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What We Want from COP 26: Africa

What’s at stake for countries across Africa at the global climate summit in November.


The stakes are high for many countries across Africa in the upcoming COP 26 climate summit in Glasgow. As just one example, Madagascar is suffering through what may be one of the world’s first climate-change related famines, and accelerating drought, heat, and floods could threaten up to 118 million people on the continent if the world does not act aggressively to slash emissions.

Against this backdrop, Africa has the chance to lead the world in charting a new way forward in economic development powered by clean energy and more sustainable approaches to agriculture, among others.

The ability of many countries to get there, however, and build the kind of strong and resilient clean energy economies that can both weather the consequences of a warming world and open the door to a better life for billions, depends on the wealthy Western nations largely responsible for changing our climate stepping up with real financial support. Support that has often been promised in rosy press conferences but largely gone undelivered once the cameras left.

This support will be one of the critical points of negotiations at COP 26. We asked our colleagues at the African Climate Reality Project to share their perspective on this complex picture at home and what has to happen at the pivotal talks in Glasgow in November, which follows below.

What Climate Change Looks Like: Africa

Africa, more than any other continent, is faced with an accelerating climate crisis.

Many Africans depend on ecosystem goods and natural resources to sustain their livelihoods, and live in low to middle-income countries that are the least responsible for the climate crisis and yet the most vulnerable to its impacts.

Their lives are at stake - threatened by the global climate crisis and its impacts like extreme weather events, food shortages, water scarcity, and the spread of diseases, which only exacerbate existing social injustices and inequalities. The result is that climate change is hampering Africa’s economic development, in many cases eroding years of economic progress, exacerbating conflict, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people every year.

The climate crisis is not waiting for us -it’s already here. Still, solutions exist that can help us improve the quality of life across the African continent and work toward an equitable and sustainable future - one that leaves no one behind.

The Political Climate

Africa as a continent is least responsible for the climate crisis, and still, a handful of African countries have committed to their fair share of climate action in their updated nationally determined contributions. Specifically, in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and building adaptive capacity.

However, a lack of political will, vested interests, and skewed development agendas are holding several African countries back from doing their fair share as well.

Africa is rich in coal, oil, and natural gas, and many nations on the continent believe that Africa should be allowed to develop their economies using fossil fuels - just like the Global North did following the industrial revolution. However, much of the profit of these developments would go into the pockets of international corporations and investors. Not to African countries and communities themselves.

But, the scientists are clear – fossil fuels must stay in the ground – and Africa has the opportunity to leapfrog to a sustainable development agenda that leaves fossil fuels behind.

Key Opportunities and Wins

  • Renewable energy has a high employment potential, by creating more well-paying jobs than the fossil fuel industry, with a greater diversity of opportunities - and distributed better socially. Women represent about 32% of renewable energy employees across the sector, compared to the 22% in the energy sector overall.
  • Some 635 million people in Africa do not have access to electricity. Renewable energy is not just about reducing our greenhouse gas emissions – it’s also about livelihoods, broader empowerment, and social justice, by reducing energy poverty across the continent.
  • Climate action pays off - Gabon is the first African country to receive payment for reducing its carbon emissions by protecting rainforests.
  • The Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, representing 200 million small-scale producers, is making a compelling case for agroecology as an alternative to the industrial agricultural model. The alliance’s recent petition, signed by 200 organizations, urges donors to stop funding the Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) and instead fund agroecology for a more sustainable, resilient, and culturally appropriate food system in Africa. 

Obstacles to Overcome

  • Africa is not getting its fair share of climate finance. The continent has a low adaptive capacity to the climate crisis, and needs financial support in achieving climate resiliency. For example, in 2018, sub-Saharan Africa represented 14% of the global population, but only 3% of global climate finance flowed into the continent.

  • Several new fossil fuel developments are underway or planned across the continent. Several of these, such as the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline and the Mozambique Liquified Natural Gas Project, will not only contribute to the climate crisis, but are accused of causing or increasing the risks for human rights abuses through forced displacement, armed conflict, destruction of ancestral lands and grave sites, and more.

  • Industrial agriculture has expanded across Africa with negative social and environmental implications. Its use of synthetic chemicals and poor land management practices such as tilling have left 40% of Africa’s soil low in nutrients and another 25% contaminated by aluminum, while also locking many farmers into using expensive inputs.

  • Africa’s forest cover is declining at twice the global rate, with 3.94 million hectares lost every year since 2010. Drivers such as urban growth, charcoal and fuelwood, agriculture (commercial and subsistence), logging, and mining continue to place pressure on the continent’s diverse forest ecosystems. Renewable energy offers a viable way to address deforestation in Africa.

Where We Stand on NDCs

  • Cameroon is a great example of a strong commitment to sustainable forest management and nature-based adaptation actions. The country’s NDC identifies restoration of degraded lands and reforestation as key areas for mitigation and adaptation and its strategy to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
  • South Africa is in the process of revising its NDC - and while it’s currently improved from the previous NDC submission, it’s also still rated as insufficient and on the pathway for a 3°C warmer world. The country’s NDC is certainly not representative of its fair share contribution as the 12th-highest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide.
  • Ethiopia’s updated NDC points to land-use change and forestry as its biggest opportunities to reduce emissions. Provided the country receives international support, Ethiopia aims to restore 5 million hectares of land by 2030.

What We Want from COP 26

  • Development finance institutions must prioritize the development of fossil fuel finance exclusion policies that state that banks will not fund, provide financial services, or capacity support to any coal, gas, and oil project on the African continent.
  • Increase climate finance for nature-based solutions. Over USD 133 billion is invested every year into sustainable solutions, but there is still insufficient financing support for nature-based solutions, especially those that build the resilience of ecosystems. Boosting green investments will not only aid our ecosystem but also increase people’s health and global and local economies.
  • Increase and support Africa’s climate and sustainable development ambitions by investing in opportunities that enable youth to access skills development and green jobs in the renewable energy and sustainability sectors, and in programs that protect and restore ecosystems affected by unsustainable practices such as mining, logging, and industrial agriculture.

Time for Real Action on Climate

The stakes of COP 26 couldn’t be clearer. It’s time for our leaders to commit to real action to fight climate change.

Join us for 24 Hours of Reality: Let’s Get Real on October 29 and join activists all across the planet in taking action to push our leaders to take real action on climate. Now while we still have time.