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COP27's President Sameh Shoukry calls for an ‘era of implementation’.

Updated: Nov 20, 2022

COP27 President calls for an ‘era of implementation’ as talks kick off in Egypt.

Seth Onyango, bird story agency

A little less conversation and a lot more action, please: that was the call from African states as 2022’s United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP27) kicked off in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Though previous COPs have been held on the continent – in Durban, South Africa, in 2011 and Marrakech, Morocco, in 2016 – this year’s gathering has been dubbed “Africa’s COP” by many, including the UN Foundation’s Vice President for Climate Change and the Environment.

Speaking at the event’s opening last night, Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sameh Shoukry, also COP27 President, stressed that climate financing pledges made to the continent needed to be implemented if African countries are to manage the fallout from climate change.

“We have constantly called for moving from negotiations and pledges to an era of implementation as a priority as well as the acceleration of the implementation of what we have agreed upon with the UNFCCC promoted in the parties’ accord [the Paris Agreement, adopted by 196 countries at the 2016 meeting] and the work programme while stating the importance of scaling up ambitions and aligning them to countries’ capacities and resources,” said Shoukry.

He added that rich, heavily polluting nations’ “current level of ambition” was “not up to the Paris goals”. Adding that “more efficient and wider participation by all relevant parties” was needed to implement pledges and commitments.

One of the debates that’s likely to surface repeatedly over the next ten days is how African countries can pivot away from fossil fuels towards green energy without sustaining huge economic costs and without the transition leaving nations quite literally in the dark amid a global energy crisis. Innovative financing schemes will be required to help low-income states add large quantities of renewable energy while simultaneously building out grid and distribution infrastructure.

Participants at COP27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Friday, November 7, 2022. The event has been heralded as "Africa's COP" . (Photo : Seth Onyango, bird story agency)

Stakeholders in the continent’s petroleum industry are pushing back against a total turn to green energy – and they’re using Africa’s status as the world’s lowest producer of greenhouse gases to bolster their argument. The continent, which accounts for about 17% of the world’s population, was responsible for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions (and only ten countries accounted for most of that figure).

The African Petroleum Producers Organization and Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, among others, argue that countries in the global south, particularly those in Africa, should be given leeway to power their economies with hydrocarbons, just like the West did. Petroleum firms argue that industrialised countries were able to leapfrog others in wealth and power by tapping into fossil fuels; what’s good for the goose, they suggest, ought to be good for the gander.

International climate policy expert Mohamed Adow noted that the UK funded and profited from the expansion of fossil fuels in Africa for decades: “While (the UK) was reaping the benefits of decarbonising its own energy system it was shackling poorer nations with dirty fossil fuel infrastructure, which the world must now move away from.”

If the continent is to pull off a leapfrog of its own, Adow argued, wealthy polluters now calling for Africa to harness clean energy must foot the bill. It won’t be chump change: in July 2021, for example, South Africa’s national power utility firm, Eskom Holdings SOC Ltd, put forward a $ US 10 billion plan to multilateral banks and agencies to help it transition to renewables.

The oil and gas sector’s call for a gradual shift is drawing increasing opprobrium from a public greatly concerned with the environmental impact of fossil fuels and ever-more sceptical investors who prefer to fund clean energy projects. The Net Zero Investment Framework developed by the Institutional Investors Group on Climate Change represents more than US $16 trillion.

Some African countries are already positioning themselves to benefit from that gigantic pot. Previous COP hosts Morocco, and South Africa are making big strides in the hydrogen space; others have turned their attention to solar and wind generation.

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