African Voices on the Final Day of COP28: Africa’s Urgent Call: ‘If Not Now, When?’

The COP28 climate talks are supposed to conclude today, but that seems highly unlikely with key texts still yet to be agreed and controversy raging.

Many countries have refused to sign what they see as their own ”death certificate” due to the watering down of language on phasing out fossil fuels, while oil and gas producers are reportedly seeking further dilution of commitments.

A dearth of detail on finance, means of implementation, timelines, clear actions, and other shortcomings have raised concerns of negotiators and civil society from Africa and elsewhere in the Global South that COP28 will leave the 1.5C warming target in tatters.

As activists urge parties to ”hold the line” on fossil fuels and bleary-eyed delegates go into final deliberations, here are some comments and opinions from African representatives as things stand.

Collins Nzovu, Zambia’s environment minister who spoke on behalf of the African Group of Negotiations has said: ”Africa is in support of limiting warming to 1.5C. However, this should be based on differentiated pathways where African countries close the supply gap, rather than developed countries continuing to issue exploration licenses.”

Reiterating his message in an oped for African Arguments, he emphasised the importance of a workable Global Goal on Adaptation (GGA). ”We will not agree on anything here unless Africa’s top priorities are met, which to us is a GGA framework. If we are serious about saving lives, livelihoods and protecting ecosystems then the GGA framework must have ambitious, time-bound targets with clear means of support for implementation.”

He suggested that, behind closed doors, many countries support Africa’s position and said: ”We believe that we will come to an agreement, one that will ensure there is equity, one that will ensure there’s a framework where real measurements will be made on progress. I am very optimistic that something will come up…I think we will find common ground.”

Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa, has welcomed the fact that the draft text on the Global Stocktake makes the ”first ever mention of fossil fuel production” in a COP text and that it calls for a reduction in both consumption and production ”in a just, orderly and equitable manner”.

However, he notes the huge loophole in its framing as part of ”a jumble of climate solutions which countries ‘could’ adopt”. That list, he notes, includes real solutions as well as ”dangerous distractions like abatement and nuclear” along with ”low carbon hydrogen” which still uses fossil fuels.

Adow questions the looseness of the term ”reducing” (rather than phasing out) as well as the ”the timeframe of ‘around mid-century’ and ‘around 2050”’, which he says are ”not clear enough as a deadline and could push back global timelines to after 2050”.

On finance, he notes that there is a ”lack of clear finance and technology transfer commitments by developed countries to give confidence to developing countries that they will get new, adequate, predictable and affordable finance and support to implement the agreed actions”.

Fadhel Kaboub, associate professor of economics at Denison University and president of the Global Institute for Sustainable Prosperity, focuses on the insufficient order of magnitude of finance as we approach the end of COP28. ”Climate finance requires a minimum of $2.4 trillion of transformative grant-based investment and transfer of technology for climate adaptation and mitigation by 2030. We are nowhere near that target at the end of COP28. Climate finance is a climate debt owed by the historic polluters of the Global North to Global South countries that are on the front lines of climate change. The Global North is in default and is refusing to pay its debt.”

Putting aside the wordings in texts, he suggests that the biggest blind spot of COP28 have been some fundamental issues of global governance and the global financial system.

”There is no mention of the World Trade Organization (WTO), no mention of unfair bilateral trade agreements that are unfavourable to the Global South, no mention of reforming the Trade-Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) in the context of transfer of technology for climate action on adaptation and mitigation, no mention of the need to overhaul the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism or Investment Court System (ICS) through which Global South countries can be sued by foreign investors if the State takes action that interferes with the investor’s (extractive) business plans.”

Vanessa Nakate, a Ugandan climate activist, has reflected on the latest text, saying: ”What is happening here is unacceptable. What is happening is unjust. What is happening is unfair, especially for the communities on the front line.

If we do not address the root cause of the climate crisis, everything else is pointless.” She has written in the Guardian: ”Selfish, short-sighted actors are once again sabotaging our collective fate in the name of profit. We know this: last week, Opec sent a letter to its oil-producing member countries asking them to block any progress on fossil fuel phase-out.”

Nakate also emphasises the importance of adaptation and the need for more funding. ”As time runs out in Dubai, it feels as if the lifeboat of our shared humanity is sinking. And fossil fuels are also not the entire story here. The ‘home’ the majority of us will return to when Cop28 is over is not the home we once felt safe in…At an absolute minimum, developed countries need to double adaptation finance to $40bn per year by 2025.”

Hindou Oumarou, a Chadian activist and COP28 advisor, has said: ”We need strong language about phasing out fossil fuels…We need real action for our people. We want to protect land, we want to protect forests, we want to protect wildlife. If we are not protecting it now, when we will do it?…Our peoples are suffering without access to electricity, water, health.”

Oumarou has also co-written a statement with her fellow UN Secretary-General Sustainable Development Goal Advocates, saying: ”Merely seven years.

That’s how long we have to fulfil the Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs) and to halve global greenhouse gas emissions.” They demand greater and more urgent action but also clear awareness that countries have different capacities to face the impacts of climate change.

”We must resist the false assumption that all countries and people’s experiences are the same…We call on the negotiators here in Dubai to address the fundamental drivers of social, environmental and economic injustices that aggravate the climate emergency, and perpetuate the cycle of inequalities between peoples and nations.”

James Wan is the editor of African Arguments. He is an elected member of the African Studies Association-UK council and a fellow of the Wits University China-Africa Reporting Project.

He is the former Acting Editor of African Business Magazine and Senior Editor at Think Africa Press. He has written for Aljazeera, New Humanitarian, BBC, The Guardian (UK) and other outlets.

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