," he said.

As an attendee, given the sheer number of delegates involved (30,000 according to Soipan Tuya, the Cabinet Secretary for Environment, Climate Change and Forestry), I was impressed with just how well organized, smooth, and efficient everything was at the venue. After its first facelift in over five decades, every inch of the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) was ready for primetime.

President William Ruto rides the first Kenyan electric vehicle, Autopax, AirEv YETU, during the Africa Climate Summit. [PCS, Standard]

The anti-colonial references were on heavy supply. On the morning of the first day, the summit was the subject of a well-attended protest held by indigenous communities and civil society activists who accused organizers of allowing its agenda to be hijacked by Western nations, powerful consulting firms, and big oil, the colloquial term used to describe the largest and most influential players in the petroleum industry.

The sense of betrayal and unmet expectations at the heart of the protest didn't dissipate over the course of the summit. In fact, speaking just hours after the stately unveiling of the Nairobi Declaration by President Ruto and other worthies from across the continent on the third and final day, a group of African civil society organisations was quick to term its language and contents as a missed opportunity:

"When there is an Africa Climate Summit, we expect them to speak the language that represents our interests, not to sell-out and give the summit to people who are responsible for this climate crisis in the first place," said Joab Okanda, a self-described climate and racial justice advocate.

Dean Bhekumuzi Bhebhe, a co-facilitator of Don't Gas Africa, a campaign led by African civil society to ensure that African countries pursue a greener path to economic prosperity supplied a useful analogy to convey their displeasure:

"Africa has been sick for a very long time as a result of climate change and we finally had an opportunity to visit the doctor and when we did no prescription was given, instead we were given painkillers as a temporary fix," he said.

Perversely, as acknowledged by Adow, one of the summit's main achievements might be how it has rallied previously disunited factions to come together in the interest of ensuring Africa doesn't get the short end of the stick in the scramble to find solutions to the climate emergency:

"The first ever African Climate Summit has awoken the sleeping giant that is the African climate movement. But the outcome of the summit itself is like a man dying of thirst in the Sahara Desert and being offered only his own urine."

As the Africa Climate Summit came to a close, thoughts turned to the future. Set to take place from 30 November to 12 December in Dubai, COP28 looms on the horizon. H.E. Shamma Al Mazrui, the UAE's Minister of Community Development, offered a glimpse of what's to come, emphasizing youth inclusion and the creation of a dedicated youth climate champion pavilion.

The summit concluded with a sense of hope and determination, as nations, organizations, and individuals came together to address the pressing issue of climate change. The seeds of climate optimism have been sown in Nairobi, the world now waits to see them flourish in Dubai and beyond.