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.  

SA’s energy transition bill set at R900bn – climate commission director

South Africa has set the bill at R900 billion to meet its emission reduction targets by 2030. Even before the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow the country’s presidential climate change commission was hard at work trying to balance the numbers of what the country could do and how much it would cost.

The commission’s latest estimate is that South Africa would need about R86 billion a year, but that even then there might be a shortfall. 

This is according to Dr Crispian Olver, the director of the commission, who gave some insight into the numbers in his keynote address at the Banking Association of South Africa’s virtual Sustainable Finance Conference.

He said South Africa had to cut its emissions from 350 million tonnes to 420 million tonnes by 2030 in terms of the pledge it made at the climate talks. But to meet its target, South Africa would need around R900 billion.

The country committed to ambitious Nationally Determined Contribution targets at COP26 to attract billions in climate funding from wealthy nations. South Africa is among the most coal-dependent nations in the world, and its commitments were a huge talking point at the conference.

Olver believed the funding could come from the public and private sectors as well as international public funding. 

Yet the commission believes there could be a R19 billion funding gap per year that will require some innovative thinking to balance. 

Olver explained that about R30 billion could be sourced from international public funding, R35 billion from the domestic private sector and about R2 billion from the government.

"There is an annual funding gap of at least R19 billion, probably more, to get the full implementation of the emissions trajectory set out by the Nationally Determined Contribution," Olver told delegates of the virtual conference.

He explained that of the R900 billion needed to meet the 2030 target:

  • R400 billion is likely to be directed to transition the energy mix; 
  • R150 billion is needed for electric vehicles; and 
  • R150 billion is needed to kickstart investment in the hydrogen economy.

The R400 million for the energy mix, is largely expected to go towards state utility Eskom to help it transition from its coal dependency to clean energy. 

The funding for South Africa’s transition was kickstarted at COP26 when South Africa announced its watershed multibillion-dollar climate finance deal. 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, 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. 

Climate philanthropy gives Africa’s green wall project a huge boost

One of the projects expected to take centre stage at the climate talks in Egypt next year is an African-driven ambitious megaproject that aims to create the largest living structure on the planet. 

The Great Green Wall has been described as an “African-led movement with an epic ambition to grow an 8,000km natural wonder of the world across the entire width of Africa”. 

Dubbed the Great Green Wall, the project aims to restore 100 million hectares of degraded land, sequester 250 million tonnes of carbon and create 10 million jobs in rural areas of Sahel in north Africa by 2030. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification views it as a massive defence line against desertification. 

The project, which is being coordinated by the Pan-African Great Green Wall Agency, is Africa's flagship programme for fighting climate change and desertification. 

The wall has had starts and stops, in large part due to a lack of funding, but received a much-needed cash-injection in Glasgow.

COP26 saw US billionaire Jeff Bezos’s climate foundation promise $1 billion to help fight land degradation, particularly in Africa, and the Great Green Wall is set to be one of the beneficiaries. 

It is hoped that the project will see some movement now.

The initiative concerning 11 countries on the rim of the world's biggest desert was first launched to great acclaim in 2005, but never really got going. 

The African Union endorsed the initiative in 2007, two years after the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Sudan hatched the plan at a summit of the Community of Sahel-Saharan States held in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou.

In January this year, the Green Wall received a major shot in the arm at the One Planet Summit in Paris, where donors pledged $19 billion for the programme.

"Forty-eight percent of the funds have been committed [to work] on the ground," French President Emmanuel Macron said at a side event at the climate summit in Glasgow.

In a 2020 report, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification said there was an "insufficient, unpredictable and insecure funding situation".

General security issues in the region have also hampered progress.

Amazon founder Bezos said work on the wall – which he called a "remarkable innovation" – had to be sped up.

Philanthropy is gaining momentum in combating climate change

Apart from the billions offered by government and financial institutions, a fair share of money at the climate talks in Glasgow this past month was pledged by billionaires.

Serious philanthropic outfit the Rockefeller Foundation and super-billionaire Jeff Bezos announced significant funding at the conference. 

The Bezos Earth Fund, in collaboration with the Rockefeller Foundation and IKEA Foundation, formed The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet. The Alliance, which will also include eight multilateral and development-finance institutions, will start with $10 billion to test strategies and innovative technologies to support renewable energy across the globe, especially in areas where private capital is still hesitating. 

Ultimately, philanthropy doesn’t have the trillions of dollars needed to stop global emissions of greenhouse gases and slow climate change. But the funds committed through philanthropy can be galvanised faster and philanthropic organisations are not hamstrung by government bureaucracy, which means they can act quicker. 

Africa, especially, could benefit from this quicker movement of funds with new research by climate researcher Climateworx showing the opportunity for climate philanthropy in Africa was extensive.

“As illustrated at COP26, international partners – including governments and philanthropic organisations – are ready to support Africa as it seeks to mitigate the impact of climate change and navigate the energy transition,” the report on philanthropy in Africa said. 

At COP26, the Africa Climate Foundation also signed the climate for philanthropy pledge, which commits to mobilising funds for action against climate change. The ACF was the first African foundation to sign the pledge.

Joseph Curtin, director of the power and climate team at the Rockefeller Foundation, said at COP26 that even if rich countries managed to get to $100 billion, it was nowhere close to the trillions that were needed. The heavy hitter philanthropies, he said, wanted to create the conditions for the private sector to invest at a massive scale.

The alliance, announced at COP26, aimed to unlock $100 billion in public and private capital from multilateral and development finance institutions such as the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation and the African Development Bank to support developing countries in a shift towards renewable power; creating jobs while addressing climate change. 

Dr Rajiv Shah, a former administrator of USAID and now president of the Rockefeller Foundation said at the launch that the new alliance “will stand with dozens of energy-poor nations seeking to accelerate their energy transitions”.

The big-spending announcements of elite foundations such Rockefeller and Bezos, and the pooled funds managed by climate intermediaries, has led to larger foundations working more closely with governments, companies and international bodies. 

But McKinsey research, released just before COP26, shows that philanthropies have historically allocated relatively small sums to addressing the problem. 

In 2020, US-based grant makers disbursed almost $64 billion, the research found. Of that, about $320 million went directly toward climate change. Additional funding went to related environmental priorities such as air, land, and water conservation, for a total of $1.4 billion, but even these amounts pale in comparison to those spent on matters such as education ($10.5 billion).

In the past few years, however, philanthropy has begun to pick up and major philanthropists are pledging large sums to climate change. These include:

  • $500 million from Michael Bloomberg
  • $750 million from Stewart and Lynda Resnick
  • $1 billion from Hansjörg Wyss
  • $3.5 billion from Laurene Powell Jobs, and 
  • $10 billion from Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos. 


They joined the ranks of longtime climate funders such as the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, and the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

The $10 billion pledge from Jeff Bezos, made at the beginning of 2020, made headlines. The pledge – which was to contribute $10 billion before 2030 to address climate, nature, and related social justice issues – was considered a turning point for the climate change philanthropic sector. 

“Considering that, globally, only 2% of philanthropic dollars – about $7 billion annually – goes toward climate mitigation philanthropy, this really was a turning point,” Jennifer Kitt, president of the Climate Leadership Initiative, said in a statement at the time. The initiative is a foundation-sponsored non-profit organisation based in San Francisco that guides donors on philanthropic giving to address climate change, 

In an interview with Barrons magazine Andrew Steer, president and CEO of the Bezos Earth Fund explained that philanthropy “can play a very big role just creating a sense of momentum”.

Steer is guiding the Bezos Earth Fund pledge of $10 billion. In addition to joining the alliance, at COP26 the Bezos Earth Fund also announced a $2 billion grant-making plan to support forests and nature.

During the United Nations’ climate week in September, the fund announced it would grant $1 billion to protect and conserve nature, indigenous peoples and cultures. It would start with the Congo Basin, the tropical Andes, and the tropical Pacific Ocean. 

Steer says the alliance is an example of how philanthropy can diagnose a problem – such as the fact that developing countries are still investing in coal when renewable energy is a cheaper, viable alternative – and remove barriers to spur governments and investors to support the shift. 

An African COP for African issues

An African COP for African issues

African-led climate action will be in the spotlight as Egypt hosts COP27 next year.

It represents the chance to  shift  the focus of the conference to more nature-based policy and biodiversity in combating climate change, several African delegates had commented at the announcement in Glasgow.  

Many feel COP27 will amplify the voice of the Global South and local communities in Africa with more African delegates able to attend. 

South Africa’s head of climate finance and innovation at the Presidential Climate Commission, Dipak Patel, said South Africa expected COP27 to be the African COP,  and that it would provide a platform to launch multiple pathways for the continent on how to tackle climate change. 

Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, said in Glasgow that COP27 would be a real opportunity to make progress in priority areas such as climate finance, adaptation and loss and damage. 

Finance to vulnerable countries still remains an issue. Several African countries expressed concern that  climate finances promises had been broken. Wealthy countries had promised $100 billion dollars a year to assist vulnerable countries at the climate talks in Copenhagen. But this did not materialise and finance fell short.  

Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale of Gabon, chairperson of the African Group of Negotiators on Climate Change, called for more to be done and hoped that COP27 would cement such a promise.  He said “in Africa, the new target for funding must be $700 billion a year, not $100 billion a year.” 

He said African countries also intended to involve the private sector so that funds were used beyond government projects.

Africa has high stakes in climate change. The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report indicates that the African continent is warming faster than the global average, which makes its countries more vulnerable to climate change’s devastating impacts. This is why adaptation is so crucial for the continent, because even if climate change is slowed, Africa is still sure to suffer the effects.  

Egyptian environment minister Dr Yasmine Fouad said in Glasgow that it was very important to push the adaptation agenda forward by looking at nature-based solutions. 

“It’s the land, the water, the ecosystem and the climate that together should be there for the benefit of the planet and the human beings’.

“Reducing countries’ and communities’ vulnerability to climate impacts requires urgent adaptation and finance to help developing countries absorb impacts and build resilient communities, with the meaningful engagement of indigenous peoples and their ancestral knowledge at the heart of this action.”

Analysts also expect land degradation to become an important part of the discussion at COP27.  Research shows that  65% of productive land in Africa is degraded, while desertification affects 45% of Africa’s land area, and this threatens food security if the impact of climate change is added. 

This is why the transformation of food systems is crucial to addressing the challenges brought up by climate change, as well as preserving biodiversity, Fouad said. 

COP27 also hopes to showcase some of the real projects on climate change that have been making a difference on the continent.  These include:

  • The Great Green Wall Initiative, an African-led movement to grow an 8,000km natural wonder across the entire width of Africa, restoring degraded landscapes, creating millions of jobs in rural areas, and sequestering carbon. 
  • Morocco’s Noor-Ouarzazate complex, the world's largest concentrated solar power plant, an enormous array of curved mirrors spread over 3,000 hectares that concentrates the sun's rays towards tubes of fluid, with the hot liquid used to produce power. Climate pioneer Morocco will be one of Africa’s shining stars at COP27. Renewables make up almost two-fifths of its electricity capacity, some fossil fuel subsidies have been phased out and the country lays claim to some of the world's largest clean energy projects. The country has received much praise for its actions to decarbonise.
  • In Egypt, the Bedouin seed plants and natural pastures restoration project is restoring natural pastures in large areas to improve Bedouin community livelihoods and achieve sustainable environmental development.

Read part 1: COP26 kept the 1.5 degree dream alive. Now the African COP will have to ensure it becomes a reality

Will COP27 be the African COP?

COP26 kept the 1.5 degree dream alive. Now the African COP will have to ensure it becomes a reality


The focus is shifting from finance to Africa: COP26 was dubbed the finance COP, and next year’s climate change talks in Egypt are already being referred to as the African COP.

Egypt will host the conference in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh, and these climate talks will shift perspectives to the Global South’s leadership role.

African countries contribute only 4% to global emissions, yet they are among the worst hit by climate change. 

Because an African nation is playing host to the Conference of the Parties, there are high hopes that climate issues close to the heart of African nations will be advanced. But the global stakes are high as well. 

The key priorities for COP27 will evolve around climate finance, adaptation, and loss and damage. But nudging countries towards more ambitious targets will take centre stage. 

COP26 may have kept the dream of keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees, but the world knows that future climate talks will have to deliver more ambition.

Next year’s summit has much work to do. Hopefully the year in between the climate talks will give the parties the chance to update their national plans on greenhouse gas emissions with more ambitious targets. 

There will also be a push to probe and fix adaptation gaps in the talks.

Olumide Abimbola, a political economist and executive director of the Africa Policy Research Institute, was looking forward to a better conversation around adaptation at COP27.

“We’re looking to see more action and less talk,” he said at a media briefing in Glasgow.

He said the conversation around the decarbonisation of companies has to be part of the planning towards COP27. 

Vicky Sins, climate and energy lead at the World Benchmarking Alliance,  agreed with Abombola and said it was crucial for the talks in Egypt to bring transparency to the forefront about what companies were doing. 

“We need to make it transparent what the impacts  are of decarbonisation at COP27,” she said. 

The need for climate finance remains great and that needs to be brought back to COP27, Sins explained. This can only happen if there is true transparency about what companies are doing. 

Climate finance will still be a big talking point at the climate talks in Egypt, with more countries looking for funds to help them shed their dependency on coal. 

South Africa’s head of climate finance and innovation at the Presidential Climate Commission, Dipak Patel, said South Africa would be going to COP27 with a clearly planned financial package that will help the country get to net zero in South Africa’s own context. 

One of the issues that will once again be in the spotlight at COP27 is loss and damage. Although a big part of the negotiations in Glasgow, nothing concrete has been decided and climate change lobbyists  would like this resolved at COP27. 

Abimbola added that there had to be better structure around the conversation on loss and damage.


Read part 2: An African COP for African issues 

‘R131 billion offer is just the start’ – Gordhan on SA’s climate funding

Public Enterprises Minister Pravin Gordhan has assured South Africa’s Parliament that the R131 billion climate deal money would be used for the country’s just energy transition and not Eskom’s debt.

Gordhan emphasised that the R131 billion is just an "offer" at this stage and that work remained to turn it into a reality. Negotiations will only start now to ensure that the offer turns into a deal.

"This is an offer from the developed countries, it is not a deal," he said, adding that funds would not go towards servicing state-owned power utility Eskom’s crippling R400 billion debt. 

He also emphasised that the funds would be specifically used for Eskom's energy transition, enabling the power utility to move from coal to cleaner green technologies.

Gordhan was answering questions in Parliament on Wednesday, 17 November, on South Africa’s watershed multibillion-dollar climate finance deal announced at the COP26 climate talks in Glasgow two weeks ago. 

South Africa committed to ambitious targets at the talks to attract billions in climate funding from wealthy nations. South Africa is one of the world’s most coal-dependent countries, and its commitments are a huge milestone at the conference.The deal will be watched closely to see if it can be used as a model for other developing countries looking to move away from coal.  

The historic deal 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.

In return for the funds, Eskom has promised to close down its coal power stations before the end of their normal lifespan, over the next 15 years. When announcing the deal the South African government said it would be used in part to fund Eskom to build a strong renewable energy sector.

Gordhan said negotiations would now take place at a technical level to determine if the offers were compatible with South Africa's financial requirements and capabilities. 

It is now over to a group of ministers, led by South Africa’s Environment Forestry and Fisheries Minister Barbara Creecy, to negotiate on the offer. 

“A technical team has been established and includes South African lenders and experts as well as international experts, to engage in negotiations.”

Crucial points to be discussed were how much of the funding would be grant money, and just how "concessional" the concessional funding will be.

Gordhan added that the deal was a "government project", not specifically an Eskom project, and the money would also be used for two other projects – a green hydrogen project and the production of electric vehicles in South Africa.

Eskom will get the lion’s share of the funds and one of the projects that the state utility will use it for is to refurbish its old coal power plant Komati. Eskom plans to turn the aged coal power station into a clean power plant as part of its just energy transition.

Gordhan said that if Eskom received funding for the Komati refurbishment, it would have an important impact on repurposing and repowering the station. Plans for the plant include an agri-voltaic plant which allows for dual land use for the generation of solar power and agriculture.

He said funding could be used to retrain workers, and prepare the plant for new workers, as well as mitigating the impact on communities.

Gordhan said the R131 billion is "merely a start" and does not cover all of South Africa's transition issues. A lot more money needs to be raised by developed countries, either before or after 2030.