The inaugural African Climate Summit recently unfolded in Nairobi, marking an important milestone in the global fight against climate change. 

Although Africa contributes only 4% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, many African countries face disproportionate burdens and risks from climate change. It is therefore unsurprising that discussions at the summit revolved around securing much-needed funding to combat the severe effects of climate change.

If the goal is a sustainable, prosperous future for all, equity has to be at the heart of things. It is a glaring injustice that African people feel the harshest effects of the climate crisis without being significant contributors to the problem. The primary responsibility for global emissions rests with industrialised nations and states engaged in fossil fuel extraction.

The Nairobi Declaration, a joint proposal from leaders at the summit, acknowledges this inequity while also highlighting Africa’s vital role in the global climate solution. Beyond seeking financial contributions to deal with the effects of climate change, African countries are keen to put forward the business case for climate investment by extolling the benefits the African continent brings to the table. It has a young and fast-growing workforce, huge untapped renewable energy potential and some of the world’s largest carbon sinks, particularly the Congo forest and peatland. 

Despite not being significant historic contributors to the climate crisis, Africa is keen to be part of the solution. “This is no ordinary summit,” Kenyan President William Ruto told the 30,000 delegates at the summit.

“We are not here just to talk about Africa or climate change in the usual way, which often accentuates our divisions — north versus south, developed versus developing, polluters versus the victims.” 

William Ruto, President of Kenya

Wealth creation within industrialised nations has in large part been due to the possibilities unlocked by the dense energy storage and transportability of fossil fuels. This wealth has lifted millions out of poverty, making goods once considered luxuries commonplace in every household and increasing life expectancy. It seems only right that the nations who enjoyed the spoils of these benefits also pay to put right the global negative externalities for which they are responsible: global warming and its effects.

Geopolitical factors have long contributed to the unequal distribution of wealth within and to the African continent. In the Nairobi Declaration, African leaders call upon their global counterparts to recognise that decarbonising the world economy is also an opportunity to promote equality and shared prosperity. Looking ahead, if we are to ask the people of the world’s poorest continent to transition away from fossil fuels, the funding models supporting this transition must be equitable.

African leaders are right to question why the $100 billion pledged by developed countries at the 2009 UN Copenhagen Climate Change Conference has never fully materialised. Leaders are also calling for a comprehensive response to Africa’s debt crisis to give developing countries the fiscal space to finance both development and climate action. On a continent where over 490 million people live in extreme poverty (living on less than $1.90 per day) and 600 million lack access to electricity, it is difficult for leaders to balance climate commitments with development goals.

Having said this, development goals can go hand-in-hand with climate action. The International Renewable Energy Agency has reported that renewable energy in the form of solar power is now the cheapest form of energy generation

Additionally, the African leaders have called for the swift operationalisation of the loss and damage facility agreed at COP27. In a significant move, they have also proposed a new global financing pact in the form of a global carbon tax. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has previously indicated that a global carbon price could be the quickest and most effective way to rapidly reduce carbon emissions. While promising, implementing a global tax of any kind is likely to encounter significant political opposition and logistical challenges. This still feels some way off.

The presence of John Kerry, the United States’ Climate Envoy, was particularly irksome for some. It is understandable that some African leaders,including Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni and Nigeria’s Bola Tinubu, decided not to attend, forgoing being lectured by some of the world’s worst emitters.

While there remains plenty that was not discussed during the summit and some notable absentees,  it can be regarded as an important first step. Along with establishing the African Climate Summit as a biannual event, the Nairobi Declaration will serve as the basis for Africa’s common position at COP 28 and beyond. This clarity and consensus will help African nations be heard — it’s up to the rest of the world to listen.