Climate summit on the frontlines: What COP27 means for Africa

04 October, 2022

Posted by: Njango Njung'e

Climate summit on the frontlines: What COP27 means for Africa

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The UN COP27 summit takes place on the frontlines of the converging climate, food, energy, health and debt crises: Africa. This presents a need and opportunity like never before to galvanise immediate, on-the-ground action in the countries that most need it.

The summit, in Egypt in November, comes in a year of new weather extremes, food shortages, fossil fuel price spikes and a rising cost of living, with Russia’s fossil fuel-financed war on Ukraine further stoking the crises.

So far this year, Africa has seen floods and storms kill hundreds of people across the south, triggering electricity shortages, disrupting freight operations and devastating homes and livelihoods. Meanwhile, drought has caused famine for millions of people in the Horn of Africa.

Here is what you need to know about Africa’s COP27, and how it could spur action towards sustainable food systems and climate adaptation and mitigation.

Who, what, where and when?

The UN’s 27th annual Conference of the Parties (COP27) takes place in Sharm El-Sheikh from 6-18 November, presided over by Egypt’s Foreign Affairs Minister Sameh Shoukry.

Egypt’s summit theme is ‘implementation’. It aims to shift the focus from negotiations and planning to action on the ground, where it is most needed. It wants to ramp up adaptation to climate change impacts, in parallel with emission reductions. It also hopes to highlight both Africa’s need for immediate climate action and its role in facilitating and mobilising action at scale.

This summit needs to push countries, the private sector and local governments to deliver on promises already made, strengthen them in line with science, and help developing and emerging economies overcome barriers to finance and build long-term climate action capacity.

This is also the time for major polluters to accelerate their phasedown of coal, oil and gas. Russia’s war on Ukraine makes clear the danger of relying on fossil fuels. Russia’s exports are financing its war machine, while the tightening of global supplies has caused energy shortages and cost of living spikes around the developed and developing worlds.

What happened at COP26 and what needs to happen at COP27?

COP26, in Glasgow in 2021, saw a wave of new promises from countries, the private sector and local governments. Yet, commitments still fall short of what the science says is needed to limit the global temperature rise to 1.5C. On top of that, countries are already backsliding in response to the economic downturn and war in Ukraine.

COP27 needs to deliver on five key areas in order to galvanise action.

  1. Finance: wealthy countries need to show that they are working to meet their promise to mobilise US$100 billion per year in public and private climate finance by 2020, and set out plans to scale it up. They agreed to this at COP26. Finance should be split equally across emissions reductions efforts – such as helping developing countries expand their clean energy systems – and adaptation and resilience work.
  2. Emission cuts: The COP26 decision made clear that national emission reduction plans need to be aligned with a 1.5C temperature limit, and most major polluters have committed to reach net zero emissions by mid-century. But emissions have yet to fall.
  3. Crisis support: COP26 needs to deliver a financial support framework for countries being repeatedly battered by the impacts of climate change, food system disruptions, fossil fuel price spikes and other shocks. Many developing and emerging economies are struggling with mounting debt and can’t secure insurance coverage commensurate with the risks posed by climate change.
  4. Fulfil Glasgow promises: Major economies and financial institutions signed a raft of commitments covering transport, energy, methane, finance, deforestation and other areas. If put into action, the promises could be game-changing. On paper, they’re useless.
  5. Set the foundation for stocktaking: The first Global Stocktake, called for every five years in the Paris Agreement, runs through 2023 up to COP28. COP27 needs to establish a clear, transparent and honest global assessment process involving the private sector, regions and cities, civil society and youth. The stocktake needs to send signals that policymakers can use and apply at home.

How do climate change-driven disasters threaten Africa’s daily life?

African countries are on the frontlines of climate change. Extreme weather and disasters are stalling progress towards food security, social wellbeing and economic development.

In food and agriculture, for example, the impacts of climate change are already causing shifts in growing seasons and increased dry spells and heavy rainfall, according to the Global Center on Adaptation. Evidence shows that climate change has stalled the productivity growth of maize.

The number of undernourished people in sub-Saharan Africa grew by 45 per cent between 2021 and 2019, according to the World Meteorological Organization’s State of Climate Action in Africa 2019 report. In addition, higher temperatures and rainfall are leading to an increase in the transmission of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever, malaria and yellow fever, it said. GDP in Africa is projected to decrease by between 2 and 12 per cent if global temperatures rise by between 1C and 4C.

Governments across Africa are already contributing more than their fair share to adaptation – accounting for one-fifth of the expenditure required to reduce potential economic impacts on the continent, according to the UN Economic Commission for Africa.

Why do countries need to step up at COP27 to protect vulnerable people from climate change?

Because the climate crisis is already underway, and the science shows that the window in which to limit the worst impacts is closing quickly.

2022 has seen a convergence of crises fuelled by climate change, COVID-19, Russia’s war on Ukraine, disruptions to food supply chains, and the reliance on volatile, polluting commodities. The response from political and private sector leaders so far has been largely to prop up, and lean on, the polluting industries of the past. This is eroding trust between countries and regions.

Solidarity is key to breaking the stalemate and unlocking the finance needed to cut emissions, build resilience and secure sustainable food systems.

Many of the biggest and growing polluters, and those most at risk to climate change impacts, are developing and emerging economies that are also seeing fast-growing populations. Delivering finance to these countries, and building capacity among their governments and sectors, will protect wider global supply chains and economic stability.

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