Listen to Africa: Just energy transitions cannot happen in a vacuum

When South Africa’s $8.5-billion climate finance deal with some of the world’s richest nations was announced last year in Glasgow, one analyst called it “the most impressive thing to come out of the COP26 climate summit”. 

Since then, the country's energy transition plan has gotten off to a slow start but the wheels are now in motion. An indicative work plan and timetable was released following a meeting last week between COP president Alok Sharma and a delegation of South African ministers.

The deal sets an important precedent when it comes to what’s being asked of African countries in general at these climate negotiations – and the context that must be acknowledged. 

Africa’s Catch 22 when it comes to energy

As we’ve previously pointed out, new energy carriers and technologies disrupt the old, and their displacement of the old creates winners and losers.

Africa is the loser in this case. The continent has had the lowest per capita emissions of any world region every year since 1960.

Between 1960 and 2020, Africa only accounted for 3.3% of global emissions. Asia, Europe and North America have each emitted eight times more carbon than Africa. 

Yet African countries are being pressured into dramatically cutting their emissions. This threatens the developmental gains the continent has made, and puts further progress in jeopardy. 

The reality of climate change

Naturally Africa must make the transition to clean energy. We as a continent know why better than most. Despite contributing the least to the current climate crisis, we are one of the regions most affected by it and least equipped to deal with it. 

Temperatures on the continent are increasing faster than the global average. They are projected to continue doing so, with devastating consequences.  In the Horn of Africa, millions of lives are at risk as a historic drought looms, thanks to La Niña preventing rains for the fourth season in a row.

Switching to clean energy goes without saying. It’s how we do it that matters. 

Here’s some reasons why we cannot switch to renewable energy overnight: 

  1. The gritty reality of fighting poverty: 

African countries continue to battle high levels of poverty, despite slow improvements over time. If the continent is to satisfy its people’s basic human needs, it must develop and expand its economies – rapidly. This of course requires high levels of energy consumption: just ask the West, China and others, who grew their economies uninhibited, creating the crisis we currently see. But Africa, a latecomer to the fossil fuel boom, has the misfortune of trying to develop during a time of huge pressure to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. 

  1. Africa needs to energy to thrive and not just survive

We must understand that Africa is starting from a low base. The continent is so heavily reliant on coal in part because it was left behind and under-powered for so long. But alleviating the continent’s energy poverty by supplying only a basic level of access is only the beginning. It will be just enough to meet the survival needs of the poorest populations. 

Africa needs more than that to break the cycle of poverty and actually thrive. Just providing basic energy access will not enable the necessary productivity increases needed to help Africa’s poorest up the development ladder. That’s why we need to put development at the fore. As energy transition expert Kartikeya Singh notes, a just transition presents a two-fold challenge: “we must provide appropriate energy access for thrival while simultaneously transitioning to energy sources that are both clean and inexpensive.”

This need will only get more pressing over the next few decades for the world’s fastest-growing continent. It is estimated that by 2050, Africa's population will double to 2.5 billion people.

  1. Renewable energy’s limitations: financial and otherwise

Although Africa is blessed with abundant renewable energy sources, related investment flows remain insignificant. The penetration of renewables in Africa's power sector remains low as utilities struggle to attract investors. By the end of 2020, solar accounted for just 4.4% of Africa's total installed capacity, or 10.4 GW. This despite the fact that the continent’s full technical potential when it comes to renewable energy is a whopping 7,900 GW, according to IRENA

Investors in renewables just aren’t knocking on Africa’s door as much as they should. Total renewable investment in Africa between 2000 and 2020, excluding large hydropower projects, amounted to just 2% of the global total, according to IRENA. That’s $60 billion, and most of that investment ($55 billion) was recorded in the last 10 years. 

Plus there are technical challenges.  Wind and solar power is not consistent, and cheap, effective storage is yet to be developed. The risk now is punishing the continent for a necessary reliance on fossil fuels for a limited time, so that it can lift its people out of poverty. 

The case for pragmatism

The larger world knows it has to be pragmatic when it comes to the objectives set out by the Paris Agreement. Consider how SA’s transition backer Germany, along with the Netherlands and Austria, reverted back to coal use recently because of Russia’s war on Ukraine.

There are also contradictions around gas coming out of the G7 meeting in Germany this week, as rich countries scramble to cope with soaring energy prices amid the conflict. 

The world’s richest economies announced their decision to increase investment in gas temporarily in response to the crisis. The alternatives are uglier – more coal use in power generation, like Germany’s reactivated coal-fired power plants.

Yet the continent is hypocritically punished in some instances for its use of certain fuels through selective financing and investments, without considering what just transitions in Africa require.

Africa risks being left behind because some countries’ energy goals include exclusionary practices.

Challenges equal opportunities

We should look to creating meaningful partnerships on energy transitions that can unlock win-win situations – like South Africa’s landmark deal. 

There certainly is a need for it, along with enormous potential. Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for more than three-quarters of the people (568 million people) who remained without access in 2020, according to the 2022 edition of Tracking SDG 7: The Energy Progress Report. Countries like the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia, where 95 percent of the population lacks access to clean cooking, receive less than 1 percent of the annual investment, the IMF notes

There are challenges on the continent, but with that comes ample opportunity – if global energy and climate goals happen in tandem with developmental goals.

As Energy For Growth puts it: “Ambitious, time-bound commitments to delivering finance for clean energy in Africa will be far more productive than policing policies that dictate what countries can do with their own sovereign resources.”

This requires intersectionality in how Africa and its partners approach environmental discussions. 

To uncover those opportunities, we need to listen to the voices on the ground. 

#TheCOPWeNeed is one that elevates the voices of African policy makers, economists, development specialists, think-tanks, grassroots organisations and campaigners who are working within the continent’s myriad and very specific contexts and communities to advance solutions and climate justice. 

Equity must be a foundational consideration. Africa’s energy future can not be constrained to mere survival: it must allow Africa to thrive.  

Doing so will set the stage of better global collaborations and energy transitions that benefit regions who would’ve otherwise been asked to surrender their resources, plunging them further into poverty.


Adaptation and mitigation unpacked through an African lens

Ahead of COP27, expect to start hearing a lot more about mitigation and adaptation. These are the key themes emerging before Africa’s second COP, particularly when it comes to financing. 

Climate change mitigation means avoiding and reducing emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere to prevent the planet from warming to more extreme temperatures. Think: Opting for renewable energy over fossil fuels. 

Climate change adaptation, on the other hand, kicks into action when mitigation is no longer enough. It means literally adapting our behaviour and systems to the effects of climate change we can no longer avoid. One example is developing action plans for climate emergencies.

The problem, however, is that these terms continue to be used in limited ways. 

Consider the wording on the COP organising body’s website in terms of how the landmark Paris Agreement speaks to these terms: 

“The Paris Agreement reaffirms that developed countries should take the lead in providing financial assistance to countries that are less endowed and more vulnerable… Climate finance is needed for mitigation because large-scale investments are required to significantly reduce emissions. Climate finance is equally important for adaptation, as significant financial resources are needed to adapt to the adverse effects and reduce the impacts of a changing climate.”

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has it right when it comes to the need for climate financing to tackle these areas together. 

But Africa’s role cannot be reduced to mere “countries that are less endowed and more vulnerable”. Instead, African experts must take the lead in how this financing is dispensed across each area, shaped by our unique circumstances and context. 

With COP27 taking place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt - the first time in Africa since 2011 - it is essential that we consider both these terms through an African lens. 


Mitigation

Mitigation is at the forefront of the effort to stop climate change: it puts the onus on countries to reduce their emissions and slow the planet’s warming. When it comes to Africa, opportunities to finance mitigation efforts include innovations like adapting buildings to make them more energy efficient, solar power and electric vehicles.

But despite a growing appetite for these kinds of investments, the current public and private climate funds flowing from high-income countries to Africa for climate mitigation are just not enough. And, concerningly, it is largely inaccessible to communities on the frontlines of climate impacts. This is a problem. As international development expert Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala puts it, building the new climate economy is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that every African should prioritise and claim a stake in. 

 That’s why we need a systems-level change within the global climate finance architecture. The global targets and definitions that underpin the trillions of public and private sector dollars going into climate finance need to match the realities of the opportunities and needs in the African market.

We also should consider how the voluntary Nationally Determined Contribution by each country can be converted into national financing plans that can attract finance for climate action. 

As we’ve written before, South Africa’s watershed multibillion-dollar climate finance deal announced at COP26 was widely viewed as a success story of the new brand of climate diplomacy, showing how the developed world and the developing world can align their visions. 

South Africa saw the value of committing to ambitious targets to attract the billions the envoys were offering.

France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union pledged R131 billion over the next three to five years in the form of grants, concessional loans and investment and risk-sharing instruments, including mobilising private sector funding.

In return for the funds, its state-owned power utility Eskom will shut down its coal power stations over the next 15 years – before the end of their normal lifespan. 

South Africa will also use the funds to build a green hydrogen sector and help shift the nation’s transportation to electric vehicles.

Here are other mitigation strategies Africa should consider:

  1. Agroecology: More on this later, but this sustainable method of food production is key to food security in the face of rapidly changing climate patterns.  
  2. Access to climate finance to those who need it most: Without sufficient funding directed in appropriate ways, efforts to mitigate climate change will yield disappointing results. 
  3. Better land management: Deforestation is one of the driving forces of climate change in Africa. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Association Africa cuts down 4 million hectares of forests in a year, almost double the world’s deforestation average.
  4. Close the climate financing gap: African governments should pledge more money towards mitigation efforts so they are less reliant on international funding and the strings attached to it.


Adaptation

When it comes to adapting to the effects of climate change, the key issue in Africa is agriculture - a crucial component of most of the continent’s economies.

Much of the agriculture on the continent is rain-fed and dependent on predictable irrigation and natural weather cycles to meet production requirements. In addition, the majority of agriculture is used for some form of subsistence production. This means climate change poses a significant threat to both food security and livelihoods dependent on the sector. 

While these livelihoods extend beyond just the farm level, there is less clarity about the extent of this threat and potential adaptation strategies for the rest of the agricultural value chains - storage, processing, distribution and so on.  

So what are the solutions for adaptation at the farm level?

The options differ in approach between the industrial agricultural model - large-scale and intensive farms reliant on synthetic pesticides and chemical fertilisers, or the agroecological route, which is a less-ecologically harmful approach to agriculture.

 The industrial agricultural model has largely been favoured with its emphasis on increased productivity. The shortcomings of this model, however, are that Africa’s food insecurity problem isn’t necessarily just about productivity. Africa produces and imports enough food for its people. Instead, the challenge is the lack of access to this food - a primary driver of hunger and malnutrition. 

That’s why the agroecological model - using natural systems to boost Africa's adaptation capacity - makes more sense. There is increasing evidence that agroecology works. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has noted that "agroecological practices, and other agricultural approaches that work with natural processes, support food security, health and well-being, biodiversity and ecosystem services". They further point out that agroecology can improve the resilience of the food system, support long-term productivity and reduce the reliance on external inputs

We’ll be diving into this topic in more detail in time but for now, here’s how countries can make the transition to agroecology: 

  1. Building infrastructure like roads that will help get distribution systems in place - particularly for rural communities
  2. Making digital technologies more accessible, which would provide farmers with the ability to sell products through online platforms and access information about market prices as well as other crucial information
  3. Giving farmers access to grants, credit, and insurance to be able to transition to agroecological methods
  4. Increased investment in agroecological farming through the scaling of in-person extension services
  5. Land reform so farmers can secure long-term land tenure 


Conclusion

As we’ve previously pointed out, #TheCOPWeNeed as a continent is one that builds contextually relevant climate action, both within and outside the Paris Agreement. To do this, we need to put Africa’s specific needs and opportunities at the forefront of discussions on how to partner with the continent financially. ACF will continue to unpack how we can ensure the next climate negotiations prioritises our continent’s unique context and potential when it comes to financing. 


Mshai Mkoji: The COP Africa needs

By Mshai Mkoji

The countdown has begun: in fewer than five months, the world’s leaders, civil society and business will meet in Egypt for COP27. 

It’s significant that global decision-makers are returning to Africa for this round of climate talks. As far as the continent is concerned, it cannot be business as usual in Sharm el-Sheikh in November. 

Countries that contributed least to carbon emissions are suffering the most – and are being asked to make the biggest sacrifices without the necessary support. 

Africa may not have sown the wind when it comes to climate change, but we are reaping the whirlwind. We can no longer tolerate empty promises and vague commitments emerging from these all-important talks. 

The clock is ticking and, as a continent, we know what we want from this COP. Yet our voices aren’t being heard. Those at the forefront of discussing African climate issues tend to be people outside of the continent, research has found. And our experts aren’t being drawn on enough. Reuters recently released its much talked about Hot List of “the world’s top climate scientists”. Of the 1,000 people listed, only five were from Africa.  

That’s why The African Climate Foundation (ACF) will be spending the next few months in the run-up to the conference drawing together African experts from across the spectrum to talk about #TheCOPWeNeed and the climate response Africa deserves. 

As ACF’s project leader for this COP, I am excited to present these voices to you. From young changemakers to seasoned academics, policymakers to grassroots activists, Africans have long contended with the effects of climate change and have plenty of insights to offer. We’ll be bringing you this chorus of voices that has been sidelined for too long. 

To kick us off, here is my take on what #TheCOPWeNeed will do for the world’s youngest and fastest-growing continent:

1. Put development at the core

This year’s climate talks must recognise that climate change is no mere environmental get-together. 

Gone are the days when COP was a forum to talk exclusively about environmental issues without acknowledging the social and economic impact these have on communities across the developing world in particular. If we do not recognise Africa’s developmental imperative, these talks risk becoming meaningless. 

COP27 must align the 2015 Paris Agreement to a broader developmental agenda. We will do this by shifting the narrative away from the top-down, siloed environmental and emissions-only perspective. Talking to Africans about decarbonisation alone is not enough: decarbonisation and low carbon pathways must confront economic risks and enhance resilience.

For example, energy access is not only about clean and green technologies: it must include cheaper and more decentralised sources of electrification that transform the model of energy services and access for developing countries.

 

2. Localise issues beyond the Paris agreement

The climate talks can no longer decontextualise and delocalise issues that some consider beyond the Paris Agreement. 

The decision-makers at the table sometimes fail to graph the breadth of how things are changing outside the Paris process. 

For example, advanced economies and blocs like the EU, with its Green Deal, have turned Paris on its head. Their interventions in scaling clean solutions, penalising flows of carbon-intensive goods into Europe and making access to preferential finance for low-carbon technology and infrastructure are aimed at making Europe the leaders in new technology and making decarbonised sectors the new standard for competitiveness. All this is happening without considering the implications for African economies.

Instead, Africa ends up stuck in old forms of climate diplomacy and style that don’t consider these sorts of shifts. 

To move Africa towards a decarbonised economy, its climate ambition cannot be divorced from the global economic system and its relationships with other trade and economic partners, which are tilted towards decarbonisation.

Negotiators cannot ignore this broader setting and the need for an enabling environment for decarbonisation and economic diversification.

COP27 can –and must – help by pivoting discussions on adaptation and climate finance to larger questions of economic trajectories and competitiveness. 

Africa cannot enter COP negotiations as if the old game is still being played when the new game and rules are stridently shifting the world into a different trajectory.

 

3. See financing as an opportunity

There are exciting opportunities for climate finance to catalyse other sources of finance that achieve both development and decarbonisation goals. Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) can attract investments into African economies and tackle economy-wide challenges such as green industrial development and manufacturing, enhanced employment and, in those countries that are fossil fuel dependent, embarking on a just transition. 

Consider how South Africa was able to turn its NDCs ambition into a platform to secure large-scale climate finance. That move created a dramatic shift in how we think about country platforms and NDC targets. If these can be oriented toward driving clean energy investments, we can do the same for adaptation and resilience.

 

4. Maintain the momentum

This year’s talks must leverage the heightened interest and involvement in climate change negotiations before and during the conference, till after the fact. We can thus sustain the attention and momentum, resulting in greater levels of success in the delivery and implementation of outcomes.

It is urgent that we do so. The world has had enough of the never-ending promises and reaffirmed commitments over the years that never seem to translate to action. The rate of climate change and its impacts on development and humanity has superseded climate governance and the decision-making process. 

It is clear that the cost of climate inaction far outweighs the cost of action. The reality is that all countries will be affected if no action is taken – and some countries more than others. The global agreement to regulate emissions and help countries adapt must be upheld at all costs. Progress on international collaboration on climate change needs to be accelerated and prioritised. 

 

5. Recognise Africa’s potential

For too long, the narrative around Africa and climate transition has focused on the continent as a risk to the global drive towards decarbonisation. Topics that dominate the discussion on Africa are security threats, the “inability” of African countries to meet targets, and others. 

It is a framing that wraps Africa’s climate challenges as victims without agency. 

Lost in the discussion is a constructive narrative about the continent’s enormous potential and the opportunities it offers – not to mention the resources needed to unlock these opportunities, and the responsibilities of developed countries.

There are several factors in our favour: the size of the African economy and its growth potential, the continent’s resource base and, more generally, the nascent nature of new technology waves from renewables, electric vehicles and green hydrogen production.

Africa can become a centre of innovation where climate-resilient and other transition solutions are trialled and tested to shape a new development pathway. 

 

Conclusion

In short, #TheCOPWeNeed is one that strengthens the global response to the threat of climate change, promotes sustainable development, and supports efforts to reduce inequality and eradicate poverty. It is a COP that builds contextually relevant climate action, both within and outside the Paris Agreement. 

As the ACF we are aware of the importance of these climate negotiations, as well as its limitations. The fact is, COPs have failed to translate commitments into action. As Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi put it, this must be the COP “when the world moved from negotiation to implementation and where words were translated to actions”.

Therefore ACF’s support ahead of COP27 will locate and align COP ambitions and issues within the broader climate change and development project in Africa. COP27 may not be an end in itself, but we nonetheless need a COP that elevates the voices of African policy makers, economists, development specialists, think-tanks, grassroots organisations and campaigners who are working on the ground to advance solutions and climate justice, demonstrating why Africa holds an important space in global climate action. 

Stay tuned: my continent’s people have lots more to say – and we’ll no longer be ignored. 


Looking forward to 2022

With COP27 set to take place in Egypt at the end of 2022, Africa’s role in climate politics is only set to expand. Because the continent will play host to the next UN climate summit, there is optimism of a breakthrough suited to African interests. 

 

Africa’s challenges are increasing due to climate change, and the continent’s vulnerability has to be more thoughtfully considered in 2022. But more importantly more climate finance has to flow to the continent to ensure that Africa develops in the right way and gets its fair share of funds.

 

Apart from COP27, forums such as the Africa-EU summit, and the annual G7 and G20 talks will play a huge role in advancing African climate diplomacy. 

 

All eyes will also be on South Africa’s watershed multibillion Just Energy Transition Transaction to determine whether it is a successful mechanism and can be copied for other countries. 

 

COP27, the African COP

African-led climate action will be in the spotlight with the continent serving as host. Analysts point out that it serves as a chance to shift the focus of the conference to more nature-based policy and biodiversity in combating climate change. 

 

Many feel COP27 will amplify the voice of the Global South and local communities in Africa because more African delegates will be able to attend. It would provide a platform to launch multiple pathways for the continent on how to tackle climate change. 

 

The African Group of negotiators will be pushing for a formal agenda item to cover issues like the continent’s vulnerability to extreme weather and high borrowing costs. The group maintains that informal consultations are simply not enough. Delegates, however, are quick to point out that special treatment does not mean that Africa will access more money, but it’s about facilitating access to finance and making finance cheap because the more high risk a country is, the more the cost of loans it accesses.

 

There are also calls for the African Union to become a stronger voice in Africa’s climate diplomacy pledge, and possibly appoint a climate change champion who will act as the African spokesperson pushing the African position at the annual UN climate summits. 

 

Such an AU champion would be bound by the Africa position but not national politics. It would ensure a united African voice at the talks.

 

African-EU summit

The European Green Deal and its detrimental impact on African economies will be a major discussion point at the European Union-African Union summit on a yet-to-be-confirmed date in 2022. That will be a litmus test on the potential for a green partnership between Africa and Europe. 

 

“The expectation is that the summit will raise this issue of climate financing, while focusing on mitigation. The summit is also seen as an opportunity to raise concerns around the implementation of the EU’s still problematic Green Deal.

 

South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Transaction

South Africa’s climate deal at COP26 was the first significant financing deal to emerge from the UN climate talks, with many believing the South African deal could spark similar deals with other big emitters in the developing world.

 

South Africa has consistently argued that developed economies must support a just transition in developing economies, and the supporters of the transaction believe that if successful it could lead to similar deals, strengthening climate finance globally. 

 

South Africa’s president Cyril Ramaphosa said he believed the deal represented a first-of-its-kind partnership to turn these commitments into reality and a model for similar forms of collaboration globally.

 

Speaking in parliament at the end of November, Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan explained that the R131 billion from the US, UK, France and Germany to support South Africa's transition was not a done deal, and that 2022 would see the nations iron out the details. He said that the money is an "offer".

 

"Negotiations will now take place at a technical level to determine if offers are compatible with South Africa's financial requirements and capabilities… Until negotiations are completed, we will keep the national assembly informed," Gordhan said. 

Read part 1of this article.  Why 2021 was a watershed year for Africa and climate diplomacy


Progress, albeit slow, was a hallmark of 2021

Part 1: Why 2021 was a watershed year for Africa and climate diplomacy

 

Africa has become a critical voice in climate negotiations in the last decade and has played an important role in advancing the agenda. This year has realised huge progress for the continent, which finds itself at the intersection of development and climate change. 

 

Negotiations remain painstakingly slow as nations weigh their economic interests against the damage climate change will wreak on the world. But, increasingly, countries are willing to compromise and consider options that just a decade ago would have been unthinkable, such as phasing out coal.

 

More importantly is that climate diplomacy is finally mobilising funding at the highest possible level after decades of promises, many of which were not kept. Developed countries agreed in 2009 to contribute $100 billion a year in climate finance to poorer countries by 2020. But the target was not met, in part because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

But 2021 showed decisive progress. Climate finance is now top of mind, and climate deals made this year are much more substantial than those of days gone past. 

 

The G7

This week’s meeting of G7 finance ministers proved that climate change is now a serious discussion point in high level economic and finance deliberations. The US Treasury said in a statement that the ministers discussed the macroeconomic implications of climate change and G7 technical work "to better understand climate mitigation efforts".

 

In July a better commitment to mobilising finance was already evident at the G7 nations summit in Britain, where leaders agreed to step up action on climate change and renewed a pledge to raise $100 billion a year to help poor countries cut emissions. 

 

The leaders also promised to help developing countries move away from coal with real financial commitments, setting the stage for South Africa’s watershed multibillion-dollar climate finance deal. 

 

The G7 - which includes the UK, US, Canada, Japan, France, Germany and Italy - committed to keeping the projected global temperature rise at 1.5 degrees.

 

In the final statement they said: "We reaffirm the collective developed countries goal to jointly mobilise $100 billion a year from public and private sources, through to 2025."

 

The G7 committed to end the funding of new coal generation projects in developing countries and offered up to $2.8 billion to stop using the fuel.

 

South Africa was a guest at the G7 summit, together with India, South Korea and Australia.

 

The G20

Because of the apparent strong G7 commitment, much was expected at the G20 in Italy, scheduled just before the climate negotiations at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland. The G20 summit happened the weekend before the climate talks started, and thus climate change was always going to take centre stage. 

 

Yet the summit delivered a somewhat weak outcome on the back of the high expectations. Some observers were buoyed that the G20, made up of the world’s major economies, moved the Paris Agreement goalpost of when nations should reach net-zero emissions to more ambitious targets: from the “second half of this century” to “by or around mid-century”. But they failed to give a definite year in their final official statement. 

 

The G20 is an important group because many of its members helped fuel climate change over the past century, through greenhouse gas emissions during their industrialisation drive. The group accounts for more than 80% of the world’s gross domestic product, 60% of its population and an estimated 80% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

 

The official statement after the meeting said that leaders of the world’s richest economies have agreed to pursue efforts to limit global warming with “meaningful and effective actions”. A commitment to phase out coal emerged as well, though the summit was vague on a timeline. 

 

Countries agreed to stop financing overseas coal plants, tackle methane leaks and take greater action this decade to limit global warming. Leaders, however, could not set a precise date for phasing out fossil fuels and reaching net-zero emissions.

 

Observers were glad to see some form of commitment coming out of the weekend talks, however small, and – crucially – that the talks between G20 leaders themselves had not broken down. 

 

Neither China’s President Xi Jinping nor Russia’s Vladimir Putin attended the summit in Rome, which weakened the outcome.

 

COP26 and the Glasgow Pact

While last-minute changes watered down a commitment to end coal, the climate talks at COP26 still delivered a deal that has been labeled as keeping the dream of 1.5 degrees alive. 

 

After negotiators worked overtime to come up with an acceptable deal, countries agreed to a climate pact that would keep the world within reach of the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 degrees. Although coal emissions were included in the so-called The Glasgow Pact there are more fraught nights of talks lying ahead.

 

A deal was ironed out amid squabbles over measures of phasing out coal, emission pledges and providing money to the poor world through a loss and damage financial mechanism.

 

The 1.5 degree goal was the big dream of COP26’s hosts the UK. 

 

The talks once again showed that many countries simply still can’t afford the cuts to their economy that a 1.5 degree commitment needs, while others are terrified of the hardship the cuts will bring to their economies. But they also know that the cuts have to be made to avert a climate crisis. What the conference showed was that rich countries are increasingly willing to help fund poorer countries’ move to a greener economy. 

 

The Glasgow Pact also includes a commitment to return to the negotiating table in Egypt next year with a plan on how countries could do better. 

 

The pact also expects parties to the Paris Agreement to increase their pledges by 2022 instead of in the middle of the decade. It also envisages new Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) – or emission pledges – specifically on 2030 goals next year, and then NDCs on 2035 goals in 2025.

 

The Economist described COP26 in Glasgow as delivering in three ways: “by changing timetables, by tweaking financing arrangements and by allowing for greater multilateralism.” 

 

South Africa’s Just Energy Transition Transaction

The watershed multibillion-dollar climate finance deal announced at COP26 remains one of the highlights of the year in climate financing. The deal made South Africa a star performer on the climate diplomacy world stage, setting the scene for the country to transition away from coal to cleaner forms of energy. The deal is also being hailed as an example of how to structure similar climate finance deals for other developing countries. 

 

South Africa committed to ambitious targets at COP26 in order to attract billions in climate funding from wealthy nations. France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union pledged R131 billion to South Africa over the next three to five years in the form of grants, concessional loans and investment and risk-sharing instruments, including mobilising private sector funding.

 

In return for the funds, South Africa’s state-owned power utility Eskom will close down its coal power stations before the end of their normal lifespan, over the next 15 years. The funds will also assist Eskom to build a strong renewable energy sector. Apart from funding Eskom’s transition, South Africa will also use the funds to build a green hydrogen sector and help shift the nation’s transportation to electric vehicles.

 

European Green Deal

The European Union’s (EU) also launched its Green Deal in July, the EU’s main new growth strategy to transition the EU economy to a sustainable economic model. With this deal Europe will become the first climate neutral continent by 2050. 

 

But this European Green Deal also presents a challenge for African economies. Analysts have warned that even though the deal is mainly an internal policy instrument for Europe, its potential global spillovers will reach African countries in view of the strong ties between the continents. As part of the plan, a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism would effectively apply a tariff on carbon-intensive goods coming into the EU, and this could potentially hurt African farmers.

 

Africa is sure to feel the effects in agriculture, fossil fuels and other natural resource markets. African countries will see a decline in European demand for fossil fuels in their markets, but might benefit from the rising demand for cobalt, nickel, and other critical minerals needed for the energy transition. But ultimately Africa’s agriculture will be most affected. 

 

Africa tackling African environmental issues

On home soil, African countries are upping their climate change game with strong talks between nations. This was evident at the 18th session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, where 54 African environment ministers agreed to step up the continent’s response to accelerate the green and sustainable recovery programme to tackle the triple crisis of climate change, loss of biodiversity, and pollution. 

 

In a statement after the conference the ministers reaffirmed their commitment and efforts to recover from the impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic by prioritising green and sustainable recovery measures that can deliver mutual benefits for social, economic, and environmental resilience.

 

The ministers committed to ensuring an effective multilateral approach for addressing climate change through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, its Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. They also reiterated their commitment to ensuring its implementation in line with the principles of the Convention, while emphasising equitable access to sustainable development, poverty eradication and recognition of the specific needs of African countries.

 

At the high-level conference, held virtually under the theme “Securing people’s well-being and sustainability in Africa”, the ministers called for a people-centred recovery that accelerates job creation and improved livelihoods.

 

To accelerate a green and sustainable recovery plan for Africa, the online platform for the African Green Stimulus Programme (AGSP) was officially launched at the conference. The platform will offer a comprehensive gateway for governments, development partners, communities, and stakeholders to access information and knowledge.

“The African Green Stimulus Programme is a key step in taking advantage of this opportunity. The programme hits all the right notes: climate action, air quality, land restoration, biodiversity, the blue economy, green cities and so on,” said Inger Andersen, executive director of the UN Environment Programme, after the conference. 

 

Connecting with China

China has also strengthened its climate partnership with Africa, becoming one of the continent’s biggest climate funders. At COP26 China tried to position itself as a chief representative of the developing world and a champion of Africa. 

Statistics supported that China was pulling more financial weight, providing much more funding for green infrastructure. About 31% of green infrastructure in Africa involved Chinese investments, research showed.

At the eighth ministerial conference of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in Dakar in late November, a critical Chinese support programme came into focus: the green development programme. 

 

China reiterated it would undertake 10 green development, environmental protection and climate action projects for Africa, support the development of the “Great Green Wall”, and build in Africa centres of excellence on low-carbon development and climate change adaptation. 

 

Read part 2 of this article.  Looking forward to 2022


An Africa and Europe climate partnership could flourish if issues around green policies are amended

Europe and Africa have different climate needs and interests, and it is becoming clear that European policies designed to slow global warming will have a huge impact on African economies. 

 

The European Union is one of Africa’s biggest partners on climate change, with probably only China surpassing it in terms of funding. The two continents share common interests in renewable energy expansion and an ambitious global green recovery narrative.

 

Africa, as a continent, contributed the least to creating the crisis, yet it is already facing the harshest of its consequences. At the same time, Africa hosts some of the natural resources such as cobalt, nickel, and other critical minerals required by Europe to power its energy transition. There is thus a huge opportunity for Africa to use the climate crisis to industrialise and create jobs, and Europe could be a worthy partner to help with the continent’s green transition. 

 

But the European and African partnership is by no means concrete, explains Faten Aggad, an analyst on international negotiations and African Climate Foundation’s Climate Diplomacy and Geopolitics adviser.

 

“We can't really speak of a climate partnership that is still under discussion, in the sense that we don't know what shape or form it will take,” she says. 

 

A major roadblock that has emerged in the last year in shaping the partnership is the new European Green Deal (EGD), which the European Union (EU) adopted in July. 

 

Aggad said the deal is being viewed by many in Africa as a highly problematic approach, because of its potential to damage African economies. 

 

The EGD proposes to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 55% from 1990 levels by 2030, with the hopes to become climate neutral by 2050. The deal also envisions the protection of human life, animals and plants by cutting pollution, helping companies become world leaders in clean products and technologies, and ensuring a just and inclusive transition. It aims to make Europe the first mover in international climate policy.

 

One of the ambitions the EU will employ in the EGD is the farm to fork strategy which aims to reduce the use of chemical pesticides, and minimise nutrient losses for instance. While it is a revolutionary move to green Europe’s farms, it comes at a price and European farmers will receive financial assistance to help them transition. 

 

On paper the green deal doesn’t seem that bad for Africa. While the “Africa strategy” to fight climate change also leads with a proposed partnership for “green transition and energy access”, a call to jointly work towards a low-carbon, resource efficient and climate-resilient future, it is the impact of the deal that has set the cat among the pigeons. 

 

Analysts have warned that even though the deal is mainly an internal policy instrument for Europe, its potential global spillovers will reach African countries in view of the strong ties between the continents. 

 

Africa is sure to feel the effects in agriculture, fossil fuels and other natural resources markets. African countries will see a decline in European demand for fossil fuels in their markets, but might benefit from the rising demand for cobalt, nickel, and other critical minerals needed for the energy transition. But ultimately Africa’s agriculture will be most affected. 

 

As part of the plan, a Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanism would effectively apply a tariff on carbon-intensive goods coming into the EU, and this could potentially hurt African farmers.

 

Aggad explains: “Let's say a farmer in Stellenbosch does not use green energy to produce their citrus fruit. That fruit will be subject to a tariff when entering the EU border” because South Africa used coal to generate electricity necessary to cultivate that fruit. 

 

“And so it becomes highly problematic for African countries that are already struggling to have market access. This becomes an additional hurdle,” she says.

 

“What we know is that the EU will be imposing tariffs on certain products from 2023 and we know that in that mix some countries, in Africa in particular, export industrial products will be hurt by this.”

 

Aggad also said the farm-to-fork initiative handed out subsidies to farmers to help them to go green. But African farmers would not get the same subsidies, and thus they will be penalised by legislation in Europe favouring green farmers.

 

“It becomes unfair competition.”

 

The EGD is also problematic because it comes across as imposing conditionalities of the continents that are traditionally not polluting, without providing any type of financial compensation to allow it to adjust, she said. 

 

The question is wow do we mitigate the risk to African countries with the new European green legislation, and that still needs a lot of discussion, Aggad adds. 

 

The EU has also not been forthcoming with a lot of funding in terms of financing green infrastructure, she says. 

 

It launched its Global Gateway initiative, a sprawling scheme that it states will result in nearly $340 billion of supposed investment in infrastructure across the developing world by 2027.

 

Aggad said the section on climate transition in the initiative, particularly looking at green infrastructure, brings nothing firm to the table. 

 

“There is nothing concrete,” she said. “It is a promise, not a pledge, but there is nothing concrete to work with.”

 

While Europe has the reputation of being Africa’s biggest climate partner, Aggad said that statistics rather supported that China was pulling more financial weight. “It is actually providing much more funding for green infrastructure,” she explains. 

 

At the moment there is a feeling that multilateral negotiations with Europe aren't particularly supportive to the cost African countries will need to bear in the climate transition, and that is certainly not fair on Africa.

 

All of these issues should have been addressed at the EU-Africa summit in 2020. Preparations for the AU-EU summit fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the process lost momentum in 2021 with the summit postponed to 2022. At the moment the summit has been scheduled for April next year, but the date has not been confirmed. 

 

The summit will set the platform for high-level discussions in defining the Africa European partnership, and there are high hopes that ministers will be able to iron out an agreement that helps Africa. Aggad agrees that the key is the ministerial meetings at the summit.

 

“The expectation is that the summit will raise this issue of climate financing in particular again,” she says. “It will also raise the issue of mitigation of the implementation of the Green Deal. That is politically the kind of development that we can expect.”

 

An African-EU partnership certainly promises exciting opportunities if it can be harnessed. Capacity building, the sharing of skills, and green manufacturing opportunities abound. Aggad said in terms of green technology for instance, green production in Africa could definitely benefit, bringing green jobs to Africa. 

 

But a good partnership would also bring a sense of reality to Europe of what the rest of the world is grappling with. An example of this is the interesting gas debate. 

 

“Many African countries have taken quite a strong position saying that gas needs to be allowed as a transition source of energy,” said Aggad, adding that some European countries such Germany have announced that they will be divesting from fossil fuels including gas.

 

“The EU is developing what's called the taxonomy proposal that would recognise gas as a green source of energy and I think that would be welcome news for African countries.”

 

Yet the questions remain unanswered of whether countries could move away “from this transition of gas”, which the partnership could look at answering. 

 

For the partnership to flourish the challenge in the long term, Aggad says, African countries will need to have fair access to financing arrangements.

 

“Africa will need strong climate finance that will allow them to access green energy, either through access to affordable solar panels or wind infrastructure,” she says. A strong partnership could propel such financing forward. c


South Africans’ suspicions over Shell’s exploration is well founded

At the beginning of December a vessel embarked on a controversial mission that stirred outrage in South Africa. The work it is about to do could have a detrimental impact on South Africa's climate future. 

The vessel, Amazon Warrior, arrived in Cape Town’s harbour last Sunday before it set sail to explore possible gas and oil reserves off South Africa’s Wild Coast for energy giant Shell. 

The exploration, which was delayed due to an unsuccessful high court bid by climate activists, will take the form of a seismic survey, with the Amazon Warrior blasting into the seabed to detect whether any oil or gas reserves exist. South Africans are outraged about the possible damage the underwater blasts could have on the pristine marine environment around the Wild Coast. 

Apart from the direct environmental concerns about the impact on marine life, Shell’s proposed exploration for oil and gas still keeps us in the fossil dark age and only postpones the need for the inevitable – a transition to a non-fossil fuel based economy.  

 

Gas instead of coal?

South Africa is searching for ways to radically reduce carbon emissions because it is one of the most carbon intensive economies in the world.

Not only is it the world’s 12th biggest source of greenhouse gases, but the country relies on coal for almost all of its power generation 

South Africa’s abundant use of coal stems from power generation by state-owned power utility Eskom. The other is the use of coal by Sasol, which uses South Africa’s coal resources to produce liquid fuel and other petrochemicals.  

Lately, however, there has been a big push for South Africa – particularly at the level of Eskom and Sasol – to move away from coal and find ways to broaden the country’s energy mix.

Certain schools of thought believe that gas will play a critical role in South Africa’s just energy transition.

 

Where are SA’s gas deposits?

South Africa has no indigenous resources of gas although there are geological findings that show potential such as the shale gas deposits in the Karoo. But these deposits have to be proven economical in a water scarce region given how much water is needed to make fracking a viable prospect. We can say that idea is dead in the water even if they tried.

Gas has been exploited off of Mossel Bay’s coast and used for the PetroSA gas-to-liquid plant, the first of its kind in the world. That project had also reached the end of its life as the Mossel Bay project has run out of gas.

Thus the search for new gas deposits is on and there are new attempts to look at exploration and new frontiers along South Africa’s East Coast.

Right down from the horn of Africa, there are signs of possible viable gas deposits. Large finds of oil and gas reserves have been made in Tanzania and Mozambique, and there is great excitement about gas finds along South Africa’s East Coast.

Many believe that this could change South Africa's prospects and prosperity. 

 

Gas and climate change

There is an argument that gas is an improvement on coal to some degree. Yet gas as a sustainable energy source remains controversial.

The methane emissions associated with gas are far more carbon-intensive than carbon emissions from coal, especially if it is going to liquified natural gas (LNG). Piped gas is said to have methane leakage and a lower carbon footprint..

The question has to be asked whether gas usage aligns with South Africa’s new ambitious national determined contributions (NDC) – the emission cuts it has committed to. 

At COP26 South Africa set ambitious new targets. The target is to keep annual emissions at between 350 and 420 megatons of carbon dioxide equivalent by 2030. South Africa’s environment department had earlier recommended a less ambitious target of between 398 and 440 megatons. South Africa’s previous NDC, set in 2015, had a range of between 398 and 614 megatons. 

That has been a significant achievement largely facilitated by the Presidential Climate Change Coordinating Commission in cooperation with South Africa’s environmental department.

 

The right investment to support the right development

There's no doubt that South African economic development needs new investments. But that development can’t be a jobless one. It has to contribute to a more equal society.

If there are investments in new types of areas of energy, then we should not only focus on our emissions in the future, but also investigate investments that will strengthen South Africa's energy mix and lead to energy security and intensification of job opportunities. 

There's uncertainty whether Shell’s oil and gas exploration would be able to achieve this. 

The seismic survey occurs in an area of pristine South African coast. The Wild Coast is a significant landmark in terms of its natural beauty, and it is a unique natural asset. There is great significance in the marine area, which is home to important species such as dolphins, endangered fish and other species whose role in the  ecosystem are essential. 

The Wild Coast is largely rural and undeveloped and the people who live here are dependent on the biodiversity for their livelihood, mainly from consumptive utilisation and tourism-related activities. 

Before the exploration goes ahead, it is worth pausing to ponder several issues.  

First is that this is an important area for the wildlife economy, natural nature-based economy and people’s livelihoods. What are the chances for people in those areas if there are significant gas finds to still make a living through sectors such as tourism and fishing? How long will this take and what are the economic implications? The impact is not just an environmental issue. We have to triangulate the potential negative economic long-term impacts to the area.

On the flipside we know that the Eastern Cape has a lot of poverty and unemployment. But there is no guarantee that gas exploration necessary would lead to economic development and prosperity. 

The government does have a blue economy programme, which was mooted several years ago, and it's not entirely clear why this national economic programme has not been taken forward in a serious way.

It is debatable whether  a vision for the poverty-stricken Eastern Cape should be based on gas and mining as a dominant activity or whether other forms of more nature-aligned economic activities like tourism, wildlife and marine management activities make more sense. So far, the idea of mining titanium and later gas is fuelling conflict – how can this ever be good for the people of the region and the economy?

 

Urgent interdict

Communities along the Wild Coast are justifiably anxious about the promises that are being made, and the manner in which the current exploration is happening is clearly a concern. Worried communities, opposed to the seismic surveys, are pointing out that authorisation was done without proper consultation. 

South African environmental groups had lodged the urgent application on Monday to block the survey. The applicants argued that irreparable damage would be done to the environment if the survey was allowed to go ahead, because the exploration area contained four marine parks and the coastal area was pristine. 

They also put forward that Shell did not have the environmental authorisation under South Africa’s National Environmental Management Act to go ahead. 

But today’s judgment by Avinash Govindjee in the Makhanda High Court did not grant the requested interdict, allowing Royal Dutch Shell to move ahead with the seismic tests.

Shell had warned in court papers that, if the interdict was granted, monetary concerns would’ve force it to abandon the project. 

 

Shell is a climate culprit

The  exploration by Shell is also not consistent with what is required by the oil giant to reduce its carbon emissions over the next decade or so. 

Shell is appealing a ruling issued by the District Court in The Hague, in May 2021, that it must reduce its global net carbon emissions by 45% by 2030 compared with 2019 levels.

The case was part of a suit brought against Shell by a group of environmental activists in order to ensure that it adhered to a policy of working to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees globally.

It was the first time a company has been legally obliged to align its policies with the Paris climate accords, says Friends of the Earth, who brought the case to court.

 

Real beneficiaries

The question is also who will be the real beneficiaries of the mineral exploitation of gas reserves. 

In the past, promises were made and broken at the drop of a hat. As a result South Africans are deeply sceptical whether large-scale investments in oil, gas and mining projects will actually benefit local people. 

Of course the public will be suspicious given that we have had a long and intense history (especially in the last decade) of corruption scandals and only a few people benefiting from the mineral wealth of this country. 

Our unemployment is high – it’s now nearly  35% – and it is often used to justify more extraction, such as oil and gas.

The citizens of the country will rightfully ask about past broken promises. The same has been said about all the other minerals – that this belongs to the people – yet these words are empty slogans. All the people of South Africa have to show for it is a scandalous scene of grassroots poverty and more and more wealth leaving the country. 

How is it possible that gas is really good for South Africa given that, if we are to work with the past, the sentiment now is more of the same: give us one more chance and we will promise you a better future. 


Why South Africa’s ‘just transition’ climate deal is a success story of climate diplomacy

South Africa’s watershed multibillion-dollar climate finance deal announced at COP26 is widely viewed as a success story of the new brand of climate diplomacy, showing how the developed world and the developing world can align their visions. 

The deal made South Africa a star performer at the talks, and could be a model for future bilateral climate diplomacy deals. It saw France, Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union pledge R131 billion over the next three to five years in the form of grants, concessional loans and investment and risk-sharing instruments, including mobilising private sector funding.

The deal was negotiated before COP26, as climate envoys visited South Africa and held high-level talks to determine what the country’s needs were. 

South Africa saw the value of committing to ambitious targets to attract the billions the envoys were offering. In return for the funds, its state-owned power utility Eskom will shut down its coal power stations over the next 15 years – before the end of their normal lifespan. The funds will also help Eskom to build a strong renewable energy sector. 

Apart from funding Eskom’s transition, South Africa will also use the funds to build a green hydrogen sector and help shift the nation’s transportation to electric vehicles.

Nicholas Kumleben, a senior analyst at environmental think tank GreenMantle, said the deal was the first of its kind for three key reasons. 

“First, the South African government largely designed the bespoke programme, which will enable it to account for local conditions on its own terms. Second, it represents a well-funded partnership among a small number of actors, creating greater accountability than is possible in a vague global or regional agreement. Third, the deal provides funding for a ‘just transition’ at the local level in addition to the early retirement of coal plants, helping to cushion the blow of local deindustrialisation in a developing economy.”

He said all three of these details indicate that it is more likely to succeed than past climate agreements.

“The model of bespoke multilateral agreements is admittedly harder to scale than big-but-vague global pledges. But in the long run, smaller deals among fewer countries could produce much more concrete progress.” 

He explained it would not take many of these deals to achieve meaningful reductions at a global level. “Just 10 countries account for two-thirds of global carbon emissions, and the top 20 emitters account for 79% of emissions.”

Saliem Fakir, executive director of the African Climate Foundation (ACF), said the deal was rightfully attracting a lot of attention. He said this gave South Africa an opportunity to really take an increasing part in quiet diplomacy that advanced the climate agenda by setting an example. 

“For 10 years there was a lack of strong diplomacy from the South African side at the talks. But now this deal with South Africa has put us back into the forefront of the climate negotiations.”


South Africa’s new climate diplomacy voice

South Africa has always been eager to excel in global climate diplomacy, often taking a lead in difficult negotiations over the years. But its coal-dependent economy has at times undermined its voice on the international stage. 

South Africa’s negotiators were eager to show that South Africa wanted to play its part in reducing emissions, but the stark reality was that the bill to transition away from coal was too steep for the country to pay. 

After the Paris Agreement of 2015, South Africa’s voice had become subdued as it tried to find the right note to balance its domestic energy policy with the climate diplomacy it wanted to take to the world stage. But at COP26, South Africa hit the right note. 

In October the South African Institute of International Affairs (SAIIA) published an occasional paper probing the nation’s climate diplomacy. It found that climate diplomacy was a means to transform South Africa’s domestic energy economy, advance its economic interests and energy security, and champion Africa’s developmental priorities.

The researchers said that addressing South Africa’s domestic challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality required the country to take a strategic approach to how it engaged internationally on climate change. 

“Climate diplomacy is a means to transform South Africa’s domestic energy economy, advance its economic interests and energy security, and champion the continent’s developmental priorities.”

They found that the success of South Africa’s climate diplomacy depended on developing an intersectional strategy built on the country’s interests, deploying a varied diplomatic toolbox, and pursuing its priorities across multiple regional and global platforms.

“South Africa should insist on concrete commitments of technical and financial support from developed countries to address a shift to a low-carbon economy, and build political momentum through a diverse range of multilateral processes and platforms towards these ends.”

In the past couple of years it has also become clear that, should developing countries strengthen their climate diplomacy, they could attract the investments needed to pay the bill if they were to transition away from coal. 

Countries risked being left behind if they did not develop the requisite foreign and trade relations capacity to claim a stake in the investment surge in decarbonised technology, innovation and infrastructure, the paper said. 

According to the researchers it was important that South Africa should not only emphasise the centrality of the Paris Agreement, but also expand the range of climate diplomacy to other forums where key decisions on the future of decarbonisation are being made, including the G7 and G20.


Climate diplomacy, a high stake dance

For about 30 years, every year, diplomats get together to negotiate how to save the world from runaway climate change. 

Skilled diplomats who specialise in climate legalese painstakingly negotiate a deal at the end of every year that balances countries’ economic issues and the desperate need to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in order to slow warming. 

Climate diplomacy at these talks ensures the accurate assessment of other countries’ interests and intentions, and finds the needed space for agreement. The summit has a tradition of making decisions by consensus among nations rather than majority vote, which means that everyone has to be happy with the precise wording. And getting countries with vastly different values and visions to agree is a Herculean task. Yet climate diplomacy has evolved into an important tool in a country's foreign affairs relations. It drives economic policy, but will also determine countries’ future trajectories. 

Climate diplomacy is indeed a careful dance, and many consider it too slow to make a difference. Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg is visibly frustrated with the pace, calling the talks “Thirty years of blah, blah, blah”. 

But without the diplomats involved in making a deal that drags the process forward every year there would have been little to show. 

One of the lasting impressions from the climate talks is the constant ongoing tensions of climate politics: a tug of war between the developed and developing worlds. Take China and the US, two of the world's two biggest greenhouse gas emitters and economic rivals, for example. The China vs US dilemma is an example of where one nation fears that committing to too big an emissions cut will carve away its competitive advantage.

Also the debate rages on how much wealthy countries, who benefited from rapid development using fossil fuels, should pay. The fear is that if they admit to being responsible for the increase in emissions they will open themselves up to future lawsuits. 

One of the most important tasks for the diplomats is to keep the dream alive at the end of every climate summit. People need to walk away with a sense of progress, David Victor, a political scientist at the University of California in San Diego, told Nature magazine. 

The idea that this diplomatic process is “credible and alive and well”, Victor says, “is really, really important”.

But examining the outcomes, especially when compared with what the 2015 Paris Agreement delivered, it is clear that there has been progress and that nations are (slowly) moving away from fossil fuels towards clean-energy technology, and many experts agree that climate diplomacy has played a significant role in this.

Climate Action Tracker (CAT) examines the new climate policies that came about as part of the negotiations at the summits and estimates how many degrees the policies could shave off the predicted increase in average global temperatures. 

If all 131 countries kept their pledges at COP26, the projected global temperature increase would be limited to about 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures. That is still short of the 1.5°C goal that was set at the summit in Paris in 2015, but a marked improvement compared with what scientists were predicting a decade ago.

And while their research shows that there is much work to be done, CAT said the pledges that had come about as a result of climate diplomacy had made a marked difference. 

 

Read part 2 and part 3 of this article.