An urgent call to action

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Mr Granthone Mwandawiro, CCEM Water, Sanitation, Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources, County Government of Taita Taveta meets with Florence and Johanna Lindgren Garcia, NIRAS Africa Business Development Director

Florence Gatome

Florence Gatome

Africa Director

Putting Africa in the driving seat of efforts to address climate change

September 14, 2023

The commitments made at the Africa Climate Summit equal a total investment of almost USD 26 billion from combined sources including the public and private sectors,  multilateral development banks, philanthropic foundations, and other partners in the development financing community.

Africa contributes less than 4% in carbon emissions globally but has been the most affected by climate change. We are now facing dry rains in West Africa, severe drought in the horn of Africa, destructive cyclones and floods in the south, and deserts expanding daily at alarming rates across the continent.

Considering this, we can no longer afford to be relegated to the backseat of climate change discussions. And so it was refreshing to hear at the inaugural Africa Climate Summit H.E. Kenyan President Ruto calling on the continents’ leaders – both elected and unelected – to be in the driving seat of negotiations. Africa can no longer be a victim. On the contrary, due to our vast natural resources, Africa has the largest potential to play a critical role in combating global warming.

I had the pleasure of representing NIRAS at the Climate Summit on 4-6 September, a high-profile event with 26 African heads of state, 14 donor governments, civil society, multilateral banks, foundations, UN agencies and the private sector in attendance. I also participated in a panel session on the first day of the summit in the Green Business Building networking event. This was a networking reception hosted by the UK and US governments for private sector leaders to discuss eco-friendly green business building approaches in Africa through a plenary and networking session.

The three-day event – hosted in my home city of Nairobi by the Government of Kenya and the African Union – also included representatives from youth and indigenous groups, amongst other stakeholders.

Florence with a member of the Maasai Community, an indigenous Nilotic ethnic group inhabiting northern, central and southern Kenya and northern Tanzania.

Real commitment or empty promises?

As host, Kenya took the lead in announcing its commitment to reach Net Zero by 2050. The Government also launched the $49.7 million Financing Locally Led climate action (FLLoCA) programme that will fund local climate initiatives across all counties. A new exciting Green Hydrogen strategy was also unveiled alongside long-term low emissions development strategies, Kenya’s new national Climate Action Plan for the next four years, and a key amendment to the country’s Climate Change Act. A new programme Building Resilience for the Urban Poor was additionally announced, and I was excited to learn that my country will be the location for the new African Headquarters of the Global Centre on Adaptation, an international organisation working as a solutions broker to accelerate action and support for climate adaptation solutions.

These are tremendous commitments and, over the three days, I keenly listened to multiple speeches outlining challenges and possible ways forward. The main issues have been stated many times – the urgent need to revamp our efforts to achieve the Paris Agreement and maintain the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C, honouring the 2009 COP15 annual commitments of USD 100 billion, increasing adaptation financing, achieving climate justice for our communities and adopting of carbon credit and taxes. But this time, with Africa at the table and a pledge to play a key if not leading role in discussions going forward, I felt something was different.

It is clear that climate change is eroding our progress as it consumes up to 15% of our respective GDPs. President Ruto was adamant that it is no longer an issue between the global north and south, or emitters and non-emitters, as the looming apocalypse will engulf the entire world. Hence, collective action is required NOW by all parties.

The indigenous people attended the summit and were given prominence. Below are the requests they made in the closing ceremony:

  • Appoint a focal point and liaison office at the Africa Union for indigenous people 
  • Stop further displacement of indigenous people
  • Put in place effective safeguards and security of land tenure and natural resources of indigenous people
  • Recognition and strengthening of systems through policy frameworks 
  • Policy interventions to promote climate resilience 
  • Stop exploitation of indigenous people in carbon trading 
  • Climate resilience fund for indigenous people 

According to International Energy Agency (IEA), Africa is home to 60% of renewable energy resources in the world but over 600 million Africans do not have access to energy and 970 million Africans lack access to clean cooking. Hence renewable energy and energy efficiency were key areas discussed at the summit.

While there was general consensus that the main emitters should honour their commitments and continue to “lead the charge”, there were also views that efforts should be made to mobilise resources domestically and bring the private sector more directly into play. Gains have been made in areas such as renewable energy, and climate change presents opportunities for green growth and the use of technological innovations to leapfrog to greener economies. In this light, the Accelerated Partnership for Renewables in Africa – launched at the summit between Kenya, Ethiopia, Namibia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe and supported by the UAE and Denmark and Germany (the latter two being important markets for NIRAS) – will be exciting to watch. Climate change not only provides new business opportunities but also jobs for our youth. The average age on the continent is 19 years, and this is critical resource that Africa can harness in addition to natural resources.

In short, the solutions proposed at the summit included honouring our climate finance and net zero commitments, putting in place clear strategies and policies for both climate change adaptation and mitigation, mobilising funding from the private sector, and building capacity at all levels. Importantly, it was acknowledged that we cannot achieve climate change targets without a commitment to put in place strong and transparent processes and systems. As one head of state rightly said, a corrupt government will not have the ability to implement any climate programme at all. Accountable governments are the only way to ensure that climate finance is properly utilised to achieve targets and create impact.

NIRAS has been working in development consulting in Africa for more than 50 years. We have extensive experience supporting countries in mitigating climate change impact, building resilience, supporting adaptation action, and strengthening capacity for effective disaster risk management. It is with this history and expertise that we look to the Nairobi Declaration on climate change actions with optimism and stand ready as an implementing partner supporting local changes on the ground to tackle the climate crisis.

Interested to learn more? You can connect with Florence on LinkedIn.