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Post-COP27: Whither African agenda? (1)

Post-COP27: Whither African agenda? (1)

Ahead of the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) in Sharm El Sheik, Egypt, the African Union had articulated the continental position broadly based on the following priorities: (1) Enhance climate finance, especially the US$100bn promised developing countries annually, (2) strengthen adaptation action, (3) make financial arrangements for loss and damage from climate change, (4) recognize Africa’s special needs and circumstances and (5) provide financing for a just transition pathway.

To a large extent, most of these objectives were achieved. The COP27 Sharm el-Sheikh Implementation Plan holds the line on limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, as well as other key commitments of the Glasgow COP26, but will also allow fossil energy sources with lower emissions like natural gas to be part of a clean energy mix.

This includes an allowance for each country’s unique circumstances to be considered in its energy transition plans. COP27 also decided to make financial arrangements for a loss and damage fund, which is a big win for Africa. However, outside of urging developed countries to scale up public grants for climate action in vulnerable poor countries, especially African ones, there was not much that was agreed on how to bring this about.

The COP27 decisions document reiterates the goal of a global energy transition to renewables. But it also recognizes that countries face different circumstances

Still, these decisions are by and large in line with the African agenda of a just energy transition that allows the continent to continue tapping its abundant fossil fuel resources for development in tandem with renewable energy during the transition period towards renewable energy.

There is dissatisfaction in some quarters that COP27 underwhelmed Africa. But even those who are displeased will agree that these more realistic COP27 decisions that stakeholders will likely abide by are better than the ambitious commitments of past conferences that have been largely ignored. To be clear, the COP27 decisions document reiterates the goal of a global energy transition to renewables.

But it also recognizes that countries face different circumstances, and as such will make the transition at varied paces. Such nuance in language was exactly one of the wins Africa was looking for. That said, Africa did not achieve all the key items on its agenda. For instance, a discussion of Africa’s “special needs and circumstances” was struck out from the COP27 agenda.

Natural gas gets go-ahead

The COP27 decisions document does not include a commitment to phasing out fossil fuels. Instead, it “stresses the importance of enhancing a clean energy mix, including low-emission and renewable energy, at all levels as part of diversifying energy mixes and systems, in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for support towards just transitions.” This supports Africa’s goal of unreserved and continued usage of its oil and gas resources towards industrialisation.

Unsurprisingly, this carte blanche of sorts on fossil fuels is not to the liking of African climate activists, who argue that the region should not allow itself to be ‘Europe’s gas station’. In truth, the lack of a stronger language on fossil fuels was self-interested for rich countries, especially Europe, which even though it made a show of wanting a clearly determined phase-out of fossil fuels in the COP27 decisions document, continues to strike deals with African countries for gas supply.

In fact, delegates from various countries discussed oil and gas exploration with fossil fuel executives during the conference itself, in tandem with myriad green energy deals. Energy security was top-of-mind at COP27. And rightly so in the African context.

To be fair, the European parliament designated investments in natural gas and nuclear energy as climate-friendly in July 2022, months ahead of COP27. But it is doubtful that this would have been the case had Europe not been in a bind with finding gas very quickly to make up for lost Russian supply.

COP27’s approval of lower-emission energy sources like natural gas removes key constraints on investors in the continent’s gas resources. Until the Russia-Ukraine war disrupted Europe’s gas supply arrangements, oil and gas majors had stopped funding new fossil fuel projects in Africa and elsewhere.

Without such funding, Africa’s oil and gas reserves that are as yet unexplored, will remain in the ground, with huge implications for the continent’s energy security and economic development. African climate activists disagree, arguing that what has been extracted from the continent’s fossil fuel resources thus far has not been particularly to the benefit of a still energy-starved continent, since they are largely exported to rich countries, preferring instead that the continent put more impetus in transitioning to renewable energy.

Defendants of the use of fossil fuel, on the other hand, argue that renewable energy sources remain intermittent, weather-dependent, and are still not capable of baseload power, while natural gas is well-suited for providing baseload power support to a green-dominant energy mix till when the identified drawbacks of renewables are overcome.

Edited article was first published by the Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI) in Milan, Italy. See link viz. https://www.ispionline.it/en/publication/post-cop27-whither-african-agenda-113480