African leadership is key to translating COP27 ambition into success — for the continent and the world

William Asiko


What came out of COP27?

Gathering under the blazing sun in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, thousands of delegates felt the heat of a world in acute geopolitical, economic, and ecological crisis.

The expectations on COP27 to deliver the big wins that had eluded every other COP to date were always likely to be dashed. Yet there were some significant breakthroughs, primarily achieved through the courage and tenacity of a new coalition of climate-vulnerable countries historically marginalised in global climate politics. These countries are stepping up to disrupt the systems that have held back progress and to reimagine a more equitable future for humanity.

Africa’s COP was the first global forum to back fundamental reform of the international financial system to resolve structural inequality between developed and developing economies. The Bridgetown Initiative, conceived by Barbados Prime Minister Mia Mottley, The Rockefeller Foundation, and many others, makes a series of recommendations, such as encouraging the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to establish a new trust to hold $500 billion in new and unused Special Drawing Rights (SDRs) for climate financing in developing nations, excluding China, using the precedent set by the reallocation of SDRs to support post-pandemic recovery in developing countries.

Sharm El Sheikh also delivered the long-awaited agreement to create a loss and damage fund, which would help developing countries address losses arising from droughts, floods, rising seas, and other disasters attributed to climate change. Whilst the funding and implementation details remain to be determined by the transitional committee, which will present a roadmap at COP28, the commitment to establish the fund represents a significant political shift. Finally, developed countries recognise their responsibility to assist developing countries in responding to climate-related disasters.

Concerted African advocacy on the importance of funding adaptation in the lead-up to the Conference also delivered significant progress, with governments agreeing to move forward on the Global Goal on Adaptation and mobilise more than $230 million for the Adaptation Fund. COP27 President Sameh Shoukry announced the Sharm El Sheikh Adaptation Agenda, enhancing resilience for people living in the most climate-vulnerable communities by 2030. However, there was no concrete traction on last year’s call to double adaptation finance and it was deferred for consideration next year.

What more needs to change?

It’s clear that this pattern of kicking the can down the road will lead us beyond 1.5 degrees of warming and into dangerous new territory.

The world needs a new green recovery with transformative initiatives, institutions, and funding to both rival and repair the impact of the Industrial Revolution. We need to reimagine how we promote development for the 21st century to build climate resilience. We must design progressive partnerships to deliver public goods, scaling the reach and impact of renewable energy technologies and adaptive agricultural techniques.

We must also be bolder in integrating health into the climate agenda. The Covid-19 pandemic demonstrated that threats to public health create complex economic and social challenges with impacts that last for decades. A warming planet will only accelerate the spread of zoonotic, vector-borne, and water-borne diseases. Yet the absence of health from the Sharm El Sheikh Adaptation Agenda means that the costs of adapting to a changing disease burden will remain unrecognised and therefore go unfunded. Climate change means countries will have to diagnose and treat diseases such as cholera, which will become more prevalent if water and sanitation infrastructure cannot cope with climate-related flooding. Rising temperatures also exacerbate health risks for people living with non-communicable diseases such as cardiovascular diseases and diabetes, which are on the rise in Africa, where access to affordable diagnostics and treatment remains limited.

an african lab scientist taking nasal sample from a man

How will this happen?

The complexity and scale of the funding challenge to build Africa’s resilience to climate change can seem overwhelming, particularly in the face of entrenched structural inequality evidenced in the Covid vaccine rollout and the continued failure of the Global North to honour the $100 billion annual climate financing commitment first made at COP15 in 2009.

Clearly, the answer can’t lie in Africa asking the world for aid. And maybe it doesn’t need to.

Monetising Africa’s natural capital is the best way for the continent to take ownership of its destiny and reshape its international relationships.

The world needs to remove 5 to 15 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere annually by 2050. Africa’s unique endowments of land and natural resources position the continent as the world’s most efficient source of carbon removal (the Congo Basin stores more carbon than the Amazon) and holds the greatest potential for nature-based solutions across a diverse range of ecosystems, from forests and grasslands to mangroves and oceans.

The priority, therefore, is to establish an efficient, robust mechanism to value and trade African carbon on global markets. The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) launched the Africa Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI) at COP27 to drive a dramatic increase in the production of African carbon credits, ensure that carbon credit revenues are transparent and equitable, and create good jobs. Most importantly, ACMI aims to ensure the integrity of carbon credits, which is key to both overcoming perceptions of risk associated with investing in Africa and withstanding rising scrutiny of carbon credit projects following cases of “greenwashing.” By demonstrating the highest levels of integrity, the credits can be priced at a premium, reflecting the biodiversity and social co-benefits of many African nature-based solutions.

The continent’s untapped renewable energy potential can literally fuel the world. By 2040, Africa could meet the electricity demands of an economy four times larger than today’s with only 50 per cent more energy. Abundant solar, hydro, wind, and geothermal resources also make several African countries globally competitive destinations for green hydrogen, which can not only decarbonise sectors such as transport and heavy industry but also create green ammonia for domestic fertiliser production, building food security and reducing reliance on costly imports. The availability of green hydrogen, in tandem with a large, young, and entrepreneurial workforce, also positions Africa as a global hub for green manufacturing. The long tail impact of Covid-related supply chain disruptions — exacerbated by continued lockdowns in China — is raising the urgency of identifying alternative, low-emissions supply chains for many businesses. Africa can and should capitalise on these new opportunities.

I see a time, not too far from now, when Africa goes to COP not to ask for money but to offer solutions to the greatest challenges the world faces. We must all be invested in making this happen.

The views expressed in this article are the contributor’s own and do not necessarily reflect BII’s investment policy or the policy of the UK government.