Africa’s civil society has little faith in COP28 climate talks

Isaiah Esipisu

December 4, 2023

As the world converges in Dubai to discuss the impact of climate change and look for solutions to climate-related problems, Africa’s climate civil society movement is deeply concerned about the credibility of COP28.

“Considering the close ties between the COP President Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber and the fossil fuel industry, the entire process will be short of transparency, accountability, and impartiality,” said Dr Mithika Mwenda, the Executive Director of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA).

There were media reports that Al Jaber, the chief executive of state-owned Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC), had used his position as president of the talks to push his company’s fossil fuel interests.

Despite several scientific reports, he has claimed that “no science” indicates that a phase-out of fossil fuels is needed to restrict global heating to 1.5°C. “Al Jaber’s statement has vindicated us in our rejection of such an oil mogul presiding over such sensitive negotiations,” said Dr Mwenda.

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Another issue that has attracted criticism as the negotiations enter the first week is the carbon offset schemes, also traded as nature-based solutions. This can be termed as an e-commerce platform where an entity or individual can purchase units (carbon credits) to compensate for greenhouse gas emissions or support climate action.

“Assigning monetary value to natural ecosystems and services raises ethical questions about how society perceives and treats nature,” said Dr Million Belay, the General Coordinator for the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA).

He noted that such carbon projects require sustained management and protection, which can be at odds with political or financial cycles that favor short-term results. “There’s also uncertainty about the long-term reliability of the benefits provided by nature-based solutions,” said Dr Belay.

However, other delegates believe something positive will come out of the talks.

“For the first time in climate change negotiations, food systems are at the center of the agenda, and that is a positive move,” said Hailemariam Desalegn, a former Prime Minister of Ethiopia and the chair of the Board of Directors for AGRA after the Green Climate Fund (GCF) committed 100 million dollars to help in the management of food losses and wastes in 10 African countries.

There are no hard deadlines or targets

Mohammed Adow, a climate activist and the founder of Power Shift Africa, is another delegate who sees some light at the end of the tunnel. “It’s great to see that the Loss and Damage Fund has been established,” he said, referring to financial commitments that were made to the fund on the first day by the United Arab Emirates, Germany, the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, and the European Union. “At the start of COP27 in Egypt last year, many people said it wouldn’t even be agreed upon, let alone created within 12 months. That shows how this UN process can act quickly when countries work together.”

Even though rules have been agreed upon regarding how the Loss and Damage Fund will operate, there are no hard deadlines or targets, and countries are not obligated to pay into it. The point has been that richer, high-polluting nations need to support vulnerable communities that have borne the greater impact of climate change.

“We expect that leaders will pledge more funds here at COP28, but they must not be just repackaged commitments,” said Adow. “We need new money, in the form of grants, not loans; otherwise, it will just pile more debt onto some of the poorest countries, defeating the point of a fund designed to improve lives.”

‘Countries must make extraordinary decisions’

According to Ephraim Mwepya Shitima, the chair of the African Group of Negotiators – On Climate Change (AGN), the operationalization and capitalization of the Loss and Damage kitty is a positive start to yet another round of negotiations. “It is a good start because it builds confidence in the process, it gives the heads of state something to celebrate during the summit, and it makes everything easy because no one can use the Loss and Damage as a bargaining chip during the negotiations,” said Shitima

At the same time, Obed Koringo, the Climate Policy Adviser at Care International, expressed optimism that there will be a breakthrough in adaptation financing by the end of the negotiations. “Adaptation is a priority for Africa because the continent is the most affected by climate change,” he said. “At this COP, we expect a robust science-based global goal on adaptation.”

The 2015 Paris Agreement established a global goal on adaptation to enhance adaptative capacity, strengthen resilience, and reduce vulnerability to climate change, “with a view to contributing to sustainable development and ensuring an adequate adaptation response in the context of the mitigation goal of keeping temperature rise to a maximum of 2°C or 1.5°C.”

Dr Caroline Ouko, a Kenyan team of negotiators member, said all is not lost. Still, countries must make extraordinary decisions if they have to improve from their current status, as depicted by the Global Stocktake report. “Science is saying that we have missed the mark, and the Global Stocktake report is no different,” said Ouko. “As someone who has been part of the negotiation process, key issues must be disrupted. We must change how we look at issues concerning finances, expertise, skills, technology, and capacity building, among others, if we have to get a different result.”


Isaiah Esipisu is an independent journalist and a media consultant. He is the continental Coordinator for the Pan Africa Media Alliance for Climate Change (PAMACC).