Curating the Nairobi outcome: a new era for climate leadership in the continent

The crowded streets of Nairobi. A continuum of disastrous events across Africa reminds us that it is the poorest and most vulnerable segments of our population that continues to bear the brunt of these climate impacts, the writer says. File image.

The crowded streets of Nairobi. A continuum of disastrous events across Africa reminds us that it is the poorest and most vulnerable segments of our population that continues to bear the brunt of these climate impacts, the writer says. File image.

Published Sep 6, 2023


The inaugural Africa Climate Summit, which taxied off in all earnest yesterday in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, heralds yet another historic moment for our rich yet impoverished continent.

“We are on a climate crisis treadmill and we need to keep pace. The Summit symbolises a new era of climate leadership in Africa and the world, but equally it represents an empowering crisis for Africa to meet the cardinal sustainable development goal of the eradication of global poverty, as with the case for a rapid response to climate change,“ according to the World Resources Institute, at the opening of the round-table on Adaptation for Finance in Africa.

A continuum of disastrous events across Africa reminds us that it is the poorest and most vulnerable segments of our population that continues to bear the brunt of these climate impacts.

Africa’s case for climate action

Africa is the continent of the future. The youngest continent with population set to double to 2.5 billion by 2050, a continent of immense potential in clean energy, arable land, critical minerals, and home to most of the fastest-growing economies of the world, and a continent ready to take off.

Africa’s renewables potential is 50 times the global anticipated electricity demand in 2040; it is home to 30–40% of the world’s minerals – including those needed for green energy transition, and 60% of the available arable land of the world. Africa’s nature-based biophysical potential alone, at 1.5 gigatons CO2e (carbon dioxide equivalent), can meet up to 30% of global need.

All these are proof that Africa has the opportunity to lead the world, industrialise, thrive, and prosper – and achieve this in a low carbon and sustainable manner, yet on the flip side, climate change and inadequate adaptation mechanisms threaten to lower gross domestic product, which has severe consequences for growth and the shared prosperity of the region.

Financing for development and climate action

Africa’s just transition commitments are premised on the availability of and access to significant international climate finance and investment, accessible and affordable technology, and substantial capacity-building commitments.

The recognition that climate finance is an important lever to unlock Africa’s appropriate response and adaptation is vital and the need for the mobilisation of climate finance across all African countries is important and must progress significantly beyond current financial flows if we are to dent poverty and underdevelopment.

The Paris Agreement in Article 9, commits developed country parties to continue to take the lead in mobilising climate finance from a wide variety of sources, instruments, and channels. The article also recognises the importance of public funds, which is important to support country-driven strategies for decarbonisation.

While some of this capital can be mobilised through realignment and reallocation of existing resources, new resources will need to be mobilised, both internationally and domestically.

In particular, the role of advanced economies in supplying the financial capital required to enable effective climate response in developing economies has been recognised at UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations.

Building and strengthening resilience

There is a moral responsibility to enhance the resilience to the impacts of climate change, in a way that improves lives and livelihoods for all.

This includes enhancing climate resilience, taking action to ensure that our communities can withstand climate risks, as well as broader societal resilience, empowering people and strengthening policies to ensure more just, equal, and sustainable outcomes.

Co-operative governance and an African consensus

The need to engage in this in a manner that minimises the potential collateral damage is paramount. This means that over and above the big infrastructure investments, there is a strong need for smart, innovative climate governance models to successfully manage the transition – and that is the leadership Wanjira Mathai, the managing director for Africa and Global Partnerships at World Resources Institute speaks of.

Underlying the above is the need for the accumulation of social capital with which to bridge divergent agendas. Social capital can be defined as “the web of co-operative relationships between citizens that facilitate resolution of collective action problems”. In essence, this involves agreement between government, labour, business, and civil society on pathways to and through a tumultuous just transition, and the means by which it will be implemented.

Without this buy-in by all major groups required for implementation, even well-designed policies and plans will flounder, jeopardising climate resilience of Africa and her economies, while hindering international trading and investment relations.

A call to and from Nairobi: Our expectations from the East

The summit presents a new way forward focused on achieving food sovereignty, renewable energy, and an Afro-centric industrial policy that increases African collaboration and resource control within the framework of the African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA).

Nairobi must galvanise Africa behind climate positive action and aim to present a new vision for a green economic transformation that builds more resilient food, energy and industrial systems, a vision that optimises the continent’s abundant human and natural resources and integrates enhanced climate adaptation and mitigation outcomes.

The Nairobi Declaration, which the summit will adopt on Thursday, must seek to unlock new climate investments towards creation of low emissions and climate resilient just transition pathways in key economic sectors such as energy, agriculture, water, infrastructure, mobility, and social services in Africa. It must further ensure Africa’s voice is elevated globally, and we are confident that it will.

Blessing Manale is the head of Communications and Outreach at the Presidential Climate Commission and part of the South Africa delegation at the African Climate Summit.