NAIROBI — At the Kenyatta International Convention Centre – a striking, brutalist monolith in downtown Nairobi – the first-ever Africa Climate Summit concluded with Africa’s 54 nations signing the Nairobi Declaration. This is the first time in history that African leaders have reached a joint position on climate change and climate policy.
After a sudden influx of some 20 African leaders arrived on the second day (and Emmanuel Macron, tipped to appear, didn’t materialise), the schedule of talks and panels fell four hours behind, as leaders gave similar-sounding speeches to the assembled. They called for more climate action, development opportunities and, crucially, finance.
On the latter point, they weren’t alone. António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, was also at the summit. Speaking to New Statesman Spotlight, he said that now is the time to “mobilise the world’s resources to make sure that Africa has the finances required for its renewables revolution”.
Climate commentators have marked the conference as a success: Africa – a continent that produces just 4 per cent of emissions and where only 57 per cent of the population has access to electricity – is on the verge of projecting a more powerful, unified voice at the upcoming Cop28 in Dubai.
“This declaration will serve as a basis for Africa’s common position in the global climate change process,” reads the cover text of the final declaration. “No country should ever have to choose between development aspirations and climate action.”
The declaration was officially released at an outdoor address to the press on Wednesday (6 September), where national anthems played, fireworks were set off, and those leaders that had not yet returned home waved to delegates gathered in the intense Nairobi heat. William Ruto – Kenyan president since 2022 – stood alongside leaders including Salva Kiir of South Sudan, a country where 76 per cent of the population requires humanitarian assistance according to the World Bank. There was Isaias Afwerki, the authoritarian leader of Eritrea, a country that comes in the bottom few of the press freedom index; and Mahamat Déby, leader of Chad, whose neighbours Sudan and Niger have both experienced dramatic coups d’état or serious civil strife in the past few months.
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African nations differ hugely in their cultural character, landscapes and politics. But with the continent warming faster than the global average (at 0.3°C per decade), and a 1.3 billion population that is expected to double by 2050, all countries have significant climate and development concerns.
The Nairobi Declaration seeks to address these. It includes calls for the global financial system to be reformed, noting the high costs of borrowing in Africa (around eight-times higher than in Europe). It also calls for the long-promised pledge of $100bn in climate finance for the developing world from wealthier nations to finally be met; and for the continent’s renewable generation capacity to increase six-fold by the end of the decade.
There was a sense on the ground, though, that while the declaration was a significant moment, it does not necessarily push climate policy on in a concrete way. “It is certainly historic to have a summit that is really looking at Africa,” Lily Odarno, a director at the Clean Air Task Force think tank, told me, “and the continent’s role in both addressing climate change, but also looking at the opportunities that we could be able to leverage within the context of climate change.
“Given the discussions we were having beforehand, though, nothing really surprised me in the final cover text, and in fact the language was a bit broader and more general than I was originally hoping to see.”
The other big story at the conference was an array of financial pledges made by visiting leaders and dignitaries. But while the final $23bn figure promised by developed countries, financial institutions and energy firms might seem like a lot on paper, it pales in comparison to what Africa needs.
“It’s a drop in the bucket,” said Odarno. “The Africa Development Bank has estimated that we need $2.7trn in extra finance for the continent to meet its sustainable development goals, which is a far cry from what we see here.” Africa, and the world, have a long way to go towards net zero, but summits like this are the first step.
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