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Africa should unite on climate change to earn global respect

Kamotho Waiganjo
 President William Ruto  with other heads of state as he made the final address during the closing ceremony  of the Africa Climate Summit day 3 at the KICC grounds in Nairobi.  [Silas Otieno, Standard]

Like many non-attendants of the Africa Climate Summit, I relied on media reports for update on the goings on at the continental jamboree.

I was therefore concerned when most of the international media focussed on that portion of President William Ruto’s speech about the conference not being about North-South blame sharing but on jointly finding solutions.

I wondered if we had bought the western narrative on the subject. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to find this line had appeared in the midst of an expansive and honest depiction of the sad state of the climate debate with the issue of climate justice forming the core of the President’s speech and deliberations at the summit.

Like it or not, the climate debate has victims and perpetrators, and we must never shy of calling out the North for its untrammelled contamination of the environment to achieve its privileged status of development, from whence it now calls all of us, at little or no cost to itself, to jointly save the planet.

It is now an established cliché that Africa’s 17 per cent of the world’s population accounts for only 3 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions that cause damage to the environment.

Yet, Africa’s populations are the largest sufferers from an increasingly hostile climate with droughts, flooding and consequent famines and food scarcity having debilitating effects on its population, more so on its most vulnerable, women and children.

Consequently, any talk about Africa substituting its energy sources to clean energy to reduce its share of the carbon footprint is a cruel joke.

As the Barbados Prime Minister once put it, the West has been dumping garbage outside the yards of the developing world and then asking the latter to clean it up. What hypocrisy!

Yes, Africa needs to invest in clean energy for its own sake and sustainability, but the conversation must start first and foremost by dealing with ongoing consequences of the harmful activities in the North and increasingly by emergent economies of China and India.

The final declaration of the summit summed it up well. Climate change financing agreed way back in 2009 and the Loss and Damage Fund agreed in Sharm El Sheikh in COP27, must be operationalised before the next summit.

While the commitments in Nairobi were heartening, sceptics will remember that each climate conference has ended with commitments, yet many remain woefully unfulfilled.

There needs to be funding for adaptation in view of the changed climate circumstances. While Africa must align its policies to adaptive farming methods, learning from traditional farming methods and investing in research on climate resilient crops among other interventions, there must be recognition that these adaptations cost, and the weight of debt has grossly reduced Africa’s margins for investments into adaptive technologies and methods.

The punishing debt crisis calls for debt relief, or at the minimum, a debt pause, if Africa is to be the solution to the climate crisis. The West needs to write, not a pity cheque, but one to clear the garbage they dispensed outside our houses.

Nairobi summit was important in ensuring Africa speaks in one voice in these matters. Previous conferences have evidenced disparate voices that enabled the developed world to divide and conquer, thus avoid living up to any serious commitments. One hopes not anymore.

As one activist proposed, the continent should send one continental delegation to present one combined case at COP28. At the minimum, this would point to the contradiction of gross carbon emissions emanating from numerous delegations flying to the conference venue to merely restate the same complaints and pledges.

Coming soon after the BRICS conference in South Africa, where setting up of a fairer international financing architecture was agreed, the Nairobi summit sends a message that it cannot be business as usual.

Kudos to President Ruto for putting the summit together. Africa’s days of mourning instead of demanding justice must come to an end.

Of course, the value of such summit will be enhanced if Africa stands on its feet where it has capacity, including using its meagre resources prudently. Then it can get the world’s respect when it says enough! Punda amechoka.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court of Kenya

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