What does limited progress at COP28 mean for Africa?
From COP28, DI’s Martha Bekele reflects on the unfairness of those who have little to do with emissions shouldering the effects of climate change and struggling with the costs the system imposes
As COP28 concludes in Dubai, one of the major unfinished tasks is to review the performance of the Paris Agreement that is formally referred to as the Global Stocktake. Under the Paris Agreement, parties are directed to take the first global stocktake in 2023 and every five years thereafter. This will inform the nationally determined contributions that will be updated and enhanced. This blog looks at why progress is held up, and what that means for Africa.
Why the Global Stocktake (GST) is important
The GST considers progress in three thematic areas: "mitigation, adaptation, and means of implementation and support, in the context of equity and the best available science."
While writing this blog, negotiations are underway to agree on the GST text that admits “despite overall progress on mitigation, adaptation and means of implementation and support, Parties are not yet collectively on track towards achieving the purpose of the Paris Agreement and its long-term goals.” The draft text also goes into details of each of the three areas, for example, noting with concern that “adaptation responses are fragmented, incremental, sector-specific and unequally distributed across regions, and that despite progress, significant adaptation gaps exist across sectors and regions, and will continue to grow under current levels of implementation”.
What are the concerns for Africa?
A rush to offset but not reduce emissions
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has already raised the alarm that we are running out of time to meet the Paris Agreement guardrail of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. According to the panel, crossing 1.5°C would result in unprecedented severe impacts. The suggestion from the panel is to have strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses to limit climate change. However, the synthesis report by the co-facilitators on the technical dialogue of the first GST has revealed that it is clear that “global emissions are not in line with modelled global mitigation pathways consistent with the temperature goal of the Paris Agreement”.
Instead, offsetting has become attractive. Carbon markets, pricing and accounting are dominating talks at COP28 side events. While Article 6.1 of the Paris Agreement is designed to encourage countries to “pursue voluntary cooperation in the implementation of their nationally determined contributions to allow for higher ambition”, it is extremely concerning that efforts are on offsetting, which have zero impact on cutting emissions and allow wealthy countries to carry on polluting.
Searching for market solutions where markets fail to deliver
Finding a solution to climate change using markets is like putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. It is also Economics 101 that reliance on markets can’t offer global public goods and solve global public bads. A system characterised by greed and consumerism – the same extractivist system that is destroying our planet – is now being used to try to fix the problem. At COP28, talks abound on ‘securitisation’ and business opportunities. Indeed, ‘greening’ is guaranteed, but not necessarily in a fair and just manner, and perhaps at the expense of equality and human rights.
The dark side of using offsetting to ‘green’ economies is that it risks driving an unjust energy transition, such as through ‘green grabbing’ in Northern Africa, forced evictions in Kenya, and even allegations of sexual abuse in offsetting projects. This is clearly in contravention of the Paris Agreement, which acknowledges that parties should (when taking action to address climate change) respect, promote and consider respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, and the rights of indigenous peoples and local communities.
Disregard for a differentiated transition approach
For climate activists, it’s a no brainer that fossil fuels need to be a thing of the past as we move to clean energy. At COP28, the discussion centres around phase-down vs phase-out approaches. Phase down is about slowing down the production, but mostly the use of fossil fuels; phase out is about stopping the development of new fossil fuel investments outright, and drastically reducing the use of fossil fuels in energy and transport systems.
The right to development is recognised within the Paris Agreement. At COP, I hear African and other developing countries calling for a fossil fuel phase out for wealthy countries. This is based on the idea of a differentiated transition pathway, which recognises the critical need for the developing world to rapidly increase energy access in order to spur industrialisation before phasing out fossil fuels for green forms of energy. Currently, however, unilateral measures by most developed countries and multilateral development banks to reduce or stop financing fossil fuels appear to effectively ‘kick away the industrialisation ladder’. Especially when there’s no clear roadmap for low-income countries to grow with low-carbon emission and compensation modalities.
The broken system
Imagine borrowing to resolve a problem you didn't create, and – worse – you're borrowing at extortionate interest rates from those responsible for causing the damage in the first place. That’s exactly what’s happening to developing countries as they borrow to prevent or manage the effects of extreme weather conditions.
We have a global financial architecture characterised by insufficiency, inefficiency and inequity. African countries are borrowing to undertake climate action and there has been a four-fold rise in climate debt in just ten years. This is compounded by inadequate implementation of development programmes – it was just months ago that the UN announced that only 15% of SDGs globally were on track. The majority of those countries that are off track for meeting the SDGs are likely those that have historically emitted the least but face the most impact from climate change.
In short, the way we’ve organised ourselves in terms of development cooperation and its financing is extremely flawed and unfit for purpose.
While it’s good news that COP28 managed to attract pledges to the tune of US$57 billion in the first four days, in actual fact these pledges don’t necessarily translate into investments. We know there have been inflated claims of investments in climate action, intentionally or otherwise. Recently, Development Initiatives piloted an AI model and found that one in five projects (worth billions of dollars) reported as climate projects by the World Bank could be wrongly tagged. In other cases, there are projects that mysteriously switched to a 100% principal climate focus midway through their lifecycle. We therefore have to scrutinise claims on climate investments, including the recent report by the OECD indicating that by 2021, US$89.6 billion had been mobilised towards the US$100 billion per year target, meaning the pledge has likely been fulfilled by 2022.
We also know that there is no guarantee that the pledges will be new or additional money. It may be realistic to expect otherwise where too often past and current pledges at COPs have come from diverted aid money, repurposed from adaptation budgets or form part of other previous pledges.
The perception that inadequate action against climate change is caused by insufficient financial resources is not borne out by reality. As noted in the draft GST text, there are sufficient resources to close the climate financing gap but these are not organised in such a way that they can be invested in impactful and long-lasting climate actions. We also learned that US$30 billion is being raised every year from financial transaction taxes. Even to a layperson who follows the news, it is not hard to imagine there is enough capital in the world for climate action when we see how much is spent on conflicts around the world, from Russia’s war in Ukraine to the recent hostilities in Israel and the OPT.
Justice in the face of deep-rooted challenges
For Africa and other small economies, the focus is not solely on cutting emissions, it is about structural transformation. Climate justice encompasses, but is not limited to, adopting a holistic approach that involves taking a step back and addressing fundamental structural problems on energy, food sovereignty and trade.
On trade, for example, in the attempt to raise ambitions, we may start witnessing a source of market protection. Already the European Union has designed the Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism (CBAM) to prevent ‘carbon leakages’. This means the Union’s partners will be expected to have policy approaches with the same level of climate ambition (Regulation (EU) 2023/956, (9)), which can be argued to be Paris-inconsistent. Carbon tax on value-added products under the CBAM is estimated to cost Africa US$25 billion a year, further pushing the continent to remain an exporter of raw materials to Europe.
What happens if agreements aren’t reached by the end of COP28 and why should we care?
If the slow progress of the last few days is anything to go by, it’s likely that key agreements will not be reached by end of COP28 – particularly on GST because of the stalemate on the Global Goal on Adaption, the dismal performance on mitigation, and the means of implementation including finance, capacity building and technology.
The next course of action will be either for the COP28 Presidency to create work programmes to resolve issues or refer to the Bonn Climate Conference in June 2024 in preparation for COP29.
But we are running out of time. We care about these decisions because climate and development cannot be separated. Those that polluted the planet in the past have managed to advance their economies. Those that had little to do with emissions are shouldering the brunt of the effects of climate and spending resources at the expense of other urgent social service needs. As the report ‘Dying to adapt’ revealed, 11 sub-Saharan African countries, with a total population of 350 million people, face climate adaptation costs that are larger than their combined national spend on healthcare – despite emitting 27 times less per person than the global average.
We also care because it is about the future. It is about our children and the generations to come after them. It is incumbent upon each and all of us to bequeath a safe and sustainable planet that caters for all fairly.
Climate vulnerability, climate finance (ODA) and protracted crisis
Use our interactive chart to reveal vulnerability to the impacts of climate change, volumes of climate finance (ODA) by country, and how specific risk and geographic groups fare.
Africa can contribute, Africa must benefit and Africans must decide on financing to tackle the climate crisis
As Africa Climate week kicks off, can the emerging idea of Global Public Investment bring about the truly global and collective approach to financing we need to tackle the biggest threat facing our world?