Published: 16:59, January 2, 2024 | Updated: 16:59, January 2, 2024
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Africa seeks to make climate needs known on global stage
By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya

Experts want continent to focus on sustainable farming while it grapples with extreme weather events

Children of the Turkana tribe go down a well to fetch water in northern Kenya on Feb 17, 2023 as climate change in East Africa causes the worst drought in its history. (PHOTO / REUTERS)

In the year following Africa's hosting of the 27th United Nations climate summit, more commonly referred to as COP27, held in Egypt in 2022, the continent has endured a run of lethal and unprecedented extreme weather events.

In September, Libya hit global headlines when Storm Daniel made landfall, causing severe weather conditions, including strong winds and sudden heavy rainfall that affected several areas in the country. Massive floodings killed more than 4,300 people, and more than 8,500 are still missing, according to the United Nations Children's Fund.

Even though Libya's floods were among the few African climate extremes that made global headlines last year, many other deadly and life-threatening events in Africa failed to gain international news coverage.

The Horn of Africa has seen almost three years of some of the worst drought conditions in history, said the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, a global provider of early warning and analysis on acute food insecurity. Ethiopia and Somalia have experienced five failed rainy seasons since late 2020, which have displaced 1.4 million Somalis and killed 3.8 million livestock.

This period of extreme drought was followed by the El Nino-induced heavy rains and flash flooding that killed hundreds in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia last year, the United Nations said. The deluge swamped more than 1,000 hectares of cropland in Ethiopia and Somalia, challenging the agricultural economies in the two countries where more than 65 percent of the population relies on farming and much of the region's farmland relies on rainfall for irrigation.

Kilion Nyambuga, a research and planning expert involved in the resettlement of slum dwellers in Kenya, said Africa is responsible for only a fraction of global emissions but is suffering disproportionately from climate change.

"The fact that Africa is continuously facing the extreme effects of climate change despite the continent's low emissions is harming food security, ecosystems and economies while fueling displacement, migration and worsening the threat of conflict over dwindling resources," he said.

Emissions of carbon dioxide per person in Africa in 2021 were 1.04 metric tons, standing in stark contrast to the global average, which is more than four times as high, said a report published by the World Meteorological Organization in September.

The report, called "State of the Climate in Africa 2022", said the rate of temperature increase across Africa has accelerated in recent decades, with weather and climate-related hazards becoming more severe. Yet, financing for climate adaptation is a drop in the ocean of what is needed.

Nyambuga said the global approach, which seems fixated on mitigation, neglects Africa's pressing need for adaptation financing and loss and damage compensation. The decision by African countries to host the inaugural Africa Climate Summit in Kenya's capital Nairobi in September 2023, was timely and "a plus for the African Union", he said.

Alex Mugambi, chair of the Environmental Institute of Kenya, said the African Climate Summit was a success, highlighting the adoption of the Nairobi Declaration, a comprehensive document that outlines Africa's vision, priorities, and demands for climate action and finance.

"The declaration call was a win for Africa for calling for a new global financial deal with fit-for-purpose financing instruments and products to serve Africa's specific growth goals," Mugambi said.

Disproportionate financing

"The declaration also shed light on the disproportionate global climate change financing system by urging developed countries to honor their commitment to provide $100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020 and increase their ambition and support for adaptation, mitigation, technology transfer and capacity building in Africa."

Nyambuga said the Africa Climate Summit also drew attention to local African solutions in combating climate change, adding that previous focus on local solutions generated by native communities had been inadequate.

As global delegates gathered in the United Arab Emirates in November for the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, African experts have said the forum produced a range of outcomes that may help to scale up efforts to invest in clean energy, mitigate climate change damage and accelerate the development of carbon markets.

People wade through a flooded street following heavy rain in Mombasa, Kenya, on Nov 17, 2023. The Horn of Africa experienced intense rainfall and flash flooding linked to El Nino at the end of last year. (PHOTO / REUTERS)

A key priority for the African continent heading into COP28 was to bring the loss and damage fund into operation, said Hardi Yakubu, movement coordinator of Africans Rising For Unity, Justice, Peace& Dignity, a pan-African civil society movement. This fund was agreed in principle at the previous summit as a vehicle to help low-income countries that are most exposed to climate change impacts, and was featured prominently in the Nairobi Declaration.

The financial commitments announced by several countries at COP28, with pledges totaling more than $700 million, reflect a glimmer of hope for developing countries, said Yakubu, a climate activist from Ghana.

"The first round of pledges will clearly be insufficient to support countries in Africa and around the world on the front line of the climate crisis. However, the success of this fund will depend on the speed and scale at which funds start flowing to people in need," he said.

Another area that received much attention at COP28 was Africa's contribution to the voluntary carbon market, he said. This market provides a route for Africa to financially benefit from its natural resources and assets which remove carbon from the atmosphere and provide other environmental services to the planet.

"COP28 achieved good progress toward realizing the win-win opportunities from the carbon markets. Africa is poised to benefit from a maturation of the carbon market over the next 18 months," Yakubu said.

Mugambi said all is not lost for Africa as the continent steps up efforts to make its climate needs known.

In addition to demanding climate compensation, he said African policymakers can create an enabling environment for green ventures that invest in research, innovation and education, as well as for promoting public-private partnerships and fostering collaboration across governments, businesses and local communities.

"Africa should prioritize transitioning to sustainable agriculture, which currently contributes about 17 percent to sub-Saharan Africa's GDP. Embracing organic farming, precision agriculture and agroforestry are some of the approaches that can enhance productivity while minimizing negative impacts on ecosystems," he said.

"Africa can also become a trailblazer in renewable energy solutions, with abundant solar, wind, hydro, biomass and geothermal resources that may contribute to an increase in the continent's GDP. Ocean renewable energy is another vast untapped resource for Africa."

Addressing challenges

Nonetheless, other experts have argued that despite Africa being one of the major victims of global warming, its countries must not forgo addressing their specific challenges in poverty alleviation and development. In other continents, they said, such development has often been fueled by the utilization of oil and gas resources.

Exploiting Africa's newly discovered fossil fuels will lead to new jobs and business opportunities, Nyambuga said. In addition, successful exploration on the continent will attract further investment, leading to a rise in employment across many industries and accelerated economic growth for oil-rich African countries.

"The global approach should not be fixated on mitigation while ignoring Africa's pressing need for earning revenue through its resources as others did before. The demand for greater consideration of Africa's needs will do nothing if African governments are not pulling in the same direction. Africans must approach climate change with a united voice, representing all the continent's people, and making their case clearly and firmly," Nyambuga said.