Expert view: 5 Takeaways from Africa Climate Week 2022

Overview

Our Development Reimagined team joined more than 1,200 delegates at the recent UN Africa Climate Week (ACW) in Libreville, Gabon. Over the course of several days we listened to expert panels, engaged with key stakeholders, and gained a deeper understanding of the major climate-related challenges facing African countries in the run up to COP27 in Egypt this November.

Development Reimagined also worked to facilitate key discussions and provide innovate solutions to tackle climate change on the continent. During our side event ‘Green Banking in Africa – the Reality and the Need’, which we co-hosted with the African Climate Foundation (ACF) and Environmental Defence Fund Europe (EDF), we challenged existing financial frameworks and brainstormed how these can be restructured to stimulate green growth across the continent.

Having now reflected on our experiences at ACW 2022, we can highlight five major issues that were central to discussions in Libreville. These issues give us an important insight into the upcoming COP27 in Egypt, also referred to as Africa’s COP, and what key issues African stakeholders will no doubt bring to the table.

Just Transition

At a separate forum organized by the African Development Bank and the African Climate Foundation (ACF), experts therein spoke on the imperative need for African countries to develop unique strategies for implementing a just energy transition. The forum was titled The Just Transition in the African Context and was hosted on the side-lines of the Africa Climate Week event. The senior advisor on climate diplomacy, Faten Aggad spoke on the importance of patience as per securing consensus for the so-called Just Transition, reason being to ensure inclusivity. According to reporting by Nigeria’s ThisDayLive, she also highlighted the issues hindering scale, because of gaps between financing commitments and disbursements, although the energy transitions could be possible at household levels.

The newly launched Just Transition Initiative is supported by the Climate Investment Funds and is currently focused on building consensus for a working definition of a just transition that can be implemented properly. In addressing the wider issues preventing the implementation of a just energy transition, Hind Chawki – the head of environmental, social and corporate governance, global credit markets, Africa/Pakistan, Standard Chartered – posited that the global health crisis event complicated the implementation of the initiative and in many African countries, the rising inflation and debt further prevented actions its actualization.

Still on the subject of Just transition – the main question still revolves around the initiative’s application to other countries, there is also the focus on development potential with focus on energy and access to gas. Furthermore, it is crucial that conversations and commitments should be more on value addition, manufacturing of green goods/renewables, a subject that is currently underfunded and of little organizational focus. As far as commitments go, the World Economic Forum reported on the government of Kenya’s intention to be powered entirely by green energy by 2020. The fact that the target was not met, it is a clear demonstration of the shortcomings of the climate debate and lack of willingness to confront and eliminate changes. Another factor of interest at ACW was the lack of emphasis on industrialization and developing manufacturing capabilities. JT conversations also need to consider social and economic impacts of such transitions etc. Also recognizing that the just transition framework that is proposed is asking African countries to do something that has never been done before, without promises or sufficient financing. But this also gives countries the opportunity to decide what JT means in different contexts etc. As we saw in the Development Reimagined’s recent analysis ‘Bolstering Africa’s Strategic Climate Change Engagement with China’, African countries have pretty good GHG emissions reduction targets considering that emissions from the continent are overall extremely low. And just transitioning to RE is only a small part of a much bigger picture. It’s a really disjointed conversation.

Nature-based Solutions

On the aspect of nature-based solutions especially through forestry and so-called carbon markets, there is the understanding of the technical and visionary posture of these proposed solutions. With the link to debt swaps and other financial instruments, there are many international partners seeking opportunities to key in. On the other hand, African representation seems more focused on promoting the idea and trading commodities without much plans on how to shape the market, control prices, or even capture it. There should be more focus around the type of available incentives connected to the activities. Conversely, there is the valid question as to whether the need for financial incentives are problematic in and of themselves, meaning, why must there be financial incentive to execute something for public benefit such as generating accessible cheap and accessible energy for people in countries around Africa.

Moving to the matter of financing, Davinah Milenge, principal programme coordinator in the AfDB’s Climate Change Department spoke on the importance of the Africa NDC hub and its role in allowing the delivery of commitments with efficiency and at scale. She also cited the Desert to Power initiative as a holistic strategy to encourage growth, inclusivity, and regional integration. The initiative is intended to add 10Gw of solar generation capacity for electricity provision to roughly 250 million people in 11 countries of the Sahel by 2030.

Adaptation and Loss and Damage

A crucial subject tackled through the African Climate Week (ACW) was on solutions to climate related environmental damage and loss. Also, there was as expected, various forum on ways to adapt solutions to different contexts. Conversely, as new funds were being created and announced by organizations like the International Monetary Fund, and the African Development Bank, discussions did not approach the subject of reparations and also there was the tendency to conflate L&D financing with adaptation financing. There was also attention imbalance, because higher income countries were lauded for announcing their commitments to so-called ‘net-zero’ pledges, a term which has been critiqued as subtle permission allowing heavy industry to avoid changing core destructive practices because of mutual investment in restorative practices. Alternatively, no cover was given to the African countries that have also committed to ambitious adaptation plans with percentages of their GDP allocated to said plans.

The Africa Adaptation Summit was held in the same context as the ACW in Gabon, only difference being that it occurred in Rotterdam. With little attention from European media and governments alike, the event which was supposed to address Africa’s exposure to the impacts of climate shock, was attended by one western head of state the Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte. The AU head Macky Sall took the opportunity to lambast the dismal attendance, saying ‘I cannot fail to note with a touch of bitterness the absence of the industrialized world’, further emphasizing ‘these countries are the main polluters of our planet and it is they who should finance adaptation.’

President Tshisekedi of the DRC echoed the AU Chief’s sentiment adding, ‘the African continent has the smallest impact on climate change but paradoxically suffers the majority of its consequences.

Public Financing

On the issue of financing, there is no doubt that the private sector has a big role in making mobilising and providing financing for the transition. Our side event, ‘Green Banking in Africa – the Reality and the Need’, explored how both African institutions and external partners must act to scale up green banking on the continent. This included a discussion on how various external financial structures and old business models need to be reimagined in order for this scale up to truly happen.

Already the Africa Development Bank is leading on developing green banks across the region to provide local, specialised finance facilities ready to invest in sustainable projects. Meanwhile the Africa Cities Water Adaptation Fund and the Africa Forests Restoration fund are blending both private and public funding by investing in projects and offering grants for analytical support to develop action plans for African cities. Standard Chartered bank has set aside $300 billion dollars of sustainable financing in Asia and Africa. Additionally, UNECA’s Director for technology suggested as a means of improving financing, that Nationally Determined Contributions should be added to national budgets thereby being positioned for priority funding.

It is widely accepted that there is need for concessional finance and regional finance programs geared towards improving logistics, thinking of the effective and continued application and adaptation of the AfCFTA. There was also the overall sense that concrete commitments to support finance project were not going to materialise. Indeed, through most of the ACW, there was hardly any forum that dealt with debt as anything other than a ‘risk’ or ‘burden’ to financially vulnerable countries. There was a stark scarcity of those that tackled the quality of existing debt and strategies for freeing up financing. The Africa Climate Week also exposed that there needs to be more of a productive conversation around harmful international financing frameworks.

Another issue where there was consensus that the aforementioned “Just Transition” cannot be looked at as merely an energy issue, but a socioeconomic problem as well. H.E. Wamkele Mene, Secretary General of the African Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat, emphasized the need “to unlock long-term, climate resilient development in order to operationalise and boost intra African trade in a manner that contributes to climate-positivity.” Furthermore, Prof. Lee White echoed a point made by President Ali Bongo Ondimba earlier during the ACW “let Africa lead on climate issues, the continent has a lot to offer.”

Private Financing

Without much surprise, there was much push for private financing initiatives especially on matters around ‘de-risking and creating bankable products.’ At the same time there was the consensus by representatives of financial power blocs that African debt is expensive. Furthermore, there is the understanding that any commitments to mobilise capital may still be redirected to the traditional areas. There was a lot of rhetoric from various advocates of rapid action and the need for immediate financing but not much on how it is to be done or achieved. Additionally, there should be deep consideration to how African countries need to fit in a new and balanced mould. There should be the focus on improving and highlighting access to available opportunities in private financing.

A highlight session at the ACW was hosted by partners of the Africa Nationally Determined Contribution hub (NDCs) and was titled Enabling faster and efficient NDC support through advocacy and partnerships. Partners included the African Union Commission and the African Development Bank among others. For clarity, the NDC hubs are a collaborative platform for partners to leverage strengths with the aim of supporting African countries to deliver their targets in time and efficiently. Interestingly, Prof. Lee White Gabon’s Minister of Water, Forest, the Sea and Environment used the opportunity to stress that as timber constitutes one of Gabon’s key sectors, it should not be embargoed because it is certified, and produced in a legal and sustainable manner.

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