During the first two opening days of COP26 in Scotland, over 25 African leaders took center stage to demand climate justice and greater support from richer nations.
African leaders demanded wealthy countries make good on their pledge to deliver $100 billion a year in climate finance to developing countries – a commitment made at the UN climate talks in 2009. A report recently announced they would not be able to meet this target until 2023. Between 2016 and 2018, only 25% of the money promised to developing nations went to Africa.
While the continent is responsible for just 3% of global emissions, it remains the most vulnerable region to global warming. For example, Madagascar has been hit by one of the modern world’s first climate change-induced famines, yet the island country produces a little more than 0.01% of the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions.
With over 120 world leaders in attendance, the continent was well represented with statements from Angola, Central African Republic, Congo, Comoros, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eswatini, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea-Bisseau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Madagascar, Malawi, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe.
“We are naturally very disappointed by the failure of wealthy nations to honor their commitments,” said Nana Akufo-Addo, the president of Ghana. “We must find a solution that recognizes the historical imbalances between the high emitters and low emitters.”
A recent report showed lower income countries spend five times more on debt to rich nations than coping with the impact of climate change. Several African leaders lamented high debt payments which are hindering adaptation efforts.
“Due to high debt servicing, we lack the fiscal space to scale up investment in climate change action,” said Julius Maada Bio, the president of Sierra Leone. He added that Africa has access to less than 5% of global climate financing streams, while Moeketsi Majoro, Lesotho’s president said “access to global climate finance mechanisms remain effectively shut.”
Several stressed finances should come in the form of grants and not loans, and should be directed towards adaption – not mitigation.
Africa’s leaders painted a grim picture of the continent’s plight in the face of climate change. A rise in extreme weather events is damaging economies reliant on agriculture and natural resources. Climate change is exacerbating already high levels of poverty, while the economic shock of covid-19 has further weakened capacity to manage climate threats.
Recognizing Africa’s minimal contribution to the climate crisis, leaders urged rich nations to urgently reduce their emissions in line with a 1.5C temperature rise.
“It is most unfortunate that the impact of climate change is disproportionately borne by the vulnerable communities which have contributed the least to the current stock of atmospheric carbon,” added Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, the president of Zimbabwe. “The expectation is that major emitters will scale up mitigation action.”
Africa’s leaders are hoping the outcomes at COP26 could save the continent from further impacts of climate change. The African Union Commission warned that up to 118 million extremely poor people will be exposed to drought, floods, and extreme heat in Africa by 2030. Climate change could further lower GDP in sub-Saharan Africa by up to 3% by 2050.
“If we as developing countries have shown leadership, why are large emitting countries lagging behind?” said Samia Suluhu Hassan, the president of Tanzania. “If the world will not act accordingly, countries like ours have no option but to brace for devastating impacts.”
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