Billed as Africa’s premier climate summit, the Africa Climate Summit, scheduled for September 4–8, has already sparked intense debate and anticipation among climate activists across the continent. At the heart of this discussion is a critical question: Will this summit truly prioritize the needs and aspirations of Africa, or will it succumb to the pressures of external interests?
Climate activists in Africa have not minced their words. They have called out the host of the event, H.E. William Ruto, the President of Kenya, and the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC), for allegedly prioritizing Western interests over the African agenda. At its core, what Africans seek from this summit is a resolute commitment to phasing out fossil fuels on the continent, making way for a massive harnessing of Africa’s renewable energy potential.
The call for a fossil fuel phaseout is not just a matter of environmentalism; it’s a matter of justice. Rich nations bear historical responsibility for the climate crisis, having disproportionately contributed to the problem. They must fulfill their obligations by not only reducing their greenhouse gas emissions to zero but also providing substantial financial support to poorer, climate-vulnerable nations to address the devastating impacts of the climate crisis.
In the pursuit of remedies to the energy and climate crises, Africa and other developing regions find themselves increasingly burdened by what can be called “false solutions.” These often come in the form of profit-driven schemes by corporations that exploit the climate crisis and contribute to it by prolonging the burning of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, these schemes tend to have devastating consequences for the most vulnerable communities on the frontlines of climate change. Kenya, for instance, is in the process of amending the Climate Change Act, 2016 to include provisions for Carbon Markets. This kind of false solution should be discouraged as it encourages polluters to keep on polluting as long as they can ‘offset’ their emissions, typically in some climate-vulnerable developing nation, at the expense of local communities.
Central to the hopes of Africans is the imperative for a swift and equitable transition away from fossil fuels towards renewable energy sources. The call for a fossil fuel phaseout and the tapping of Africa’s abundant renewable energy potential stems from a profound understanding of the region’s unique needs. Rather than replicating the fossil fuel-driven development models of the past, Africa has the opportunity to leapfrog to cleaner, more sustainable alternatives. Solar and wind energy, for instance, can power Africa’s progress while simultaneously addressing its energy deficit and driving economic growth.
Delaying this transition in favor of further pollution is a perilous choice. Climate change isn’t waiting for us to make up our minds about when to have a just energy transition, and any hesitation will make us spectators while calamity wipes out lives and livelihoods. The dash for gas in Africa, which is characterized by European nations pursuing Africa’s gas to meet their energy needs following the Ukraine-Russia war, undermines the continent’s energy needs and development goals. Previous investments in fossil fuels across the continent have brought about environmental destruction, social disruption, and conflicts; for countries like Kenya, which have borne the brunt of these consequences, doubling down on fossil fuels would be a grave mistake. This is not the path forward for highly impacted countries or the continent as a whole. Continued investments in fossil fuels hinder, rather than advance, the potential for clean, affordable, and decentralized renewable energy. Consequently, there’s no room for fossil gas or other fossil fuel projects in Africa’s energy future. What we need is substantial climate finance that doesn’t exacerbate debt, enabling us to confront the climate crisis and protect our people.
As the Summit convenes, its significance lies in the solutions it can bring to the forefront. This is an opportunity to drive real change for the communities that stand on the frontlines of climate impacts. As the continent’s premier climate platform, the summit must not merely discuss problems but actively propose strategies that are tailored to Africa’s unique challenges. True climate leadership would entail devising solutions that resonate with the needs of frontline communities—the ones most vulnerable to climate impacts. As an African summit, it should offer solutions to African problems, ensuring that the summit’s outcomes genuinely contribute to a sustainable future.
The intertwined nature of climate action and renewable energy access cannot be overstated. For Africa, sustainable development hinges on embracing climate-conscious strategies and prioritizing the expansion of renewable energy resources. These elements are not mutually exclusive; rather, they hold the key to fostering a resilient, inclusive, and equitable growth trajectory for the continent. By aligning development efforts with climate finance and renewable energy, Africa can simultaneously address environmental challenges and pave the way for sustainability.
The summit thus has the potential to be a turning point for Africa to reclaim its agency in the fight against climate change. African leaders must seize this opportunity to prioritize justice and champion the aspirations of the people. By phasing out fossil fuels, harnessing renewable energy, and rallying around the call for climate finance, Africa can redefine the narrative surrounding Africa’s development, forging a path that not only safeguards the environment but also empowers its communities for generations to come. It’s time to put Africa’s interests first and make the summit a beacon of hope for climate justice on the continent.
Charity Migwi is the Regional Campaigner at 350Africa.org