African leaders navigate fossil fuel dilemma in Climate Summit Declaration

COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber delivers his remarks during the Africa Climate Summit 2023 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in Nairobi on September 5, 2023. (Photo by Luis Tato / AFP)

COP28 President Sultan Al Jaber delivers his remarks during the Africa Climate Summit 2023 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) in Nairobi on September 5, 2023. (Photo by Luis Tato / AFP)

Published Jun 20, 2024


African leaders have unveiled a joint declaration, shaping their negotiating stance for the upcoming COP28 climate summit in November.

Notably absent from the document is a clear call for a phase-out of fossil fuels, shedding light on the divisions between nations advocating for renewable energy and those asserting the need for fossil fuels, particularly gas, to drive economic development.

The inaugural Africa Climate Summit witnessed heads of state rallying behind calls for sweeping financial reforms, including the imposition of global taxes and debt relief, to bolster climate action on the continent.

The eight-page declaration acknowledges fossil fuels in a limited capacity, urging the global community to “uphold commitments to a fair and accelerated process of phasing down coal and abolishment of all fossil fuel subsidies”.

This reference refers to the pivotal pledge established during COP26 in 2021. However, in the time since, there has been growing momentum to expand this commitment to include all forms of fossil fuels.

Efforts to broaden the commitment were supported by an array of nations and campaigners at COP27, including India, the EU, US, UK, Chile, and Colombia.

Yet, it ultimately faltered in the face of opposition from oil-producing countries, primarily Saudi Arabia and Russia.

In contrast, Africa's negotiating group did not publicly endorse or reject the proposal at the COP27 meeting.

The battle over fossil fuels is expected to resurface at this year's climate summit, hosted by the United Arab Emirates.

The UAE has made the phase-down of fossil fuels a central agenda item, with President-designate Sultan al-Jaber describing it as “essential” and “inevitable”.

Conspicuously, fossil fuels were largely absent from discussions during the three-day gathering in Nairobi. Kenya's President William Ruto championed the rapid expansion of green growth, emphasising Africa's untapped potential in renewable energy.

Notably, 90 percent of Kenya's electricity is derived from renewable sources.

However, many African nations possess significant interests in fossil fuels. Countries like Nigeria and Angola are major oil producers, while Senegal and Mozambique have been expanding their gas industries.

South Africa, despite implementing a clean energy transition plan, still relies heavily on coal for electricity generation.

The challenge lies in striking a balance between decarbonisation and economic development.

Approximately 592 million people across Africa lack access to electricity, and the continent's historical contribution to the climate crisis pales in comparison to that of wealthier nations.

African countries argue that gas power, in conjunction with renewables, is essential for industrialisation and the establishment of stable grids.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) President Akinwumi Adesina echoed this sentiment, stating, “Africa needs stable grids to industrialise. Gas is a very critical part of the energy mix.”

The AfDB has been actively supporting the development of gas infrastructure across the continent, including a contentious liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Ghana.

As Africa continues to navigate the complex intersection of climate action, economic development, and energy sources, the continent's stance on fossil fuels remains a pivotal point of debate that will play a crucial role in shaping the global response to the climate crisis.