Africa Climate Summit 2023 ends with ‘Nairobi Declaration’, but not everyone is happy

The declaration has received mixed reactions, with activists, members of civil society, energy and health experts, criticising it for not being inclusive and radical enough
Kenyan President William Ruto speaking at the end of the Africa Climate Summit 2023. Photo: @WilliamsRuto / X, formerly known as Twitter
Kenyan President William Ruto speaking at the end of the Africa Climate Summit 2023. Photo: @WilliamsRuto / X, formerly known as Twitter

The inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS23) in Nairobi culminated in the ‘Nairobi Declaration’, giving the continent a common voice ahead of upcoming key global engagements. The declaration has a raft of recommendations, pledges and demands believed to have boosted Africa’s bargaining power on international platforms.

The memorandum from the three-day summit, attended by high-level global leaders and over 20 heads of state and 30,000 delegates, calls on the global community to act to reduce emissions. The declaration also calls for reforms to multilateral financial systems, with concerted appeals for debt relief and restructuring existing debts.

“This declaration will serve as a basis for Africa’s common position in the global climate change process. It will guide us in having difficult conversations, taking hard decisions and making uncomfortable changes on our path to a sustainable future,” said William Ruto, President of Kenya and the brains behind ACS23.

Calling it a “firm, clear voice of a united Africa from Nairobi”, Ruto hailed the ‘Nairobi Declaration’ as a powerful negotiation tool and a key for unlocking the continent’s potential as a green powerhouse.

“We shall use it in every available opportunity in the upcoming busy multilateral calendar to push our agenda. From the upcoming G20 meeting, United Nations General Assembly, the annual meetings of World Bank Group and International Monitory Fund and COP28 in Dubai in December,” said President Ruto.

Besides making tough calls to secure funding for climate mitigation and adaptation, the document’s final version highlights green investment opportunities in Africa’s emerging blue and green economies. It also urges world leaders to back a proposed “carbon tax on fossil fuel trade, maritime transport and aviation”.

While calling the international community to order, the declaration wants them to honour the annual climate finance pledge of $100bn they made, as a matter of urgency.

“Accelerate all efforts to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement, accelerate phasing down coal and abolishing all fossil fuel subsidies and operationalise Loss and Damage facility agreed at COP27,” the declaration reads. 

With many African countries having defaulted on loans from developed countries, the declaration proposes debt relief interventions. It recommends extending the debt repayment period and instituting a 10-year grace period to allow the borrowed funds to serve intended development goals.

Under the theme Driving green growth and climate finance solutions for Africa and the World, the summit has been described by delegates and observers as a huge success.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Executive Secretary Simon Stiell, for instance, praised President Ruto for hosting the event, saying: “The summit addressed both the need for financing and Africa’s role as part of the solution.”

Multi-billion dollar pledges at summit 

The Nairobi summit largely focused on calls to unlock investment in clean energy.

“The new Africa means business,” Ruto declared as he announced on the final day that the summit had attracted grants and investment pledges worth $23 billion.

“During this action-focused summit, various stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, multilateral banks, and philanthropists have made substantial commitments totalling a remarkable $23 billion for green growth, mitigation, and adaptation efforts across Africa,” announced Ruto, describing the summit as a springboard for climate action take-off.

The pledges, some directly to Kenya like the €12 million in grants from the European Union (EU) for investment in the green hydrogen industry, are expected to accelerate the continent’s green agenda.

One of the big pledges at the summit was a $4.5 billion finance initiative announced by COP28 president-designate Sultan Al Jaber towards unlocking Africa’s clean energy. 

Several other pledges at the meeting included:

  1. Britain’s £49 million for UK-backed projects to help Africa achieve its growth agenda in renewable sectors. 
  2. The African Development Bank (AfDB) and Global Center on Adaptation’s $1 billion initiative launched to finance youth-led businesses and startups across Africa. And an additional $25 million from AfDB towards climate finance by 2025. 
  3. $30 million grant for food security and climate resilience efforts across the continent from the US, announced by US Climate envoy John Kerry. 
  4. The United Arab Emirates investors pledge to buy $450 million of carbon credits generated in Africa by 2030. 
  5. $200 million investment in green projects across Africa by Climate Asset Management, a specialist climate change investment and advisory firm.
  6. Germany’s €60 million debt swaps with Kenya to free up money for green projects nationwide.
  7. $22.8 million grant pledged by the Bezos Earth Fund to accelerate the restoration of 600,000 hectares of degraded lands in East and Central Africa.
  8. Camco’s $25 million commitment to deepen solar initiatives in Sub-Saharan Africa.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres said the G-20 countries, responsible for over 80 per cent of emissions, must help clean their mess.

Activists, health and energy experts unhappy

The declaration has, however, received mixed reactions, with activists, members of civil society, energy and health experts, criticising it for not being inclusive and radical enough.

Loraine Chiponsa, an activist, claimed that being the inaugural Africa Climate Summit, the proliferation of Western delegates compromised Africa’s push for climate justice. 

Groups opposed to carbon markets have been very loud in condemning the summit. Speaking at the summit, a Nigerian activist Priscilla Achakpa described carbon markets endorsement as a “bogus solution,” to the effects of climate change. 

“We reject forced solutions on our land and the use of our green spaces to offset wanton pollution in rich countries in the Global North,” said Achakpa, founder of the Nigeria-based Women Environmental Programme.

Dismissing Africa’s carbon markets initiative as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing”, a new report released by Power Shift Africa and partners on the sidelines of the summit details why Africa should not adopt carbon credits.

Backed by expert analysis, the report proposes multiple alternative climate action alternatives to African leaders as an effective response to the vagaries of climate change. The author of the report Mohamed Adow, who is also the Director of Power Shift Africa, said carbon markets are like a silver bullet and painkillers for rich polluters.

Adow also took issue with the presence of the US President’s Special Envoy on Climate Change, John Kerry and the US lead negotiator for COP28, Trigg Talley.

“We had hoped the inaugural Africa Climate Summit would be more radical with a climate vision for Africa. The final declaration was disappointingly similar to previous inconsequential summits,” said Adow.

He added the fact that Global North countries have pledged huge sums of money to set up carbon markets in Africa is a major concern. 

Health practitioners and experts, too, were not happy. Despite attending the summit, they expressed displeasure with the exclusion of health on the main agenda despite the extricable link to climate change.

The Acting Deputy Director General of Africa Centres for Disease Control (Africa CDC), Dr Ahmed Ouma Ogwell regretted that the health agenda had been excluded from the conference’s main agenda.

The Group CEO of Amref Health Africa Dr Githinji Gitahi was puzzled at how a high-profile climate change meeting such as the ACS23 would fail to prioritise public health on its agenda.

The exclusion happened against the backdrop of 23 per cent of diseases globally being attributed to vagaries of climate change, whilst the percentage is documented to be slightly higher in sub-Saharan Africa at 29 per cent.

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