COP27: What are Africa’s priorities as the world gathers in Egypt?

In just a few days, Africa will host the 27th session of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change, for the fifth time since 1995. The meeting, set to take place in the Egyptian city of Sharm-El-Sheikh and nicknamed ‘The African COP’, has placed the African continent right at the head of the table, to lead the discussions on climate change.

And as the clock ticks in the countdown to the Egypt meeting (COP 27), stakeholders in the climate space are busy with various activities to prepare the continent for the task ahead. Kenya says it has taken the 175 agenda items before the COP and grouped them into 11 categories, which form the country position.

“One of our priority areas as a country will be the recognition of Africa as a continent with special needs and circumstances because the way we suffer climate change is not the way other continents do,” Environment PS Chris Kiptoo said at a briefing meeting with Kenya’s delegation.

“We are talking about balancing the scale. Who is contributing more to the greenhouse gas effect in the globe?” Soipan Tuya said in her first interview as Environment Cabinet Secretary as the leader of the Kenyan delegation

“What is their responsibility? I think they need to take some responsibility against those of us, Kenya and the Africa region, who are contributing the least but yet the loss and damage is of untold levels,” she said.

Matters of adaptation, mitigation, and the source of funds that will enable the country climate proof itself are also top on Kenya’s agenda. And, though the global goal on climate finance has been set at US$100 billion, a recent report indicates that Africa’s funding needs are in excess of one trillion dollars.

Kenya alone needs US$63 billion in order to build the citizen’s adaptive capacity to the changing climate.

Kenya however will not be negotiating as an individual country. Barely any country does. Oftentimes, countries band together to push an agenda. Kenya is part of the African Group – led by the Africa Group of Negotiators – and the G77 and China. This means that Kenya’s position must be aligned with the priorities of both the AGN and the G77 and China.

In March this year, Nairobi played host to a meeting that brought together several groups of people from across the African continent, who voice the continent’s concerns and issues at the UN Climate Change table. This group of people is known as the Africa Group of Negotiators (AGN).

The AGN’s responsibility is to collect views from across the continent, documenting the impact of climate change on the African people, what it will take for the people to survive and what resources are needed to protect the continent from further impacts.

These views are what are presented at the UN climate meeting, also known as the Conference of Parties (COP). This collection of views is what happened at the Nairobi meeting.

“What happens next is that the document we have proposed here will now go to all the 55 national focal points in each African country so that they see if the document we have produced here is in line with their national circumstances and positions,” said Dr. George Wamukoya, the team leader of the Africa Group of Negotiators said. “Once that is done, if there are no objections, it becomes the common Africa position.” Dr. Wamukoya was speaking on the sidelines of the AGN Nairobi meeting.

So how exactly do the negotiations work? Julius Mbatia, a climate activist and a negotiator explains.

“The multilateral system is built on a common understanding among countries. Countries we call them parties. The parties agree on the principles around sustaining the planet, for example, to make sure that we maintain global temperatures within livable limits. These parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) get to meet on a yearly basis. We call these meetings the Conference of Parties. The negotiations are a give-and-take. You don’t always get everything you want. Sometimes, depending on how the negotiations go, you get nothing.”

The African continent contributes just about 4% of carbon emissions that cause global warming, yet it suffers some of the worst impacts of climate change.

Prolonged drought, floods, and heatwaves are now frequent across the continent. Kenya, for example, along with the greater horn of Africa, is in the grip of the worst drought experienced in 40 years, affecting at least 13 million people across the region.

Hundreds of heads of livestock have died as a result. Wildlife too was not spared, as Kenya reports having lost at least 70 elephants to the drought. About two million heads of livestock have also been lost.

In light of these impacts, the AGN says Africa’s main agenda at COP 27 will be to push for increased financing for loss and damage, as compensation for suffering consequences of problems the continent did not cause.

“We have to be paid for experiencing this kind of disaster. The number of conflicts arising in Africa is mainly a cause of climate change,” Dr. Million Belay said in an interview on the sidelines of the AGN meeting. He is the coordinator at the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA).

“As the drought gets worse, food and water become scarce, and we have documented cases of communities clashing over scarce resources. That’s a direct outcome of climate change, and that in itself makes climate change a security threat,” he said.

The ability of the continent to adapt to the changing climate (by doing things such as climate-smart agriculture) has always been a matter of great concern because it often requires money, which the continent does not have. Kenya for example says it requires 65 billion dollars each year over the next 15 years, to finance adaptation activities and give Kenyans a fighting chance against climate change. This desire to build the resilience of the continent to survive is why adaptation will also be high up on Africa’s COP 27 agenda.

“This COP happening in Africa is one that already the COP leadership has termed the adaptation COP. This adaptation COP is one that the entire region has to rally behind, it has the leeway to clarify the framing around adaptation, including delivering adaptation financing to communities,” said Julius Mbatia.

“COP27 should be the ‘Adaptation COP’. It needs to deliver an elaborate outline of elements for the global goal of adaptation,” added Mohammed Adow, the Director of PowerShift Africa.

“The climate finance promises made in Copenhagen in 2009 and again in the Paris Agreement are unequivocal, and must be delivered. COP27 should result in a clear call to developed countries to scale up annual financing in the period 2021-2025, with a minimum of US$ 100 billion per year, and accelerate the implementation of the Climate Finance Delivery Plan,” he added.

But, even the best-laid plans are not without fault. Oftentimes, the Africa Group of Negotiators has been criticized for deviating from the continent’s agenda and allowing individual country interests to supersede the African Position.

“I disagree. The Africa Group of Negotiators is seen as one of the most united and forceful groups within the UNFCCC process. Of course, there may be some individual countries that veer off the continental position but overall, the AGN has maintained strong unity and has always advocated for and presented Africa’s issues with one voice. The African common position is not just led by the technical people. There is also a political angle to it. So we have a committee of African heads of state on climate change. This is a high-level body that sometimes takes over the negotiations and pushes the African agenda forward, said Dr. Kwame Ababio, the programs officer for the African Union.

“Despite the best efforts of African countries to move their priority issues forward towards having concrete outcomes to create momentum towards a more ambitious implementation of the Convention and the Paris Agreement, the interventions and climate policies in place across the world will not keep climate heating within the limits that governments agreed in Paris,” Mohammed Adow said.

“Developed countries have continued to shrug off accepting their historical responsibility, laid the foundations for a “great escape” from leading in undertaking rapid and ambitious emissions reductions that they have long been obligated to under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement, and are increasingly shifting that obligation to developing countries,” he added.

But despite the challenges, the continent says surviving climate change must remain a priority, and women and youth was given a voice to bring solutions to the table. This is why Kenya’s position prioritizes adaptation over mitigation.

President William Ruto will be leading Kenya’s delegation for the first few days of the COP where he will address the presidential summit on behalf of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change, which he chairs. After that, Environment CS Soipan Tuya will take over as head of the delegation until the end of the COP.

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