There’s COP27 and then there’s what African governments may actually do

When COP27 came to an end, representatives of African states also departed Cairo. But what exactly will they be taking back home?

There’s COP27 and then there’s what African governments may actually do
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Picture this: It’s the second week of COP27, and for delegates who had intended this to be a vacation, searing temperatures in arid Egypt didn’t quite meet their getaway-paradise expectations; but now that the UN’s annual Climate Action conference will soon be over, what does it mean for the 20,000+ visitors who will be flying back to their bases around the world in metal birds atop the clouds – for these, the work has only just begun.
Fun fact: The 2 million flights completed by 200+ operators across the globe in 2022 contributed less than 2% of all carbon emissions within the period. Fly more!

When Does Africa Get a Break?

Africa has been the focus of this year’s events, and rightly so. It’s the first time the conference has been hosted on African soil, and undeniably the next frontier appears to be Africa’s. But where most industrial revolutions around the world have been bolstered by the cogs of oil boom and coal furnaces, Africa has to contend with its ill-timed luck, because guess what, the world wants to go green.
Here’s my beef; the population of this humongous continent (yep, the maps are lying) is growing at an outstanding rate, there are more young people currently alive in Africa than anywhere else (rivalled only by India who’ve led the world into 8 billion living souls–well done India!), however this population boom is being frowned upon. The argument that poor family planning and ailing economic conditions have contributed to the uncontrolled growth are agitated by the unprecedented burden these numbers put on the future of the continent.
I see your confusion. You’re thinking, why should that be a problem? You’re thinking, like China and most parts of the Far East, numbers signify opportunity; an opportunity for trade, human capital and industry. Ingredients that spurred the growth of factories and jobs, and better living standards for all.
Yet this may not be the case for the young continent. Climate Action has been green-lit by all major powers as the right way to go. Scientist deduce that should this planet be able to sustain human life in the next 100 years and beyond, all things being equal, we’re to keep things cool down here. The allure of Africa’s next boom, the glorious world domination of the black man appears to be in jeopardy due to this global reality check.

Was This Africa’s COP?

For many proponents of climate action, the future need not be so black or white, oil wells or green justice, to grow or to salvage, and the United Nations Climate Action Committee steps in to define actions towards the future of earth into three broad prongs;
  • Adaptation,
  • Mitigation,
  • Offsetting.
For many African governments, Adaptation may be where they will best thrive. Recent news around the world bemoans China’s reversed decision to push further the nation’s enormous coal potentials despite pledging otherwise, following its recent energy crisis. Yes, that’s our green earth dream delayed a few years. But knowing that coal is amongst the world’s worst sources of CO2 emissions and China alone accounts for half of global use, we’re faced with a situation of do we survive now, or do we survive later.
The UN says, Adaptation actions can take on many forms, dependant heavily on government policies for a wider implementation. In fact, many African nations have taken new steps to build solutions for the next African industrial revolution in a sustainable way. However, successful adaptation will not only depend on governments but also the efforts of multilateral and international organisations, and surely, the private sector.
Adaptation as Africa’s last resort must be given the wheels to gain traction, and by this I mean collective agreements between African states on a unified process to address adverse Climate effects (seeing how most of the continent’s problems are singular) and to securing funding for adaptation projects.

Adaptation and Transition The Way Out?

African leaders leaving COP27 pledged some of the most outrageous promises given that the West and the donor community honour their half of the deal to fund these promises – We’ll do it if you’ll make the money available, they seem to say.
For most of us who’ve followed the trail of development initiatives in Africa we understand the adverse impact of such thinking, because as always nothing truly gets done with donor money, otherwise we still wouldn’t be here, would we?
Reason with me on this one: Maslow’s theory of needs is no abstract concept; it postulates that hungry people will first think of food, before shade, and shade before fancy boat rides, and fancy boat rides before.. Well, you get the drift.
Currently, most parts of Africa struggles to feed its population, housing deficits are at an all time high, and energy crises are real. You think I’m exaggerating? visit Lagos. Even the most advanced African economies, Kenya, Egypt, Nigeria, and South Africa have endured power rations at certain periods of the year despite their efforts to harness the abundant natural energy everyone claims they have.
In fact, it would appear naive to believe that Africa’s economic future will be a green one. The continent sits atop a wealth of natural resources and presently has only scratched the tip of extraction; gold and oil being chief of the lot. Oil powers the world as we know it, and in spite of aggressive global efforts at friendlier energy, the world’s reliance on the fossil juice is increasingly soaring.
Anyone with the faintest understanding of economies of scales knows that China’s u-turn on it’s sustainable energy aspirations is a signal to the reality of Africa’s future; a growing population, an economy brimming for an industrial revolution, and an energy sector unprepared for all of this.
I should probably quit being an agent of doom at this point. Surely, the future must be secured, and Africa is the world’s future (no cap). Howbeit it is an unusual place. It’s not difficult to see what specifically differentiates the continent from the rest; terrible leadership cloaked in pretentious expertise, infected with flesh-eating corruption at its soul. There’s no reason why it needs to be this way, because outside of the continent, you could be fooled by many things about Africa, but none as true as the realisation that Africa is a truly unusual place.

AfDB leads the charge

The African Development Bank Group, with their global community of support, raise their voices in hope saying “let’s empower Africa’s upcoming wave to be a green one. A green industrial revolution is possible”
But for Africa this means scaling back on the hope of large factories, enormous hydroelectric dams, and expansive estates of concrete jungle, to more environmentally friendly alternatives that still meet its growth needs.
Economists have labelled these friendly next-gen alternatives as Smokeless Factories, and characterised internet jobs, horticulture, e-commerce, and even tourism, as more ideal proponents of the next industrial wave in Africa. In effect saying, you can achieve economic status in a green way. Optimistic as these sound, the reality is far from what pertains in most parts of the world.
I agree with the AfDB’s counter approach: Transition appears to be our biggest shot at turning promise to value, and hope into action, and natural gas is Africa’s biggest opportunity at this.
Dr. Kevin Urama who is the Chief Economic Advisor to the AfDB President, Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina on matters of this sort, made sterling comments at the COP27 sessions on various Transition conversations. He cited commendable efforts in Nigeria as the growing advancements that Transition strategies promote in Africa’s stride towards sustainability. The Nigerian Federal Government is no stranger to empty promises, yet appears to in this case, and with AfDB funding, to have pushed intervention to light – a sustainable African future may just be realisable. Read more about Nigeria’s Energy Transition Plan here

Not everyone appears to be following

Here in Ghana, where I live, the initiatives have been hit and miss. The Presidency has advocated for mass tree planting exercises across the breadth of the country twice over, holding large press events to launch these activities to much fanfare.
After which, everything returns to business as usual. Ghana, like most Sub-saharan nations is feeling the full weight of the global economic downturn due largely in part to terrible financial decisions, and unaccounted for spendings by government, in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic.
For nations with similar economic status, climate talk seems to be the least of their concern as people need to first eat, and survive. Ironically, surging fuel prices have forced many to park their cars in favour of public transport, something the planet can be glad about. Yet social sentiment is teeming with bottled anger and frustration, thus portraying interventions like Climate Action a joke to the average Joe; “we want money in our pockets and food on our tables, not Climate talk
Beyond this is the facade of association. For most African governments who’ve become aware of Africa’s insignificant overall contribution to global CO2 emissions, the most important rhetoric to the West should be, “you caused it, so fix it”.
But guess what, our leaders have been quiet as usual, instead relishing in the thoughts of prospective donor funding and the misappropriation of monies that should follow. Yes, I said it. I don’t trust these guys. I never did. Despite my outright disdain for African leadership, this appears to be where we find ourselves; the unison of African voices has reached into the far heavens above Cairo these past two weeks, singing the all too popular beggarly chorus, “Give us the money, and we will do the deed”.
The UN Nations projects that the continent will require nothing short of 200 Billion US Dollars in funding to meet the ambitious targets of adaptation, sufficient enough to keep the planet.
It fails to consider that the fragmentation of policies, polarisation of ideologies, effects of language barrier, and increasing regional tensions on the continent, will make this almost impossible to attain – ask the World Bank, or the African Union!

How do we reel them all in

The Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) which intimate that Climate Action is best tackled at the National level as pertaining to the prevailing conditions of your nation, offer some respite and hope that one nation’s efforts may trigger the consciences of others to act with a view of the future too.
I’m optimistic, but marginally.
Because I’m yet to encounter an initiative championed by Africa, for Africa (requiring all its members) that has seen significant progress. I can name a few; Is it the SAATM, AFTCA, ECOWAS, or even the AU? Pockets of action, yes, but significant progress towards achieving stated objectives, no. - and these are just the few that come to mind.
The perception still remains, and I daresay thrives, that African governments have been wasters. Ineffective and inefficient at every macro-level determinant time and time again.
How then do we expect them to be any better at this Climate thing? Especially when Climate Action requires states and their governments to step forward with initiative.
One environmental activist argues that this top down approach to climate action is sure to fail, and that local proponents of the cause have more power to secure noticeably more success than governments ever could. He's garnered a following of some 100,000+ people, so he could sure be onto something.
His method postulates that If each individual made it a point to plant a tree each week, the global heat sink would increase significantly and provide more long term relief than solar panels ever could. We can agree to disagree on this.

Closing Thoughts, Anyone?

I’ll start with a lingering thought. Hear me out:
Since trade and commodity drive economies, it means if you’re not producing and selling, you’re making no money, right? So if the west has profited immensely off trade and industry, even if most of what is produced carries a “Made in China” label, the gullibility of optimism that all nations must and can attain industrial freedom is a slap in the face of reason, especially for Africa. Think for a second; If we all produce, who buys? especially since Africa is the largest buyer of them all!
But that’s a discussion for another day.
My biggest questions are:
  1. What happens after COP27?
  1. What can African governments do any differently to dispel the prevailing rhetoric that plagues every memory of them?
  1. Have we taken a moment to reconcile the pledges from COP26 with the realities delivered, or are we again hopeful that the representatives of our nations will do what’s right for the planet, as opposed to what moves their nations forward?
I think my answers lie at COP28. Ha, gotcha! wishful thinking.
Samuel Edward Koranteng

wanna-be editor of his own newspaper