The Warsan

Time for Africa to redefine climate change agenda

Never has there been an opportunity to do something different and rethink traditional forms of climate diplomacy as at the COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, say the writer. Picture: Gerhard C/Pixabay

June 5, 2022

By Saliem Fakir and Faten Aggad

Climate Conference of the Parties (COPs) are not an end in themselves but a meeting point to assess and define the road ahead.

Indeed, the COP27, which is to be hosted in the Egyptian city of Sharm el-Sheikh in November, is positioned as an opportune moment for a different type of African COP given that Africa is just coming out of a pandemic and has suffered setbacks to economic and development gains made so far.

It is important to see this as a development COP and not just an environmental get-together. It is important to consider the African COP as a way to shift the narrative of the climate transition from one focusing on the continent as a risk to the global drive towards decarbonisation – such as security threats, “inability” of African countries to meet targets, among others – to a constructive narrative on opportunities.

Africa’s own climate issues tend to be viewed through a parochial lens. As a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report noted, those who discuss African climate issues tended to be people outside of the continent rather than from the continent.

Furthermore, it is usually a framing that wraps Africa’s own climate challenges as victims without agency. To be more precise: Africa is often talked of, and perceived as, a place in need of others’ care. It is important to have a vision that ties climate resilience with economic resilience.

Economic resilience speaks to a concern – to ensure that dependency on enclave economies (dominated by resource extraction and mining to port infrastructure investments) has a broader base. As it was for the oil and gas industries, the growing interests in Africa’s minerals is critical for the clean energy revolution.

Specifically, it is important to ensure that extraction is converted into more sustainable dividends – increased electrification, industrialisation, strengthening technical and scientific capacity and many other forms of durable capital that protect against the ups and downs of economic cycles, given that Africa is still dependent on external trade and investment flows.

Resilient economies ensure resilience against climate risks, as an increase in national income and household income supports a more self-reliant trajectory, which is the basic challenge with Africa’s climate diplomacy at every COP.

Africa needs to pivot discussions on adaptation, mitigation and climate finance around its future economic trajectory and competitiveness. Advanced economies and blocs like the EU, with its Green Deal, have turned Paris on its head.

Their interventions in scaling clean solutions, penalising flows of carbonintense goods into Europe and making access to preferential finance for low-carbon technology and infrastructure are aimed at making Europe the leaders in new technology and making decarbonised sectors the new standard for competitiveness.

It is in this light that we cannot enter COP negotiations as if the old game is still being played when the new game and rules are stridently shifting the world into a different trajectory.

This is the danger of having Africa’s climate ambitions stuck in old forms of climate diplomacy and style where the breadth of how things are changing outside the Paris process is often not sufficiently grasped.

This is why we need a whole economy approach. Ultimately, the Paris Agreement and UN Framework Convention on Climate Change grew out of environmental multilateralism.

However, South Africa’s ability to turn its Nationally Determined Contributions ambition into a platform to secure large-scale climate finance has dramatically brought out the realisation that country platforms, and NDC targets, can be oriented toward driving clean energy investments and we can do that for adaptation and resilience.

It behoves us to recognise that country platform ideas were conceptualised as an original idea from within the continent, driven by economic, investment and just transition imperatives, and are new ways to apply more Mission Orientated objectives (because of the scale of interventions and finance required) – to use the economist Mariana Mazzucato’s framing for how we should think about making Green Deals across the world happen: ambitious, large-scale and impactful.

The essence of country platforms is to combine climate ambition, political will and a credible investment plan as a way to package and leverage climate finance and other sources of funding.

The aim of the COPs must connect the dots between environmental and social goals that are built within, or are outcomes of, real economic interventions. On the continent, it is not just decarbonisation, it is decarbonisation plus – decarbonisation must solve the economic question and enhance resilience.

For example, energy access is not only about the clean and green but includes cheaper and more decentralised sources of electrification that transforms the model of energy services and access.

More importantly, they have other dividends – especially in the urban sector – by transforming unproductive informal economies into more productive activities. Furthermore, digital access does not only enhance political voices but also increases the participation of Africans in the global economy.

There is a real chance that climate competitiveness, given the size of the African economy, its resource base and the nascent nature of new technology waves from renewables, electric vehicles and green hydrogen production are opportunities for Africa.

With the right geopolitical partnerships its presence and role in green industrialism can be fast-tracked. Also, the aim of decarbonisation to meet new net-zero goals can be met.

Never has there been an opportunity to do something different and rethink traditional forms of climate diplomacy as at the COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh.


 Fakir is the executive director of the African Climate Foundation and Aggad is the senior adviser on climate diplomacy and geopolitics at the foundation. This article was first published in

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