/ 4 December 2023

Africa is finally at the climate negotiations table

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Traditional Tukul houses are partly submerged by floodwater on land that was previously a residential community on November 29, 2023 in Bentiu, South Sudan. Climate change has divided South Sudan into land that is experiencing unprecedented flooding or drought, with record flooding creating widespread displacement, the destruction of livelihoods and the loss of arable land. (Photo by Luke Dray/Getty Images)

“At climate talks, Africa is on its own. It’s time to act like it.”

That was the front cover of The Continent a year ago, as climate negotiations rolled into Egypt. The year since then has been the hottest in recorded history. And that’s after 1°C of heating. The United Nations predicts up to 2.7°C of heating by 2100.

Opening this year’s COP in Dubai, its secretary general, António Guterres, said: “We are living through the climate collapse in real time.”

Libya, Malawi, Madagascar and Mozambique have been hit by floods this year. Somalia, Botswana, Niger, Mauritania, Lesotho and Zambia have had drought and intense heat waves.

They are not unique. This climate collapse has killed thousands of people and cost tens to hundreds of billions of dollars this year alone.

In climate negotiations, for the last three decades, African countries have wanted this loss and damage to be the focus. The continent is responsible for less than 4% of all emissions.

Instead, rich, mostly Western, countries have made all agreements focus on reducing carbon emissions.

They do not want to be liable for the consequences of their pollution.

In 2009 at negotiations in Copenhagen, African countries and their peers in the developing world decided they’d had enough and threatened to collapse the COP process (which falls under the UN).

It took the next meeting in Cancún and the 2011 one in Durban to create a new climate agreement, which would balance the need to reduce emissions with the work of helping countries adapt to a rapidly changing world. That would turn into the 2015 Paris Agreement, which included 195 countries.

But since then, rich countries and big polluters have fought hard to block parts of Paris that would see money go to those being destroyed by a hotter world. A promise of $100-billion in funding was only met this year, three years late, and as The Continent has reported, there are serious questions about the way these funds are disbursed and accounted for.

Africa’s fight to change the structures that have for so long favoured polluters has in practice meant lots of phone calls, emails, video calls and in-person meetings, built around personal relationships between negotiators.

Those negotiations delivered a crucial victory at the COP in Egypt last year. Led by that country’s chief negotiator, Mohamed Nasr, an agreement was reached to create a fund that will pay for the loss and damage caused by a hotter world. That moment was a decade in the making, going back to the 2013 COP in Warsaw.

Since Egypt, five meetings have taken place to work out what the fund will look like. Politico reported last week that US negotiators ensured there was no wording on liability (meaning that polluters can’t be asked to pay commensurate with their pollution) and then that the fund is hosted by the World Bank (an institution often seen as representing everything that is wrong with the current world order).

In early September, Africa’s negotiators met on the sidelines of the big African climate meeting in Nairobi. A declaration was issued afterwards, detailing what countries want from climate efforts. Later that month, the influential Least Developed Countries Group of negotiating countries, chaired by the Senegalese Madeleine Diouf Sarr, met in Dakar and issued its own declaration. Most of the points boil down to money.

On 30 November, the first $420-million was announced for the fund. It won’t be enough – the G77 + China negotiating bloc says it would need $1.3-trillion by 2030. And big polluters will continue to shirk their responsibility.

But each of these steps is pushing towards big, structural changes that mean the rich world will increasingly struggle to rig all things climate, and particularly the flow of money, in its favour.

This article first appeared in The Continent, the pan-African weekly newspaper produced in partnership with the Mail & Guardian. It is designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.