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Will COP27 address Africa’s climate issues, loss and damage compensation?

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REUTERS/Feisal Omar – Dhicis Guray, an internally displaced Somali man, attends to the carcass of his dead livestock following severe droughts near Dollow, Gedo Region, Somalia May 26, 2022.

By Ekaterina Blinova

Heads of state, industry leaders, climate activists, and civil society representatives are due to meet at the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) on November 6 in Egypt. Africa is expected to be the focus of the conference.

“It is expected that this year’s climate conference will review the gaps in climate change efforts and develop concrete strategies to help countries live up to their commitments,” Botti Isaac, a Nigerian social commentator and political analyst, told Sputnik. “Realistic plans need to be made particularly around climate finance – programs of financing should be developed. They should be deliberate about what investment plans are put forward and minimum commitment should be extracted in this regard. Achievable action plans and timelines should be reached with realistic mechanisms. International financial institutions should earmark resources to finance climate actions.”

COP27, the fifth climate conference hosted in Africa, will last for nearly two weeks in the Egyptian coastal city of Sharm el-Sheikh. It will mark the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the UNFCCC, an international environmental treaty to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system.” It was signed by 154 states in June 1992, calling for scientific research, regular meetings, and negotiations to adapt to climate change and ensure the world’s sustainable development.

The 1997 Kyoto Protocol, the first effort to implement UNFCCC policies, was followed by the 2016 Paris Agreement, with the COP meeting annually to assess progress in dealing with climate change. Both the Kyoto protocol and successive Paris accords have repeatedly come under criticism for either delivering “too little, too late” or hamstringing development and undermining national economies.

“Nothing concrete has changed despite all the talks and debates around addressing the climate crisis,” argued Isaac. “From the Kyoto protocol to the Paris Agreement, governments of the world have pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and [limit] global temperature to 1.5C. To achieve this, it is expected that greenhouse gas emissions will be cut by 45%, but currently all the combined efforts have only resulted in cutting gas emissions by 1%. So, what we are seeing can best be described as paying lip service to the spirit of the agreement.”

One of the most pressing issues has long been the problem of the lack of responsibility and the lack of a mechanism to make countries meet the obligations they assume.

“This has been a problem since 2009 when the 1997 Kyoto Protocol – which did have binding provisions – was replaced in Copenhagen by Obama’s deal with high-emitting middle-income countries,” said Dr Patrick Bond, professor at the University of Johannesburg’s Department of Sociology, political ecologist, and scholar of social mobilization. “The elites in the Western polluters and their allies simply won’t accept accountability.”

According to Bond, it might take nothing short of “a climate-conscious revolutionary movement” – or one capable of profound reforms, as Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party or Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Party might have delivered – to finally get accountability.

“The Paris Climate Agreement in 2015 included a provision that there would be no ‘liability’ for the high-polluting wealthy countries, and that was one reason the UN has lost credibility. The greatest climate scientist, James Hansen, called the Paris deal ‘bullsh*t’ and Greta Thunberg is correct to call recent negotiations ‘blah-blah-blah’ because they are not going to deliver,” argued the professor.

Loss & Damage Compensation for Africa

The compensation issue is by no means trivial, given that the Global North remains the major “polluter,” while the Global South continues to reap the whirlwind of environmental disasters despite accounting for just a fraction of greenhouse emissions.

“This year the hotspots have been Durban, South Africa where on April 11, 500 people died and $3 billion in damage was done by a Rain Bomb: 350 mm fell that night, washing away houses and infrastructure. In Nigeria, widespread flooding this month has killed more than 600. In the Horn of Africa, a drought threatens food security for more than a million people. Three cyclones devastated southern Madagascar in one month,” emphasized Bond.

But that is not all: the situation has been steadily deteriorating over the past several years. Thus, droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa tripled between 1970–1979 and 2010–2019, while in 2018, devastating cyclones affected 2.2 million people in Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe. At the same time, severe flooding resulted in mortality and forced migration from loss of shelter, cultivated land, and livestock in West and Central Africa. General medical journal The Lancet, draws attention to the upsurge in epidemics on the continent due to changes in vector ecology brought about by floods and damage to environmental hygiene: it particularly cites rises in malaria, dengue fever, Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, Lyme disease, Ebola virus disease, West Nile virus, and other infections. On top of that, environmental factors have also damaged water and food supply, causing up to 1.7 million deaths in Africa annually.

Still, between 1960 and 2020, Africa only accounted for 3.3% of global emissions on average, while Asia, Europe, and North America have each emitted over eight times the carbon of Africa, according to some estimates.

“So between droughts, flooding, severe storms, wildfires, locust plagues and other extreme weather incidents that can be attributed to climate change, the continent that contributed the fewest greenhouse gases is being hit brutally, at a time debt crisis and austerity weakens societies’ abilities to adapt,” Bond underscored.

Most assertive negotiators from the Global South are increasingly advocating the “loss & damage” approach, which envisages polluters paying for the harm they have caused, according to Bond. He lamented the fact that the West and its allies “have refused this demand with an appalling arrogance, especially US climate czar John Kerry.”

“The polluters should take the lead in addressing the crisis they created,” echoed Isaac. “They should stop making poorer countries pay for their crimes. So, concrete decisions should be taken on this and many other issues that concern big polluters.”

The issue has also been raised by Sudanese-British billionaire Mo Ibrahim and the Mo Ibrahim Foundation prior to the November climate event in Egypt. The foundation presented a report containing 15 recommendations for COP27 participants with the aim to restore “climate justice” for Africa. In particular, the document argued that mitigation of emissions alone cannot address the scope of the problem, urging for increased focus on adaptation and “loss and damage” compensation.

It bemoaned the fact that the current climate debate led by the Global North is focused on achieving net-zero emissions, while “adaptation measures have been deprioritized while no ad-hoc ‘loss and damage’ fund has been set up yet.” The Mo Ibrahim Foundation further argued that African countries urgently need adaptation investments in early warning systems, disaster risk reduction, and climate-resilient infrastructure.

“[Other] components of climate finance are vital: paying African countries to increase climate resilience, with stronger stormwater drainage, or irrigation systems for vulnerable farmers, or alternative energy systems for when, like South Africa faces, coal-fired power stations are shut down early,” said Bond. “And in cases where we do have fossil fuels, like South Africa, the downpayment on the North’s climate debt should take the form of compensation for leaving coal underground. This would apply across the continent.”

The professor emphasized that “there will be a major disappointment when the loss & damage climate-finance demands from poor countries are rejected” at the forthcoming COP27. “The ongoing rise of emissions since COVID recovery began reflects the failure of UN member states to stick with their 2015 ‘Nationally Determined Contribution’ pledge, and another decision will be made, implicitly or explicitly, to avoid any accountability or punishment,” the academic highlighted.

Transition to Green Energy

Africa’s future transition to green energy has also been triggering heated debate, with environmentalists urging the continent to “leap-frog” fossil fuels and embrace green energy and renewables.

Still, the crux of the matter is that the continent has the highest rate of energy poverty in the world, with a whopping 600 million people in Africa having zero access to electricity. Building green energy facilities and electrical infrastructure across the continent require huge external investments which wealthy nations have yet to offer to Africans. As a result, millions of Africans rely on polluting fuels such as firewood, charcoal, or kerosene to prepare daily meals and warm themselves.

At the same time, Africa boasts substantial natural gas and oil reserves, which could be used to boost the continent’s development. However, the devil is always in the details: while multinational energy corporations are eager to exploit Africa’s vast natural resources, they remain reluctant to invest in the region’s own energy processing facilities, infrastructure, and plants, which would have made the continent’s players self-sufficient. For their part, Western climate officials and environmentalists warn global investors against pouring money into long-term gas projects in Africa, stressing that by 2050, the world will have got rid of fossil fuels.

“The turmoil in global politics and especially energy markets, and Europe’s rapid turn to Africa for more oil, gas and even coal, are creating toxic conditions,” said Bond. “Elites here support this, while activists have been protesting for a year especially against offshore oil and gas extraction, and last month they won a major court case against Shell and its local ally.”

At the October 3 climate conference in London, Sudanese-British billionaire Mo Ibrahim criticized Western leaders for preventing African nations from developing their own gas reserves over climate change fears. The Ibrahim foundation urges COP leaders to consider natural gas as a key transitional fuel for Africa, which could be developed in parallel with renewables. The report notes that renewables alone will be insufficient to address the continent’s energy gap. Meanwhile, natural gas, an abundant resource in Africa and the least polluting fossil fuel, could be used as a bridge on the path to clean green energy sources.

COP27 Expectations are Still Bleak

Isaac expressed concerns that the forthcoming COP27 could bear little, if any, fruit. He noted that the world would need to invest $4-6 trillion per year with more expectation in terms of financial contribution from developed countries to fight climate change. “But the sad reality is that this is not happening,” he noted. Currently, when the Global North is engulfed by inflation and increasing recession there’s little hope that any financial aid to address pressing climate issues will materialize.

“It is still about ‘All talk and No actions,'” the Nigerian commentator said. “Perhaps a new agreement will be reached, a new policy document will emerge, and Countries will make new commitments they don’t intend to keep. For me, leaders of the world only see the yearly climate change conference as an avenue to pay more lip service, to make them believe they are doing something while in the real sense, it’s all hypocrisy. We have had many international treaties like the Montreal Protocol of 1987, the UNFCCC framework of 1992, the Kyoto protocol of 2005 and now the Paris Agreement of 2015, what happened? Nothing! All of the conferences that produced all these agreements have been nothing but ‘Jamborees.”

At the same time, the present system aimed at addressing the consequences of climate change remains ineffective, according to Isaac.

“Sincerity of purpose is needed if the world is to achieve anything concrete around addressing climate change beyond these annual talks (COP this, COP that). More investment is expected in the area of clean energy, reduction in the production of fossil fuel, development of critical technology to reduce carbon emission,” the Nigerian analyst concluded.

Ekaterina Blinova is a freelance journalist and has been a Sputnik contributor since 2014. She has a specialist’s degree in history and specialises in US, European, Middle Eastern and Asian politics, international relations, sociology and high tech.

This article was first published in Sputnik.