The global climate architecture has a significant impact on future geoeconomic and geopolitical trajectories, largely dominated by the interests of advanced economies. The European Union (EU)’s Green Deal is illustrative of this. Countries must develop foreign and trade relations to claim a stake in the investment surge in decarbonised technology innovation and infrastructure. If not, they risk being left behind.
Africa is one of the most climate-vulnerable and poorest regions in the world. But it also has an abundance of valuable natural resources that are key to global green growth. Cobalt, for example, mined in often problematic circumstances in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is used for the batteries of Europe’s electric cars. But to what extent is Africa considered a relevant actor in the arena of global political initiatives on climate change and green transition?
Awaiting a unified African position on climate change
In March this year, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta called on Africa to present a common position ahead of COP26. At the time of writing, this common position, expected to be put forward by the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) on Climate Change, has not yet been adopted. A meeting of the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC), supposed to be held in May, also did not take place. The African Union (AU) has been working on a new African Climate Strategy since 2014, and the draft strategy is currently undergoing a consultative process by AU member states. Clearly, internal institutional processes tend to be slow.
Although there is no official common African position available yet, we can expect Africa to focus on adaptation and access to cleaner energy. This would be in line with previous African demands in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) context, the AU’s Agenda 2063, African nationally determined contributions, and the new AU Green Recovery Action Plan (2020-2026).
Closing the adaptation finance gap in Africa is an extremely pressing issue. Tanguy Gahouma, acting Chair of the AGN, recently emphasised the urgent need to focus on finance, especially new and additional climate finance. He referred specifically to the target of mobilising $100 billion per year for climate action in developing countries. Currently, adaptation finance for developing countries is just 21 percent of all climate finance – only a fraction of what is needed.
The recent G7 summit could have paved the way for vital climate negotiations at COP26, but unfortunately failed to do so. The main reason for this was the lack of stronger commitments to meeting the $100 billion target. This may have further dented developing countries’ trust in developed countries.
Funding a green recovery is a challenge
The Covid-19 pandemic has shaken up an already fragile Africa. The continent suffers from a 2.6 percent decline in economic growth, a loss in GDP growth of $120 billion and growing indebtedness, leading to an increasing social and economic malaise. On top of that, seven out of the world’s ten countries most vulnerable to climate change are located in Africa. The large majority of African countries depend on rainfed agriculture, but climate projections show a decrease in crop yield by up to 15 percent. Furthermore, climate change will lead to an equivalent of 2 to 4 percent annual loss in GDP in Africa by 2040. Africa currently loses $7 to $15 billion a year due to climate change, and without investment in adaptation strategies, that number is likely to go up to $50 billion, or 3 percent of continent-wide GDP annually by 2040. The economic downturn requires even more adaptation funding: projects will need up to $25 billion over the next five years to foster a green recovery from the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
African climate diplomacy needs to be beefed up, urgently
Vulnerable African nations face rising Covid-19 induced debt burdens and have limited resources to invest in clean energy, low-carbon infrastructure and climate adaptation. So, how can African climate diplomacy be strengthened ahead of COP26 and in a post-Covid setting?
First, there is a need for strong, more streamlined governance systems and institutional arrangements for continental and national policy development. A unified African position on climate change and an African climate strategy are steps in the right direction. At the same time, a whole-of-government approach is required, as climate change is no longer a purely environmental issue. Achieving a green energy transition and more climate resilience also requires reforms of the global financial architecture, trade policies and rules governing technology and intellectual property rights. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) can create new momentum for African countries, which can channel entrepreneurship into a continental blueprint for green growth and transformation.
Second, Africa, especially sub-Saharan Africa, faces a structural problem of representation in global fora. Except for South Africa, no other sub-Saharan African country is represented in the G7 and G20 negotiations. In recent years, however, there has been growing rapprochement between Africa and Europe on climate issues. During the historic COP21 in Paris, for instance, Europe and African countries built an alliance that was one of the building blocks towards a successful outcome.
Now, the EU’s political leadership has prioritised climate change in its foreign and development relations. The new EU Adaptation Strategy, for example, pays particular attention to Africa’s least developed countries and developing small-island states. The 30 percent climate target of the EU’s long-term budget for 2021-2027 reflects the high priority given to climate action. However, the next year and a half still has to show how the EU translates its broad commitments into actions through the programming of its external budget. Yet, old divergences based on the principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ continue to exist, and there is a lack of a well-functioning joint AU-EU process to tackle the climate crisis. The current partnership has had several issues, not in the least unequal power relations and difficult trade relations.
Third, Africa is becoming an area for investment competition in green technology. Closed-door conversations are going on between China and African countries, and recently, Japan has also been showing an interest. We also see increasing bilateral cooperation between EU member states and African countries. This can put African countries in an interesting negotiating position.
A positive outcome in favour of African countries will require an insurmountable effort in the months running up to COP26. Maybe COP27, held in Africa in 2022, will offer a stronger platform to advocate Africa’s climate concerns and interests.