An image of ​Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate talking at a microphone while holding a piece of paper.
Photo: Jane Barlow/PA Images via Getty Images

Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate addresses a rally organized by the COP26 Coalition in Glasgow demanding global climate justice.

Ahead of the United Nations' major meeting on climate change, activists argue it’s beyond time to move from negotiations to actions.

"I lost everything. I lost all my crops, and they were not even matured for harvest yet. There was nothing I could do about them,” Aleji Ojay, a victim of the recent flood in Lokoja, tells OkayAfrica. The loss he experienced is not his alone. A seamstress, who wants to be identified only by her first name of Happiness, says she hasn’t been able to return to work, and that her food provisions and house were destroyed. Many more have also lost their sources of livelihood, as well as properties, and, like Happiness, have been forced to begin from scratch.


It’s impossible to ignore the severe flooding that Africa has been experiencing as a result of climate change and the impact of factors such as poverty, political instability, and dwindling economies on the environment. Nigeria is just the latest on the list, having been severely affected by flooding in several states, including Bayelsa, Anambra, Nassarawa, Delta, Jigawa, Imo, and Kogi, where those in Lokoja were left displaced and hungry, at the beginning of October. It’s these floods that climate change activists hope will create a momentum for real change to take place at this year’s COP27, which runs from November 6th until the 18th in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Flooding is not new to Kogi state -- after all, it's where the Niger and Benue rivers meet, making it a prime target for this. But residents of communities living within the state insist this is the worst it’s ever been. The last time a flood on this scale happened was ten years ago.

Add to this, desert encroachment, heat waves, drought, pollution, and water stress and it’s clear the consequences of a fast-changing climate are hitting the continent hard. Africa is the most vulnerable to climate change despite accounting for less than 4% of global carbon emissions. 8 of the top 10 most vulnerable nations are in Africa.

Climate justice is essential for African countries to deal with the consequences of climate change and energy poverty. It’s remained at the forefront of African states’ points of negotiation at past Conference of Parties (COP) meetings. Last year in Glasgow, COP26 African member states tried to negotiate on pragmatic ways to adapt to the changing climate — and the focal point was again on funding provisions to Africa, and a global reduction in emissions, as championed by the African group of negotiators, led by Gabonese chair Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale.

At COP15 in Copenhagen, developed countries committed to mobilizing $100 billion annually by 2020 for developing nations, but current data suggests that, to date, that goal has never been achieved. To put it in actual terms, the recent increase in funding came in the form of loans, not grants, with climate-related loans increasing from $13.5 billion in 2015 to $24 billion in 2018.

Ahead of another conference happening, this time on home soil, the strategy that will be adopted by African negotiators is expected to be the same – gaining approval and commitment to funds for low-and middle-income nations experiencing some of the worst effects of climate change and who are ready to begin energy transition processes.

The need for this is dire. The effects of climate change have led to higher prices, poorer quality, and scarcity of food in regions worst hit by food insecurity. Floods have eroded thousands of hectares of farmlands in Nigeria, which have led to loss of grains and other valuable staple food crops. Desertification and drought have rendered once-productive agricultural regions in the horn of Africa now moribund, thereby worsening poverty and spiraling regional instability – as is the case in Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, and even Northern Nigeria.

Crude oil, gas, and coal remain the major sources of energy for sub-Saharan Africa, which is only just beginning to reap the benefits of its natural resources and is on course towards full-scale industrialization. But unfortunately, at this point, the climate is already oversaturated with carbon emissions from developed countries. Activists say the countries that have contributed the most to this oversaturation will have to contribute financially and technically to aid Africa's transition to cleaner energy sources – if it's not to depend on its abundant carbon sources.

The team lead at the Global Initiative for Food Security and Ecosystem Preservation (GIFSEP), Michael David, who doubles as Africa regional coordinator of Citizens Climate International (CCI), argues that African countries must show that they are ready for action and not never-ending discussions. “It [COP27] is happening in our environment, but it is looking like it is happening somewhere very far, because the venue for the COP is very expensive for many people to afford especially the CSOs [Civil Society Organizations]. It should be an African COP, where all of us are there,” he says. He explains further, “we need to move away from negotiations to actions. We have been negotiating for 27 years!”

The vice president of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has also been making a case for a Debt-for-Climate (DFC) deal ahead of the conference. He first made this deal at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC in September, earlier this year, where he sought support for Nigeria's new Energy Transition Plan (ETP). The deal seeks to allow loan forgiveness of international debts owed by African states, so the forgiven value can be channeled to national climate change adaptation and transition programs.

While many express fears that the funds may be mismanaged, should the deal go through, others welcome it. “I know a lot of people will argue against this, and say many of the smaller countries won't manage the funds well, but we in the CSOs must come up with a clear mechanism to ensure that they do, and with clear monitoring and implementation, a lot will be achieved,” says David.

Another challenge: only 15 African countries have been able to present a national adaptation plan to the UN, thereby inhibiting African access to global climate funds and commitments to dealing with multiple climate change and environmental issues.

It’s up to African governments to come up with locally-developed plans to help deal with the issues at hand - many of whom have just not done so. But these governments also have a responsibility to play in sourcing solutions for the future, even while not being able to use traditional energy sources for their countries’ economic and social developments. All of this will be top of the agenda for African leaders seeking to inspire more action than words at COP27.

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