On March 20-21, the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference held their first high-level political meeting following COP27. The current and incoming COP presidencies of Egypt and the United Arab and the United Arab Emirates are co-hosting the meeting in the Danish capital with Denmark. The aim of the ministerial meeting is to pave the way for a successful COP28, implementing the goals of the Paris Agreement and the conclusions of COP27.
The Copenhagen Climate Ministerial will gather climate leaders and ministers from around the world to advocate for climate action and an ambitious COP28. The meeting will focus on ensuring the implementation of COP27 outcomes in Sharm el-Sheikh while setting the stage for COP28 in the United Arab Emirates in December. However, it appears that African leaders will not be the main focus, but rather getting the final solutions from Western climate ministers for the upcoming COP28.
The hard truth about the new world when it comes to climate change and its implementation is that in the shadow of the European energy crisis and the rich world’s resurgent hunger for fossil fuels, the same leaders from African countries are not even close to sitting at decision-making tables that will decide Africa’s future but will receive a mandate from what they are told what to do.
Debates will be centered around the adequacy of climate finance, the responsibility of major emitters to the most vulnerable countries, the natural gas investment rules and more. This should be Africa’s year to achieve the best possible outcome in such matters. However, it is clear that African and European views on the shape and goals of the continent’s energy transition diverge widely. African negotiators and climate Ministers (lack thereof) now risk making another major tactical mistake by waiving their rights and responsibility of their own in exchange for vague new pledges of climate financing.
The Copenhagen Climate Conference will be the first time since COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh that climate ministers and prominent politicians will meet face-to-face to discuss all the key issues of COP process. Current Egyptian COP Chair Sameh Shoukry will share the chairmanship of the meeting with new COP Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber of the United Arab Emirates. UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell will also be attending.
The Ministerial conference will include plenary and breakout sessions on climate adaptation, finance, loss and damage, mitigation, and a global stock take which will take place at COP28. The global stock take is part of the ambition mechanism. It will take stock of the implementation of the Paris Agreement in order to assess collective progress toward achieving the Agreement’s long-term goals. Although it seems that the schedule for COP28 is set, it is quite obvious that our leaders are once again parroting what they are told by the Western world, so one has to wonder if it just transitions for Africa is really realistic.
If other Europeans are scrambling to secure long-term gas contracts called “Just Transition”, why cannot African leaders stand up for their own interests? The German chancellor has travelled to Senegal in part to secure her country’s access to West African gas. Whatever is promised at climate summits, the rich countries themselves will not yet give up gas.
Nevertheless, rich countries will continue to oppose Africans gaining access to gas project financing on climate grounds. In 2021, influential European shareholders proposed phasing out all exemptions for gas by 2025 on climate grounds. Of course, none of the measures which were deliberately designed to discourage poor countries from building infrastructure for gas-fired power plants, fertilizer production, or cooking gas-applied to rich countries. And none of these measures have changed since the outbreak of the European energy crisis and the resulting buying spree for African gas. The naked hypocrisy has not escaped anyone’s notice. In a candid moment, EU Climate Czar Frans Timmermans declared, “Many of our citizens in Europe will not buy [the moral] argument today because their concerns are linked to their own existence in this energy crisis…”
At the 2009 COP conference, rich countries promised to mobilize an additional $100 billion a year in climate finance for poor countries. It is a never-ending story of the promises the Western world makes to Africa that it never keeps. Not only has this figure never been reached, but a small fraction of the billions also reported as climate finance is actually new. Most are just standard aid projects relabeled for climate action. Indeed, the whole notion of massive flexible transfers from North to South to enable countries to invest in their own climate futures is misleading. Aid, even if additional, is mainly controlled by donors – and they do not relinquish control. So, it makes little to no sense for African leaders to get a seat at the negotiating table if they trade political flexibility for new promises. Big climate checks are not coming. The pattern at climate and development summits is falling on deaf ears rather than becoming habitual moral arm-twisting, agreement to a large amount of aid, a barrage of relabeling, missed targets, finger-pointing, rinse and repeat.
Some of the larger economies, such as South Africa and Egypt, are negotiating their own energy transition packages with the major economic powers. Such agreements may help these countries but do nothing for the others and could end up dividing the continent and watering down demands. Africa needs a common position on the energy transition that underscores its own ability to act, which they promote, rather than pushing policy and development based on the offers of Western climate ministers, even if it means a short-term increase in emissions for some countries.
African leaders must be clear about what they can get at COP28 and not risk the future development of their people’s for more empty promises.