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First African Climate Summit opens in Kenya

Protesters gather to demand action on climate change, in the streets, in Nairobi (AP)
Protesters gather to demand action on climate change, in the streets, in Nairobi (AP)

The first African Climate Summit is opening as heads of state assert a stronger voice on a global issue that affects the continent of 1.3 billion people the most – even as they contribute to it the least.

Kenyan President William Ruto’s government launched the ministerial session on Monday while more than a dozen heads of state began to arrive, determined to wield more global influence and bring in far more financing and support.

The first speakers include young delegates, who demanded a bigger voice in the process.

John Kerry addresses the summit
US Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry addresses the Africa Climate Summit (AP)

“For a very long time we have looked at this as a problem. There are immense opportunities as well,” Mr Ruto said of the climate crisis, as he raised the possibility of multibillion-dollar economic possibilities, new financial structures, Africa’s huge mineral wealth and the ideal of shared prosperity.

“We are not here to catalogue grievances,” he added.

There is some frustration on the continent about being asked to develop in cleaner ways than the world’s richest countries, which have long produced most of the emissions that endanger climate, and to do it while much of the support that has been pledged has not appeared.

Mithika Mwenda with the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance told the gathering: “This is our time,” asserting that the annual flow of climate assistance to the continent is about 16 billion dollars (£12.7 billion), a tenth or less of what is needed and a “fraction” of the budget of some polluting companies.

Simon Stiell, executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, said: “We need to immediately see the delivery of the 100 billion dollars (£79 billion)” of climate finance, pledged annually by rich countries to developing ones.

More than 83 billion dollars (£66 billion) in climate financing was given to poorer countries in 2020, a 4% increase from the previous year but still short of the goal set in 2009.

Kenya alone needs 62 billion dollars (£49 billion) to implement its plan to reduce national emissions that contribute to global warming, the President said.

Mohamed Adow of Power Shift Africa said ahead of the summit: “We have an abundance of clean, renewable energy and it’s vital that we use this to power our future prosperity. But to unlock it, Africa needs funding from countries that have got rich off our suffering.”

William Ruto
Kenyan President William Ruto has said there are many possibilities for the continent in terms of new technology and other areas (AP)

Outside attendees to the summit include United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and the US government’s climate envoy, John Kerry.

Mr Kerry said: “Of 20 countries most affected by the climate crisis, 17 are here in Africa.”

As Kenya’s president spoke, hundreds of people joined a “people’s march” on climate in Nairobi, holding signs demanding the targeting of fossil fuels. “Stop the neo-colonial scramble for oil and gas in Africa,” one read.

Mr Ruto in the past has said the “addiction” to fossil fuels must end.

One project that is being focused on by protesters is the TotalEnergies-funded 897-mile East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline in Uganda and Tanzania.

Kenya activists
Activist Vanessa Nakate of Uganda takes part in the climate protest in Nairobi (AP)

Ugandan activist Vanessa Nakate said: “We know that fossil fuel companies have lots of subsidies,” and called for more subsidies for solar power which are needed to massively scale up renewable sources.

The UN has estimated that loss and damage in Africa due to climate change are projected to be between 290 billion dollars (£230 billion) and 440 billion dollars (£349 billion) in the period from 2020 to 2030, depending on the degree of warming.

Mr Ruto’s video welcome released before the summit was heavy on tree-planting but did not mention his administration’s decision this year to lift a years-long ban on commercial logging, which alarmed environmental watchdogs.

The decision has been challenged in court, while the government says only mature trees in state-run plantations would be harvested.

Kenya derives much of its power from renewables and has banned single-use plastic bags, but it struggles with some other climate-friendly adaptations.

Trees were chopped down to make way for the expressway that some summit attendees travelled on from the airport, and bags of informally made charcoal are found on some Nairobi street corners.

Mr Ruto made his way to Monday’s events in a small electric car, a contrast to the usual government convoys, on streets cleared of the sometimes poorly maintained buses and vans belching smoke.

Challenges for the African continent include simply being able to forecast and monitor the weather in order to avert thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in damages.