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The COP27 is in Africa — but is it for Africa?

Felix Maringa
November 7, 2022

The COP27 serves as an opportunity for African leaders to voice their unique needs in the climate crisis. But, with the continent suffering disproportionately from climate change, calls for more funds are mounting.

View of a COP27 sign on the road leading to the conference area in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh town as the city prepares to host the COP27 summit
An African nation is hosting COP27, but many worry that Africa's needs will go ignoredImage: Sayed Sheasha/REUTERS

The COP27 talks are to referred as the "African COP” — and not just because of the location where they're taking place. World leaders are gathering in the Egyptian resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh, marking the fifth time the UN Climate Change conference has come to the African continent.

But, this time, there's also a clear focus on seeking solutions for countries in the Global South — in particular in Africa. In addition to finding ways to help the continent meet climate targets, the conference will also hear delegates plead for more help for societies already suffering the effects of the climate crisis.

Guterres: 'We are on a highway to climate hell'

Question of funding

Many African countries are reeling from more immediate problems or are in the thick of various crises. From corruption to famine, from civil war to failing infrastructure, there is no shortage of challenges pushing the reckoning with climate change onto the back burner.

Africa is far more likely to suffer the effects of global warming — some of which are already being felt, such as during the ongoing drought that has taken hold over the Horn of Africa.

Meanwhile, the continent only receives 5.5% of climate financing, as it is responsible for generating less than 3% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

Africa Development Bank President Akinwunmi Adesina told DW that governments needs up to $1.6 trillion during this decade to implement the continent's commitments to the Paris Agreement on climate change.

During the 2021 COP climate talks in Glasgow, delegates from developing countries therefore asked the countries responsible for the biggest emissions of greenhouse gases to pay for climate-related damages — in addition to any funds already pledged to to help Africa cut emissions.

So far, global leaders have at best been slow in reacting to either demand.

Irreversible changes

Regardless of what funds may or may not be made available to African nations, some of the effects of global warming are already irreversible, said Kenneth Kemucie Mwangi, a climate analyst who works with the Climate Prediction and Application Center, run by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (ICPAC).

"Temperatures globally have increased at an average of 1.2 degrees in the last years, when you compare the current period to before industrialization," Mwangi said, "and that change is not reversible right now."

Kenneth Mwangi pointing at a computer screen in his office
Kenneth Mwangi believes that some effects of global warming already are irreversibleImage: Khalil Senosi/AP/picture alliance

Mwangi highlighted the fact that temperatures in the Western Indian Ocean in particular have warmed significantly, resulting in extreme weather events across much of Africa, including the ongoing drought situation. And those changes to climate patterns are likely here to stay, he added.

 "We used to think we will get to climate impact in future," Mwangi said. "We used to talk about the future. Now, we are not talking about the future. We are in it, very deep in it."

Humanitarian aid needed

In addition to funding to mitigate the effects of global warming, many countries across Africa will also have to rely on increasing aid, as climate-related disasters are becoming more frequent.

Gemma Connell, head of the Regional Office for Southern and Eastern Africa of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), told DW that the drought has already affected more than 36 million people.

"More than 21 million people are facing high acute levels of food insecurity, which means they do not know where their next meal will come from," Connell said, adding the 300,000 people in Somalia alone are imminently facing death from starvation.

Somalian child drinking from a plastic bottle
Countries in the Horn of Africa such as Somalia are already suffering the effects of the climate crisisImage: Feisal Omar/REUTERS

Connell said the issue of unfairness needed to be highlighted above all others during the COP27. "If we look at this drought, every one of these countries — Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia — contribute less than 0.1% of the global greenhouse gas emissions," Connell said. "Less than 0.1%! And yet it is their people who are dying as a result of the global climate crisis."

Immediate action needed

Connell said the talks in Sharm el-Sheikh presented an opportunity for African leaders to speak up on an issue that is affecting the people of the continent, and highlights that the voices of young people in particular are needed to bring about real change.

"Young people from the African continent are calling for accountability, are calling for justice. ... And I can only hope that it results in real change," Connell said.

Dead cattle in Kenia
The drought in Kenia and across the Horn of Africa is directly related to global warmingImage: Thomas Mukoya/REUTERS

Mwangi said some change could still happen — but only if richer nations sign up to doing much more to combat the climate crisis in the Global South without shying away from paying the costs.

"We still have a chance of probably salvaging the situation," Mwangi said. "We can still reduce [emissions] in the next years, and that is the commitment that we want countries to commit to — especially the developed nations. …" he added. "But we may not be able to reverse the changes when we hit 1.5 degrees."

Connell said making funds available immediately to help regions already affected by climate change took precedence. 

"Cash is a huge component of this, especially multipurpose cash that enables people to make choices in a dignified way about what they need in order to survive a crisis," she said.

UN deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed
UN deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed wants to see Western nations keep their promisesImage: Solomon Muchie/DW

UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Jane Mohammed told DW earlier this year that the COP27 talks should serve as "an implementation COP," as little of the money available for climate finance found its way to Africa.

"It's happening in Africa," she said. "If we can't demonstrate commitments to Africa at this time, then really the promises are broken."Edited by Sertan Sanderson

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