Key highlights from first Africa climate summit held in Kenya

Screenshot from YouTube video,‘ African Climate Summit 2023: Opening Ceremony of the Ministerial Day – The Power of the Potential’ by the African Union . It shows Kenyan President William Ruto as he gives a speech during the opening ceremony of the 2023 Africa Climate Summit held in Nairobi, Kenya. Fair use.

On Tuesday, September 4, the inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS) kicked off at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, organised by the Kenyan government and the African Union. During the summit, African leaders in attendance agreed to lead the way in finding sustainable solutions to the climate crisis.

The leaders who were present at the summit included Samia Suluhu (Tanzania), Paul Kagame (Rwanda), Évariste Ndayishimiye (Burundi), Filipe Nyusi (Mozambique), Salva Kiir (South Sudan), Sassou Nguesso (Congo), Mostafa Madbouly (Egypt), Nana Akufo-Addo (Ghana), Mohamed Younis Menfi (Libya), Julius Maada (Sierra Leone), Sahle-Work Zewde (Ethiopia), Brahim Ghali (Sahrawi), Azali Assoumani (Comoros), Ismaïl Omar Guelleh (Djibouti), Isaias Afwerki (Eritrea) and Macky Sall (Senegal) along with the host, Kenya's President William Ruto

Africa is no stranger to the devastating impacts of climate change. From prolonged droughts to erratic weather patterns to the displacement of two million children and the extinction of wildlife, the continent has been grappling with the consequences of climate change. In fact, during the summit, President Ruto noted in his opening speech that Africa, despite being a mild contributor to pollution, is experiencing the most severe impacts of global warming. During the summit, Afrobarometer, a research organization, presented findings from surveys conducted in 36 African countries, revealing that a majority of citizens demand urgent government action on climate change. However, only 52 percent of those polled were aware of climate change, with awareness varying across countries. Among those aware, most believe that climate change is making their lives worse, particularly in Madagascar, Lesotho, Mauritius, Malawi, and Benin. The urgency of the situation is undeniable, and the Africa Climate Summit is a testament to the commitment of African nations to address this crisis head-on.

Key takeaways from the summit

During the summit, African leaders expressed their commitment to finding sustainable solutions to the climate crisis. They stressed the need for Africa to be at the forefront of climate solutions and highlighted the importance of seizing the moment to offer green growth and decarbonization solutions.

President Ruto said:

We cannot pursue climate action through insular, solitary policies. Global warming cannot be mitigated by air-conditioning our little pockets and corners of the world.

He emphasized the need for Africa to play a central role in addressing climate change and urged for decisive actions rather than playing the blame game. This article from Africa Newsroom highlights some of the statements made by the leaders as they noted that climate change and the continent's development are closely linked.

President Kiir of South Sudan said Africa must utilise its vast renewable energy resources to reverse the effects of climate change. He was supported by Eritrea's President Afwerki who said it was time for Africa to mobilise its own resources instead of relying on handouts. The leaders also emphasized the interconnectedness of climate change and Africa's development and the need for collaboration with developed nations.

They called for radical action, the mobilization of Africa's own resources, and streamlined access to international climate finance. President Ruto also called for a more equitable international financial system to address Africa's debt burden.  Those attending also spoke about the need for a paradigm shift in the allocation of global climate change funds and the launch of the Green Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap for Kenya.

Controversies surrounding the summit

A report by Euronews highlighted the fact that Kenya recently lifted a ban on commercial logging, raising concerns about environmental conservation. And despite Kenya's efforts in renewable energy and banning single-use plastic bags, challenges in climate-friendly adaptations persist.

According to a report by BBC, rising water levels in Lake Baringo, Kenya that were due to climate change have led to increased risks of attacks by hippos and crocodiles, threatening the livelihoods and safety of local communities. The residents of Lake Baringo have filed a lawsuit against the Kenyan government for failing to respond to the climate crisis and are demanding financial compensation for the loss of land, farms, and for exposure to water-borne diseases.

Additionally, a report by AfricaFeeds noted that many African campaigners have opposed the summit’s approach to climate finance, saying it advances Western priorities at the expense of the continent. Mohamed Adow, the director of energy at the Power Shift Africa think tank in an X (formerly Twitter) post said:

The first African Climate Summit marks a pivotal moment in the collective resolve of African nations to address the formidable challenge of climate change. African leaders seem to have united with a shared commitment to take the lead in finding sustainable solutions despite the controversies and challenges that persist. While the road ahead may be fraught with obstacles, the key takeaways from this summit offer hope that Africa can and must play a pivotal role in addressing the global climate crisis.

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