1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Landmark Africa Climate Summit opens in Nairobi

September 4, 2023

African countries are disproportionately bearing the brunt of climate change despite contributing the least to global emissions. Delegates at the continent's first climate conference hope to find ways to adapt.

Kenyan President William Ruto speaks at the first African Climate Summit in Nairobi
Kenyan President Ruto highlighted the economic potential of green initiatives in Africa in his opening remarksImage: Monicah Mwangi/REUTERS

The inaugural Africa Climate Summit kicked off in Nairobi, Kenya on Monday, with the continent seeking to change the narrative around climate change.

Delegates hope to showcase the continent as a destination for climate investment, and to seek solutions and investment for a green energy transition.

"For a very long time we have looked at this as a problem. It is time we flipped and looked at it from the other side," Kenyan President William Ruto told delegates at the start of the three-day summit.

"We must see in green growth not just a climate imperative but also a fountain of multi-billion dollar economic opportunities that Africa and the world is primed to capitalize," he added.

The summit aims to develop a common African position ahead of a UN climate conference next month in New York and the COP28 summit in the United Arab Emirates in November.

“Climate change destroys Africa's beauty”

"If we do not develop adequate response measures to deal with the climate change crisis, it will destroy us," Kenyan Environment Minister Soipan Tuya said in her opening remarks.

Carbon credits take center stage

As anticipated ahead of the summit, deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars were struck on the first day. Market-based financing tools like carbon credits were the focus of several major pledges.

The United Arab Emirates committed to buy $450 million (€417 million) worth of carbon credits from the Africa Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI). The initiative is a result of the COP27 summit that took place in Egypt in 2022.

A joint venture between UK banking giant HSBC and investment firm Pollination said it plans to invest $200 million into projects that will generate these credits.

Despite the vast sums promised, experts and policymakers warn that climate finance on the African continent is still lacking.

Climate activists hold placards and chant slogans as they take part in a march in Nairobi, Kenya
Climate activists have warned that carbon credits will enable developed countries to continue polluting, while African countries bear the brunt of climate changeImage: Suleiman Mbatiah/AFP/Getty Images

Climate activists, meanwhile, have been critical of the summit’s focus on carbon credits, denouncing them as a "false solution" in a recent letter to the African Union.

Greenpeace campaigner tells DW Africa can become climate 'leader'

Thandile Chinyavanhu, a climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace, told DW that Africa could become a "leader" on climate issues.

“We’re expecting to see … Africa repositioned as a key partner in climate reduction and mitigation,” she said, referring to the summit in Nairobi.

Chinyavanhu said Africa could capitalize “on the potential of the continent to be a leader strategically in decarbonization.”

The Greenpeace campaigner called the plans of a number of African governments to develop oil and gas reserves “counterproductive" and "unacceptable."

“We need to start to imagine an alternative for African development,” she stressed, urging countries to overcome “extractivism” and “[the] mindset that development can only look one particular way.”

“The current development model has not delivered on the promises of job creation and alleviating poverty,” she said, adding that poverty had deepened in many areas.

“What we want to see is rather our governments prioritizing alternative development models that are suited to our lifestyles and prioritize our health and safety, and allow us to live in harmony with nature,” Chinyavanhu said.

Mobilizing climate funding

Carbon credits, which allow emitters to offset their carbon footprint through investing in renewable energy projects or planting trees, are contentious. Critics argue they permit continued pollution by wealthier nations at Africa's expense.

African delegates at the three-day summit are also calling for increased financial assistance from developed countries to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change and transition to a low-carbon economy.

"The climate change debate has entered a new era. It is no longer just about tackling an environmental or development problem, but about addressing climate change in the context of justice," Tuya said

Governments in Africa have also shown interest in debt-for-nature swaps, as these transactions yield savings that can be used to fund conservation.

fg, ss, sdi/lo, jgc (dpa, Reuters, AFP)