“Coal is the past, and renewable energy is the future”
These were the words of African Development Bank (AfDB) President, Akinwumi Adesina, at a United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019, while unveiling the AfDB’s ambitious plans to scrap coal power stations across the continent and switch to renewable energy.
Adesina told the gathering of leaders and officials from almost 200 countries that the bank was “getting out of coal” and elaborated on plans for $20 billion of investments in solar and clean energy that would provide Africa’s 250 million people with 10,000 MW of electricity. Because after all, “there’s a reason God gave Africa sunlight”, he said.
Much like Lucy from in the movie 50 First Dates, the bank seemingly woke up the next morning with goldfield syndrome – little to no recollection of their pledge to get out of coal. Three years later, the bank continues to contribute millions of dollars into fossil fuels. This selective amnesia proves that the AfDB ultimately has little regard for Africans facing a climate emergency.
In 2021, the AfDB kicked African civil society to the curb when it abruptly cancelled a CSO-led COP26 side-event, organised at the bank’s request. Was this cancellation a deliberate tactic to avoid transparency and accountability, or was it another flare up of goldfield syndrome? The AfDB is yet to provide any legitimate explanations as to why it sidelined the voices of African civil society. By excluding civil society and community-based voices from decision-making processes, the AfDB is creating an unjust and unsustainable system. Effectively, the bank is ensuring that those on the receiving end of its developments have no say or ownership over the projects directly affecting their own communities.
This is not the only instance where the AfDB has “blue ticked” CSOs and individuals. Their actions beg the question if the bank as a leading Development Finance Institution in Africa has taken the climate emergency seriously? There have been instances where the bank has gone beyond “blue ticking” CSOs and embarked on a path that has been riddled with inconsistencies, lack of transparency and accountability and leadership.
Are these following four instances the Africa that the bank envisions?
AfDB invited CSOs in 2021 to comment on the new and revised Climate Change and Green Growth Strategic Framework (bit.ly/3Gh8axA). CSOs across Africa, including the Africa Climate Reality Project (ACRP), provided comments and input, however, very little was done to provide feedback on the status of the policy and how CSOs’ inputs and comments would be incorporated. The bank instead only included one recommendation made by CSOs and that is to set target dates for becoming Paris aligned, with 2023 the target for new investments and 2025 for 100% of the bank’s operations. Although certainly a step forward, there is little mention of how these targets will be operationalized by the bank in practice.
AfDB’s stance on gas is unclear and this is alarming considering that gas is not a climate friendly or financially viable option (bit.ly/3wQDO0z), particularly in the African context. Rather than recognising the limited role gas should play, as per CSOs recommendations on the Climate Change and Green Growth Strategic Framework Draft, the bank removed all references to gas in the final versions of both the strategy and policy of the Climate Change and Green Growth Strategic Framework (bit.ly/3yVZTxy).
Under the Integrated Safeguards Systems Framework (bit.ly/3yXkDFb) the AfDB has a mandate and commitment to prevent conflicts over land rights and acquire natural resources only by engaging in serious consultation with local communities and obtaining free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) when it concerns Indigenous people. However, the case of the Lake Turkana Wind Project in Kenya where (bit.ly/3GfvvzY) thousands of people have been left vulnerable (bit.ly/39OLSau) reveals that the bank merely pays lip service to these processes. To this day, the people of Lake Turkana continue to fight over resources. Any conversation about the climate crisis in Africa is incomplete without considering how it disproportionately harms disadvantaged communities in Africa who are least responsible for the climate crisis, and yet most vulnerable to its impacts.
A 2019 Oil Change International study (bit.ly/3NwMsbx) picked up several discrepancies regarding the transparency and reliability of publicly available information regarding projects on AfDB’s website. According to Oil Change International (EnergyFinance.org), “while these project pages typically list the same project name and number, they frequently provide different funding amounts and sometimes different approval dates. Similarly, information in corresponding AfDB news releases often differs from the information provided in the project pages”. The inconsistent information seems like a deliberate tactic to confuse the public while still claiming to be transparent, even though the situation is quite the contrary.
So what now?
AfDB is the largest public finance institution on the continent, hence a powerful agent of change in tipping the scale towards enabling or undermining progressive efforts towards addressing the climate crisis. However, for years, CSOs have been lobbying the bank to increase transparency, accountability, and meaningful consultation with the aim of collaborating with the bank to align their policies with the Paris Agreement and exclude any fossil fuel financing from their energy transition portfolios. While the bank has made some notable strides toward climate action such as increased financing for adaptation and mitigation, these strides are nothing more than making two steps forward and three steps backward. So long as the bank dedicates a penny more to fossil fuels, any effort to address climate change is negated. Furthermore, such strides, without meaningful consultation, only serve to exclude affected communities further.
Considering the above-listed instances, it is clear that the bank has failed to be a first mover and proactively address the devastating impacts of climate change. Their continued delay in shifting investments from dirty fossil fuels suggests that they are complacent to the consequences of climate change. This is why, on Africa Day 2022, climate activists from across Africa are uniting in calling on AfDBto finance a just transition in Africa by signing onto this petition (bit.ly/3wUfuv8) that calls on the bank to power Africa with 100% renewable energy and adopt the principles recommended by CSOs on this position paper (bit.ly/3z5t6Ge). There is an urgent need for AfDB to stop funding fossil fuels, set an immediate ban on new fossil fuel projects and publish a roadmap for phasing out all fossil fuel development financing. This is necessary to advance a just transition in Africa.
Dean Bhebhe – Campaigns Coordinator at the African Climate Reality Project; Charity Migwi – Africa Regional Campaigner at 350.org; Aurelie Kalenga – Communications Manager at the African Climate Reality Project.