If COP27 Fails, Africans Stand to Lose the Most
The climate summit won’t bring change to Africa until the West gets serious about “loss and damage.”
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
Welcome to Foreign Policy’s Africa Brief.
The highlights this week: Unpacking Ethiopia’s peace deal, a corruption ruling in the Glencore scandal, and Nigeria’s new bank notes lead to currency-market chaos.
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Africa’s ‘Shocking’ Climate Injustice
The United Nations’ climate change summit opened in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, on Sunday with a warning from the Egyptian foreign minister and COP27 president, Sameh Shoukry, that world leaders must recognize the “magnitude of the climate challenge” faced and address concerns around “backsliding” on financial pledges.
A flashpoint of COP27 is a demand that those who have contributed the most to the planet’s pollution pay the costs of the “loss and damage” caused and not only focus on curbing future impacts.
Africans are experiencing some of the worst weather events in a decade this year despite contributing the least to global carbon emissions at less than 4 percent. Devastating floods have destroyed food production across West Africa, including hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland in Nigeria. The worst drought in 40 years in East Africa has led to famine conditions for 50 million people, including nearly 8 million in Somalia.
Extreme heat and wildfires have ravaged North African countries. In July, temperatures in Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, reached 118 degrees Fahrenheit, breaking a 40-year record. Meanwhile, cyclones have wreaked havoc in Southern Africa since January, affecting thousands across Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi.
The climate chaos means the continent is losing up to 15 percent of gross domestic product per capita growth each year because of climate change, according to the African Development Bank. Paying for reconstruction is also more expensive because, with downgraded credit ratings, poorer nations pay more for borrowing.
Egypt and other African countries are demanding that previous financial commitments be upheld. More than 12 years ago, richer countries promised $100 billion per year by 2020 for climate adaptation but never delivered.
“Our countries are already forced to spend between 2 percent and 5 percent of their gross domestic product each year to deal with a problem they did not create,” Moussa Faki Mahamat, chair of the African Union Commission, said at the Africa Adaptation Summit in September. “This is where one of the most shocking injustices toward our continent resides,” he added.
Yet richer countries have so far rejected calls for climate reparations. “At the rate we’re going, a couple of countries have the ability to eclipse our historical emissions,” U.S. climate envoy John Kerry told the New York Times. Observers view this and other past comments as being directed at China, the world’s largest emitter.
“The elephant in the room driving the remarks is clearly China,” wrote Faten Aggad, a senior advisor on climate diplomacy at the African Climate Foundation. Chinese President Xi Jinping is notably absent from the conference.
An uncomfortable fact for Washington is that China is one of the main funders of renewable-energy projects in Africa. At last year’s China-Africa Cooperation forum, Beijing committed to ramping up investments in solar, wind, and other renewables across the continent and has made no overseas coal power investments since 2021. It is also one of several nations funding the International Monetary Fund’s $20 billion IMF Resilience and Sustainability Trust on pandemics and climate change resilience.
U.S. President Joe Biden pledged to increase international climate financing from $5.7 billion to $11.4 billion per year by 2024. However, Congress approved just $1 billion this year. One analysis by Carbon Brief, taking account of historic carbon emissions with proportional contributions to the $100 billion pledge, suggests the United States owes developing countries nearly $40 billion.
Experts say that, without strong action from the world’s two biggest polluters, there is little prospect of avoiding a global climate disaster. U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres has warned that trust between the global north and south is being eroded. “Getting concrete results on loss and damage is a litmus test of the commitment of governments to the success of COP27,” Guterres said.
European leaders have also received criticism from African activists who accuse Europe of using Africa as a personal gas station. Germany has been pursuing development of a gas field in Senegal to plug its energy crisis while demanding that African governments fast-track renewable energy for their own electricity needs.
At a press conference, Mohamed Adow, director of the energy and climate think tank Power Shift Africa, singled out German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. “The message we want to send to Scholz as he comes here is that the days of colonialism are over. We won’t accept energy colonialism,” he said.
It is poignant that this year’s climate conference is taking place within the North African region, the most underfunded region when it comes to climate research adaptation despite its vulnerability to drought, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report.
Low-lying and densely populated cities in Algeria and Egypt are threatened by sea level rise. The report suggests extreme heat will reduce production of crops such as olives, which is a key resource for rural jobs in Egypt, Tunisia, and Morocco. Already this year, low rainfall has cut Tunisia’s olive production by 15 percent.
On top of this, countries in North Africa and the Middle East are the world’s “most water-scarce,” leading to competition over water as seen with Egypt’s dispute with Ethiopia over its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. This will increase the ongoing migration exodus happning from North African countries.
Some European countries have pledged financing toward a loss and damage fund. In September, Denmark became the first national government to commit $13 million. On Monday, Belgium pledged $2.5 million to Mozambique from 2023 to 2028. (Mozambique is expected to become a large liquefied natural gas exporter.) Germany also announced it would provide a pot of $170 million to help “countries hit hardest.”
Those sums don’t go far enough. Loss and damage in developing countries are projected to cost between $290 billion and $580 billion a year by 2030, according to a 2018 study. One idea being floated is to make fossil fuel companies that have made record profits fund some of the bill.
The Week Ahead
Wednesday, Nov. 9: Finance ministers convene at COP27.
Thursday, Nov. 10: The U.N. Security Council holds a debate on counterterrorism in Africa, chaired by Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo.
Friday, Nov. 11: U.S. President Joe Biden travels to Egypt to participate in COP27.
Tuesday, Nov. 15, to Friday, Nov. 18: The African Union hosts a conference on digital economy development in Harare, Zimbabwe.
What We’re Watching
Ethiopian truce. The Ethiopian army’s chief of staff, Berhanu Jula, and the commander of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Gen. Tadesse Worede, met on Monday in Nairobi for a second round of talks on how to implement the peace deal signed in South Africa on Nov. 2.
In the pact brokered by the African Union, the federal government pledged to end the blockade on Tigray imposed at the beginning of the two-year conflict, while Tigray’s leaders agreed to disarm their forces within 30 days of the signed agreement.
The Ethiopian government’s lead negotiator, Redwan Hussein, said the restoration of humanitarian services to Tigray was a priority. “We have to quickly reconnect services to telecom, energy, and banking systems. But before that, our people need food and medicine, and we are trying to expedite that,” he said at a press conference.
Under the deal, the TPLF’s controversial election win in 2020 will be effectively reversed. (A new interim transitional government will be put in place in Tigray until legal elections are held, voiding the TPLF’s previous victory.)
The TPLF will also recognize the Ethiopian government’s authority to administer all federal institutions in Tigray in what many Ethiopians view as a near-total curtailment of the TPLF’s power.
It is unclear whether other actors will abide by the agreement. Eritrea, which fought alongside the Ethiopian federal government against Tigrayan authorities, was notably not part of the peace talks, nor were pro-federal government forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region, which have occupied western Tigray. Meanwhile, Oromo Liberation Army rebels stormed the Western town of Nekemte on Sunday. (The rebels had made an alliance with northern Tigrayan forces and are fighting the Ethiopian federal government.)
DRC-Rwanda tensions. Kenyan President William Ruto says his country is sending troops to the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of a contingent announced by the seven-nation East African Community. Kenyan forces will join their Burundian counterparts. Uganda and South Sudan also pledged to send soldiers.
More than 120 armed groups operate across mineral-rich eastern Congo, including the M23 rebels, which Kinshasa has repeatedly accused Rwanda of supporting. Kigali denies the accusations.
Glencore scandal. A court in London has ordered the U.K. subsidiary of mining giant Glencore to pay more than 275 million pounds (about $313 million) for “corporate corruption on a widespread scale.” The firm was charged with bribing African officials to gain oil access.
Prosecutors said Glencore Energy U.K., which pleaded guilty to seven corruption offenses back in June, used private jets to transfer the cash to pay the bribes. In Nigeria, Cameroon, and the Ivory Coast, Glencore paid $26 million through agents and employees to officials of crude oil firms between 2011 and 2016. The subsidiary also admitted to failing to prevent its agents from using bribes to secure oil contracts in Equatorial Guinea and South Sudan.
It follows a settlement in the U.S. in May where Glencore agreed to pay $1.1 billion over the bribery of officials in seven countries including Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Venezuela over the course of a decade.
This Week in Money
French-Algerian tensions. A bank note issued by the Central Bank of Algeria caused anger among French politicians last week. Algeria issued the 2,000-dinar bank note ($14) to commemorate the Arab League summit held in the country on Nov. 1 and Nov. 2. But some French politicians took offense that the amount was written in Arabic and English instead of French.
In July, Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune announced the country would start teaching English in addition to French in primary schools. France has been accused of maintaining a neocolonial stance toward former colonies, leading to widespread animosity across Francophone Africa.
Nigerian currency plummets. The naira dropped to record lows against the dollar after Nigeria’s central bank announced a redesign of higher-value notes in a move criticized by Nigeria’s finance minister. Africa’s biggest economy plans to replace 200-, 500- and 1,000-naira notes, and old bills will cease to be legal tender by Jan. 31.
Finance Minister Zainab Ahmed said her ministry was not consulted. “There will be some benefits, but there will be some challenges,” Ahmed said. The central bank says the redesign will force Nigerians to bank their money, as an estimated 80 percent of money in circulation is held outside of the banking system.
Financial experts say the tight deadline could exacerbate inflation and a shortage in foreign currency. The announcement has sent citizens rushing to ditch the naira in exchange for the dollar. The rush to change old notes has led to the naira trading at rates around 890 per dollar in the unauthorized market, more than double the official rate.
Chart of the Week
Africa receives the least funding for research to effectively prepare for climate change. Since 1990, only 3.8 percent of total global climate-related research funding has focused on African topics, while 78 percent of that funding has gone to researchers in the United States and Europe.
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What We’re Reading
Deaths in Melilla. A BBC Africa Eye documentary reveals the complicity of Moroccan and Spanish authorities in the deaths of migrants at the border of Spain’s Melilla enclave on June 24. Official numbers by authorities say that at least 23 people died, while U.N. experts believe the death toll is much higher—many people are still unaccounted for. Documentary footage shows dozens of migrants being beaten while restrained on the ground. The bodies of migrants have not been returned to their families and are still in a Moroccan morgue, according to the BBC.
Migrants lost at Europe’s borders. In Inkyfada, Haifa Mzalouat interviews families of migrants missing or suspected dead who met up in Zarzis, Tunisia, to remember their loved ones and protest escalating border violence. At CommemorAction, a four-day event that took place starting Sept. 6, attendees from Senegal to Niger and Morocco attempted to find information on relatives spotted in detention centers or held in prisons.
Nosmot Gbadamosi is a multimedia journalist and the writer of Foreign Policy’s weekly Africa Brief. She has reported on human rights, the environment, and sustainable development from across the African continent. Twitter: @nosmotg
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