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Time to end 'era of fossil fuel colonialism' in Africa

Jennifer Collins
November 7, 2022

Africa is suffering most from climate change but, with proper support, could also play an "indispensable, positive role in the planet's climate change future," Kenyan President William Ruto says.

A man installs a solar panel
With support, African countries could exploit renewables and fuel their economies on green powerImage: Schalk van Zuydam/AP Photo/picture alliance

The rich nations most responsible for the fossil fuel emissions that have warped the climate must meet decarbonization pledges and help developing countries hardest hit by global heating, Kenyan President William Ruto said at the UN COP27 climate conference in Egypt.

African countries have contributed little to emissions but are "most severely impacted by the ensuing crisis," Ruto said on Monday, speaking on behalf of the African Group of Negotiators (AGN).

He called "delaying tactics" and "procrastination" on climate action "cruel and unjust." At the same time, Ruto told world leaders that Africa could play an "indispensable, positive role in the planet's climate change future" because of its untapped renewable energy resources, vast tracts of land and youthful, dynamic workforce.

Ruto announced plans to convene an African continental summit focusing on climate action, green growth and sustainable transformation next year. He also announced a plan to increase Kenya's tree cover from about 12% to 30% over the next 10 years.

Why is Africa the most vulnerable continent to climate change?

African nations combined contribute no more than 3% to cumulative CO2 emissions, while the United States, the European Union and United Kingdom are responsible for nearly half.

Yet they are the most vulnerable to ravages that go hand-in-hand with a warming planet.

Leah Namugerwa, a young Ugandan climate activist, said during Monday's opening talks that, at 14 years old, she had witnessed "landslides killing so many people because of harsh weather conditions" and asked whether it was "justice for world leaders to choose profits over lives."

Meanwhile, a historic prolonged drought in Kenya has caused over 90% of water sources to dry up. Crops are failing, and animals are dying, meaning that many people do not have enough to eat. Ruto said the drought had "visited misery on millions of people" and had caused over a billion dollars in economic losses.

An aerial view of dead livestock
Dead livestock are just one outcome of the devastating drought in Kenya Image: Kossivi Tiassou/DW

Polluters must pay

The government has diverted large amounts of money from health and education to provide food aid to millions of affected Kenyans, Ruto said. Having to make such trade-offs is an example of how climate change harms the development of vulnerable states and the futures of their citizens, he added.

African nations, as well other climate-vulnerable states, are demanding an official mechanism by which rich polluters pay compensation to cover the costs of severe loss and damage caused by global heating. But wealthy nations fear being on the hook for all extreme weather events.


Africa 'totally distressed' by climate change


It's a major sticking point in negotiations. Still, on Monday, Belgium pledged €2.5 million to help Mozambique, joining Scotland and Denmark as the third nation to make a funding commitment to help developing countries deal with unavoidable climate loss and damage.

Africa's six-point climate plan

Action on loss and damage is part of a six-point action plan put together by AGN for delivering on the promises made at the Paris climate conference in 2015.

The plan states that climate change is a "global problem that will require global solutions," but adds that the causes and impacts are unequal and inequitable. That has to be reflected in any solutions.

"It is vital that developed countries finally hold to their promise to deliver the agreed climate finance that can pay for adaptation, a loss-and-damage fund and accelerate decarbonization," Nemera Gebeyehu Mamo, state minister at Ethiopia's Planning and Development Ministry and AGN chair, wrote in the plan.

Wealthy nations have so far failed to live up to their commitments to provide $100 billion a year by 2020 to help developing countries pay for adaptations such as flood defenses or drought-resistant crops.

People stand on an overturned vehicle swept by flooding waters in Chikwawa, Malawi,
Climate-vulnerable nations need funding to help with climate adaptation measures like proper flood defensesImage: ASSOCIATED PRESS/picture alliance

Ruto said on Monday that failure to fulfill the pledges made in 2009 has created a persistent "distrust."

The UK agreed to speed up the flow of climate financing to Kenya to fast-track six green investment projects when the leaders of both countries met at COP27 on Monday.

The AGN also called for more support outside of financing for adaptation measures and to help the continent move quickly to green energy sources such as solar and wind power. That includes providing technology and training.

Countries frequently hit by drought, such as Spain and Senegal, announced an alliance to share knowledge and technology to help manage their water resources at the climate conference on Monday.

Africa: A continent abundant with green energy

Environmentalist and former US Vice President Al Gore said at the climate conference on Monday that the Global North had to "move beyond the era of fossil fuel colonialism."

Instead of supporting a transition to renewables, European countries are scrambling to find alternatives to Russian fossil fuels and are in a "dash for gas" in African countries.

Gore called the moves a "dash down a bridge to nowhere, leaving the countries of the world facing climate chaos and billions in stranded assets, especially here in Africa."

Wind turbrines in Kenya
Africa has huge untapped renewable energy potential Image: www.vestas.com

Just 2% of global investments in renewable energy over the past 20 years were made in Africa, according to the  International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), an intergovernmental body that promotes green energy use.

But Africa has huge potential, Nemat Shafik, a leading economist and director of the London School of Economics, told world leaders at the COP.

"Many African countries are rich in sunshine, wind, rivers and forests. With support, they could leapfrog the dirty energy systems of the past," Shafik said. "The green industrial revolution could be the new growth story for Africa." 

Edited by: Tamsin Walker