COP Returns to Africa Have the Wrong Chickens Come Home to Roost?

Regardless of Egypt’s motivations or whether or not COP 27 is ‘African’, the vast majority of the consequences wrought by the climate crisis, are. Africa, therefore, needs to confront the crisis head-on.

The 27th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), which has come to be known as the ‘African COP’, will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt from 6–18 November 2022. This is the first time in six years that the COP will happen in Africa. 

The event will see ministers and officials from prominent UN and multilateral agencies coming together with over 1,000 delegates from 42 African countries. Since 1995, COPs have been the primary avenue for negotiations surrounding climate change and the climate crisis. So crucial have the conferences been that, ten years after their inception, they gave birth to the 2015 Paris Agreement. The Agreement—which strives for the herculean task of substantially reducing the emission of greenhouse gases to keep global warming ‘well below 2° C’, with the lofty preference of 1.5 degrees Celsius—is the first binding agreement that commits all nations to taking concrete steps to address climate change. 

THE ROAD TO COP27

A key concern ahead of the African COP was raised at the 2022 African Climate Week in Gabon. On 29 August 2022, the commonwealth secretary-general, Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, noted that the effects of climate change are such that existing inequalities in Africa, including social, political, and economic inequalities, are amplified. According to Baroness Scotland, this is due to the fact that climate change is a ‘threat multiplier’. Indeed, as climate campaigners continue to stress, Africa accounts for just 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  But despite Africa’s comparatively low impact in this area—with China contributing an alarming 30 per cent; the US, 15 per cent; and the EU nine per cent—Africans, as the commonwealth secretary-general highlighted, continue to bear the brunt of the climate crisis. 

In the time leading up to COP27, many in the West have questioned whether Egypt can become ‘Africa’s climate champion’ given its high utilization of fossil fuels. Some, like Quartz reporter, Tim McDonnell, have even gone as far as citing Egypt’s ‘bloody revolutionist history as a means of casting further doubt on Egypt’s ability and suitability as the host of COP27. Still others, such as Amnesty International, have stated that Egypt is using COP27 and the climate crisis as a red herring, to ‘overshadow’ the human rights crisis that is currently plaguing the country. However, no matter how valid these doubts may appear, Egypt is still the ‘tallest dwarf’ amongst its Western GHG-emitting counterparts. Furthermore, the West has its own ‘bloody revolutionist history’ and human rights crises to contend with. 

The Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, has been explicit about the reasoning behind Egypt’s move to host COP27 in Sharm el Sheikh; a move he highlighted as a key indication of Egypt’s interest in climate change. ‘We must think about the losses incurred by developing countries,’ al-Sisi insisted, ‘especially small countries in African countries. It is important that we think about doing more in terms of financing, as richer countries should play a bigger role regarding climate change.’

AFRICA’S ACTION PLAN

What can be surmized is that developed countries in the Americas, Asia and the Pacific, and Europe, with hefty GHG emissions, have already placed a disproportionate burden on developing countries in Africa, despite their negligible contribution to GHG emissions. The truth therefore remains that, regardless of Egypt’s motivations or whether or not COP27 is ‘African’, the vast majority of the consequences wrought by the climate crisis, are. Africa, therefore, needs to confront the crisis head-on.  

To this point, president-designate of COP27, Sameh Shoukry, who is also Egypt’s minister of foreign affairs, stated at Africa Climate Week that: 

As we prepare for COP27, this week is opportune to articulate Africa’s priorities for reducing emissions, building transformative adaptation, accessing appropriate finance and addressing loss and damage. The disproportionate responsibility placed on Africa, which contributes less than 4 per cent of the world’s energy-related emissions but faces serious consequences to the lives and livelihood of its people, cannot be described as anything but climate injustice. We need bold and collective actions built on the principle of equity. Egypt’s COP27 Presidency is committed to ensuring that no one is left behind.

Even though issues pertaining to developing countries feature high up on the COP27 agenda, this does not automatically mean that African climate issues will be addressed thoroughly and effectively. Africa Climate Week provided an opportunity for African leaders to come together and consolidate Africa’s priorities ahead of COP27. Come COP27, there needs to be a clear focus on African priorities. African leaders need to ensure that these priorities are a driving force behind the dialogue and negotiations at COP27.

SIGNED, SEALED AND YET, UNDELIVERED

Last year’s COP26 in Glasgow saw that developed countries had fallen short of their promise to deliver climate finance to the tune of $100 billion a year to developing countries. Even though the developed countries expressed confidence in a report that this target would be met by 2023, investigations carried out by Oxfam show that this has not been the case. Rich countries are reportedly using dishonest and inaccurate means of accounting to inflate their climate finance contributions to developing countries. Oxfam found that there was a $60 billion discrepancy between the value of climate finance reported, and the ‘true value’ received by developing countries—a third of what developed countries confirm receipt of. Worse still, according to Oxfam’s international climate policy lead, Nafkote Dabi:

Our global climate finance is a broken train: drastically flawed and putting us at risk of reaching a catastrophic destination. There are too many loans indebting poor countries that are already struggling to cope with climatic shocks. There is too much dishonest and shady reporting. The result is the most vulnerable countries remaining ill-prepared to face the wrath of the climate crisis.

The above being considered, the focus on the location of COP27 and Egypt’s ethical and moral suitability to host it, is in fact, the true red herring that Amnesty International was all too eager to detect. The real measure of whether this COP is an African COP will be the extent to which African climate issues are prioritized and addressed at the conference. Despite the developed countries’ gross emissions of GHG, and the devastating effects of climate change on Africans, who are the least responsible for global GHG emissions, there exists an unwillingness on the part of developed countries to fund the solutions they themselves helped propose through discussions on the implementation of the 2005 Paris Agreement during COP26. The outcomes of COP27, if any, will tell if, once again, African countries will be abandoned in the fight against climate change

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