By Tshilidzi Marwala
As the twentyseventh session of the United Nations (UN) Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP27) unfolded in Egypt in November 2022, it became a signifier of Africa taking climate change into
its own hands. The continent has often been placed on the back burner of other nations.
Yet, it is no secret that climate change has impacted Africa the most, even though its contribution to the world’s greenhouse gas emissions is less than 5%. As the African Development Bank states, this is because of the continent’s relatively low adaptive capability, caused by financial and technological weaknesses,
and an over-dependence on rain-fed agriculture.
In fact, in September 2022, the State of the Climate in Africa 2021 UN report revealed the convergence of climate shocks that plague Africa. For example, 2021 Africa experienced at least the fourth warmest year on record. It is expected that by 2030, between 108-116 million people in Africa will be threatened by rising sea levels.
Furthermore, the drought in East Africa is worsening, whereas North Africa is experiencing extreme heat. In the past 50 years, drought has claimed the lives of over half a million people and this resulted in $70 billion economic losses. Furthermore, there has been a 34% reduction in agricultural productivity growth since 1961 as a result of increased temperatures. Therefore, climate change is a significant driver of displacement on the African continent and currently, only 40% of people are covered by MultiHazard Early Warning Systems. Resounding cries from young activists that the future was being stripped from Africa were heard beyond the doors of COP27 – a necessary and powerful call to action as the conference began. The first ‘African COP’ since 2016 represented a rewriting of the continent’s narrative as African nations made a case for climate justice.
As Absa’s Group Chief Strategy and Sustainability Officer Punki Modise phrased it: “COP27 marked a
necessary – and overdue – concession to pragmatism and the recognition that if we are to effectively mitigate the impact of climate change at a global scale we need to slowly reframe climate issues, especially in the context of human dignity.” The impact of this shift was tangible.
Towards the end of November, the conference closed with a breakthrough agreement to reframe and create new funding avenues for vulnerable countries hit hard by climate disasters. New funding arrangements will be established alongside a dedicated “loss and damage” fund to assist developing countries. Additionally, a transitional committee was established to make recommendations on
how to roll out funding, with the first meeting expected in March this year.
The Santiago Network will accompany funding for Loss and Damage deployment to offer technical assistance to these nations.
Of course, as history has demonstrated, the implementation and fulfilment of pledges always fall short
of what is needed for the world to deal decisively with climate change. It remains to be seen whether the money will flow – and whether this will be accompanied by necessary commitments from developed nations to phase out fossil fuels and curb the damage it has inflicted over the years.
In reframing the African narrative on climate change, however, there has also been a shift away from solely relying on the Global North to fulfil its commitments. The launch of the African Climate Risk Facility
created by 85 insurers in the continent to protect against droughts, floods and tropical cyclones by providing climate risk insurance, represents Africa taking climate action into its own hands. The facility is a $14 billion local market-based funding tool to help African countries increase the resilience of their
This speaks to the argument made in the aftermath of COP26 in 2021 for localized solutions and inherently reframes the continent’s ability to respond when disaster hits in response to the often unfulfilled commitments of the Global North.
COP27 has been a valuable exercise in reaffirming developed nations’ commitments to vulnerable and
less developed nations – a vital tool for tackling climate change and reframing the continent’s position. The messaging is clear: the Global North must continue acknowledging its role and providing funding and support, but Africa should no longer plead but take matters into its own hands.