Action required

Held in Nairobi this month, the inaugural Africa Climate Summit is an important step for the continent’s response to climate change. Still, the disasters in Libya and Morocco underscore that rhetoric and declarations are not enough.

Africa Climate Summit 2023, Nairobi. Image via Paul Kagame on Flickr CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Even before the ink dried following the signing of the Nairobi Declaration—a commitment signed by 50 African countries to take action on climate change at the African Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya, earlier this month—two major disasters occurred on the continent. First, a 6.8 magnitude earthquake shook the foundations of cities and homes in central Morocco on Friday, September 8, killing close to 3,000 people, injuring many more, and causing widespread devastation. Twenty minutes after the main earthquake, a magnitude 4.9 aftershock hit the region. Barely 48 hours later, on the night of September 10 in northeastern Libya, two dams collapsed due to heavy rainfall, inundating already flooded regions The floods struck Derna and other parts of the region. At least 5,300 people are presumed dead, and reports suggest that the death toll may escalate, with reports of around 10,000 individuals still missing.

The floods in Libya and the Morocco earthquake are examples of climate change’s devastating impacts. The floods were caused by heavy rains, which are becoming more frequent and intense due to climate change. According to experts, climate change might have heightened the intensity of the storm responsible for the flooding, identified as the Mediterranean Cyclone Daniel. While climate change is reducing the frequency of Mediterranean cyclones, it is amplifying the strength of those that do develop. The Moroccan earthquake was also likely exacerbated by climate change, as rising sea levels are causing the ground to become more unstable, making it much easier for tectonic activity to occur.

The Nairobi Declaration on Climate Change and Call to Action had several positive aspects for Africa. First, the declaration acknowledges the continent’s unique challenges, such as its disproportionate vulnerability to the impacts of climate change and its historical lack of responsibility for global warming. It also reaffirms the principles of equity, common but differentiated responsibilities, and respective capabilities enshrined in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Paris Agreement. This emphasizes the importance of fairness in climate action.

The declaration calls on the global community to honor the commitment to provide $100 billion in annual climate finance, which is crucial for African countries to undertake climate mitigation and adaptation efforts. It highlights Africa’s vast renewable energy potential and calls for increased investment in this sector, which could help address energy poverty and contribute to global clean energy production, and recognizes the value of Africa’s natural capital, including its forests, savannahs, peatlands, mangroves, and coral reefs, in reducing global carbon emissions. This recognition could potentially lead to increased support and investment in conserving these ecosystems.

The declaration emphasizes inclusivity by involving children, youth, women, persons with disabilities, Indigenous peoples, and communities in climate-vulnerable situations in climate action and policy-making. It reiterates the calls for increased investment in renewable energy, which can help to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change, as well as calls for adaptation measures needed to help communities cope with the impacts of climate change, such as floods and droughts and calls for climate resilience—the ability of a community to withstand the impacts of climate change.

Although a significant step forward for Africa in the fight against climate change, it falls short in several respects. Not many heads of state turned up in Nairobi, raising question marks about their commitment. Further, while the declaration makes several commitments and calls for global action, it lacks specific enforcement mechanisms to ensure that all stakeholders meet these commitments. Although the declaration calls for increased climate finance, it does not provide a clear roadmap on how the necessary funding will be mobilized, which may hinder the implementation of proposed actions. Funding has always been a major problem as many governments do not provide the necessary resources, and most donor countries fail to honor their pledges. African leaders have proposed a global carbon tax regime that could provide substantial financial resources for climate action, but it needs to be implemented effectively.

While the declaration recognizes the need for debt management, it does not offer a comprehensive solution to address Africa’s debt burden, which could limit the continent’s ability to invest in climate resilience and mitigation. The declaration relies on global partners, including development partners, to support Africa’s climate efforts. This dependence on external assistance may limit Africa’s ability to fully control its climate agenda. While the declaration highlights the importance of renewable energy, there may be a need for more specific and detailed plans for other sectors, such as agriculture, transportation, and industry, to achieve climate goals. The global carbon taxation regime proposal lacks specific details and could face challenges in implementation and acceptance by the international community. It is crucial to ensure that climate finance is used wisely, considering the specific needs and vulnerabilities of different regions, including those affected by conflict. A more holistic and inclusive approach is needed to empower local communities and prioritize adaptation and resilience-building efforts.

Although the Nairobi Declaration and the Africa Climate Summit represent progress in recognizing Africa’s climate challenges and the need for global cooperation, it is essential to turn these words into actions that benefit all Africans, especially those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Africa’s climate agenda should prioritize peace, climate action, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to create a more resilient and equitable future for the continent. The Morocco and Libya disasters and many others within the continent serve as stark reminders of the real and immediate impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities. They highlight why we need to move beyond declarations and rhetoric to concrete action.

The need for action on climate change in Africa and globally is more urgent now than ever.

Further Reading