NAIROBI — Kenya’s president opened Africa’s first climate summit with a plea for delegates to identify opportunities that may arise from solving environmental problems rather than focusing on grievances against industrialized nations that are responsible for the world’s highest carbon emissions.
William Ruto, who opened the three-day event on Monday in his country’s capital Nairobi, said the summit’s underlying ambition is to shift the climate conversation from a “polluters versus victim” discourse to finding opportunities to overhaul the continent’s economies while tackling climate change.
Africa’s carbon footprint “remains small”, Ruto said, “but the human toll of climate change is disproportionately high.” He added that focusing on climate action would propel Africa to middle-income status.
Josefa Leonel Sacko, commissioner for rural economy and agriculture at the African Union Commission, said: “Our responsibility in carbon emission as a continent is about 4%, but we are fully committed to the climate change agenda.” She added that decarbonization efforts are intertwined with the growth of the economy, as “some African governments are using at least 2% of their budgets” for climate-related disaster adaptation programs, even as the extreme weather events intensify in their compounded effects.”
The Africa Youth Climate Assembly, led by Kenyan activist Elizabeth Wathuti, called on the leaders to create an inter-generational green investment fund to generate green jobs for African youth.
Sacko said some African member states spend around 50% of their gross domestic product (GDP) on responding to climate-induced disasters. She urged developed countries to honor their pledge made at COP15 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Copenhagen to raise $100 billion annually by 2020 for climate action in developing countries. The goal was emphasized at COP21 in Paris and extended to 2025. “Up to now, we haven’t seen anything…please, partners come and honor your pledge,” Sacko said.
Africa’s first climate summit is a timely development as the world’s global environmental ambitions tilt towards net zero. The continent has adequate renewable energy sources, including solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower, necessary to transform the continent into a green industrial hub and power our energy needs. This is in addition to the large reserves of minerals such as cobalt, copper, lithium, nickel, and manganese required for electric vehicle manufacturing and the reduction of carbon emissions in the mobility sector.
Africa is clearly a resource rich continent that will accelerate decarbonization efforts. But to make progress, African leaders must bring the world leaders from advanced economies (that are easily the highest emitters of carbon) to the table from the outset to ensure the implementation of positive resolutions.
The current discussion underway will lead up to the Nairobi Declaration by the end of the summit but the step will only make a difference if other parties agree to make progress together, in word and deed.