CAPPA – Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa

COP27: Not Yet Uhuru for Africa

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In the wake of the 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) held in Sharm El-Sheik (SES), Egypt from 6-18 November 2022, Corporate Accountability and Public Participation Africa convened a post-conference debrief for media practitioners, members of the public, and climate campaigners on Friday, November 25, 2022. The hybrid dialogue moderated by Martins Ogunlade, CAPPA’s Programme Manager, Climate Change reviewed the highlights and low points of the just concluded summit, and what needs to happen before COP28.

Although COP27 has come and gone, the electrifying moments that characterized the conference, and key outcomes of this year’s negotiations will not be easily forgotten. In fact, this year’s conference will go down in history as the COP that broke the stalemate on the demand for a loss and damage (L&D) funding facility.  After 30 long years of pushing, strings of vibrant campaigns, and strategic engagements by activists to get L&D on the agenda of climate negotiations, the agreement on loss and damage by negotiators just as COP27 drew its last breath, emerged as a most notable and political victory for developing countries, small island states and frontline communities caught up in climate-fueled disasters such as floods, mudslides, wildfires and extreme desertification.

While COP27 secured some wins including the agreement on a framework for the Global Goal of Adaptation by the end of 2023 and recognition for more flexible and grant-based climate finance for poor nations, a number of campaigners believe that nothing much has changed as the meeting once again failed to secure honest commitments from decision-makers to deal practically with the issue of climate change.

A Jamboree Conference

According to Nnimmo Bassey, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), the conference of parties has since progressed into a sort of jamboree and gathering where nations are more interested in making profit out of a very bad situation than acting to save the world from a terrible finality. This is most evident in the fact that COP27 baulked at phasing down all fossil fuels. In a summary document that contained details of the Sharm El-Sheik pact, negotiators called on countries to ‘‘accelerate efforts towards the phasedown of unabated coal power and phaseout of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies.

The term ‘‘phasedown of unabated coal power’’ was first used at COP26 in Glasgow. At COP27, campaigners had expected a language expansion in terms of the inclusion of more items in the bracket to ‘’phasedown’’ fossil fuels but this failed to happen as the Sharm El-Sheik negotiation text flinched at mentioning ‘‘oil and gas’’ in addition to its call for a scale down of coal power. This is in spite of the fact that 40% of the world’s annual greenhouse emissions stem from the extraction and burning of oil and gas.

Fixation on Fossil Fuel

Though disappointed at the weak language of the SES text, climate campaigners from Africa did not expect much. Before the conference, they were already at loggerheads with their heads of state who are agitating for the use of gas (which emits less carbon than coal or oil) as transition fuel to develop their poor economies.

The fixation on fossil fuel resources as its most viable source for foreign exchange earnings, and fears of stranded investments have also seen African governments falter in their commitments to climate goals with countries like Uganda bent on driving economic growth through the exploration of the country’s newly discovered oil deposits, and Nigeria commissioning the drilling of oil and gas in its northern fields, barely a week after COP27.

At COP27, African governments launched the Africa Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI), a move which activists on the continent termed a further distraction from real solutions to climate change. As Akinbode Oluwafemi, Executive Director of CAPPA reflects, carbon markets are false solutions that do not help Nigeria and Africa in the race against climate change. If anything and as noted in a research report produced by CAPPA ahead of this year’s United Nations climate change conference, carbon trading schemes are band-aid solutions that offer escape routes for big polluters to carry on business as usual thereby undermining climate aspirations and accelerating earth’s doomsday.

Muted Voices

Only a few hours to the Convergence of the Peoples, one of the multiple resistance actions organized on the sidelines of COP27 by CAPPA and other climate justice campaigners, to demand real solutions to climate change and an end to all forms of oppression against activists, some Egyptian activist-artists who had earlier volunteered to draw an image of the jailed Egyptian-British dissident, Alaa Abd El-Fattah in real time as the event progressed, pulled out on grounds that they would suffer harsh reprisals from their home government once the conference ended and attendees had all returned to their respective countries.

This last-minute withdrawal once again underscored the dire state of human rights and civil liberties in the country. Egypt is notorious for its intolerance of political criticism, and relentless crackdown on dissident voices. So far, public records estimate that close to 65,000 political prisoners, one of which is Alaa Abd el-Fattah, stand unjustly behind jail bars in the country. At COP27, Alaa, a computer programmer and activist became the face of campaigns to end persecution against truth speakers on account of his detention circumstances. In a bid to draw more attention to his plight or die in captivity as the biggest event of the season held in Egypt, Alaa who had been on a partial hunger strike pre-the conference decided to escalate his protests to include a water strike which he timed to begin on the opening day of the conference and last throughout the time of the conference.

Ahead of the conference, civil society groups had protested Egypt’s dreadful human rights record in previous times even as they had decried the likelihood of a closed space for participation at the COP, pointing out the decision of the country to hold the event in the resort town of Sharm El-Sheik, and coordinated increase in hotel rates that could work to keep activists at bay as they struggle to raise funds for accommodation and feeding, including restrictions to freedom of assembly outside the venue of COP27 amongst other valid concerns.

True to the fears of civil society, protests at COP27 were strongly limited to designated areas inside the conference area, far away from the spaces of negotiations and faces of decision-makers. On occasions when campaigners defied all restrictions to air their grievances – like the time during the conference when four protestors interrupted President Biden’s speech with a war cry, and their hands in the air holding banners that urged Biden to declare a climate emergency – they were immediately classified by the UN security as threats to the peace of the event and swiftly de-badged.

Yet it must be said that for all the attempts to control civil society, human rights defenders and campaigners who showed up at COP27, and even those who spoke up from elsewhere in the world, held their grounds and raised their voices so high in their demands for urgent action so much so that the Secretary General of the United Nations sent a message to them saying: ‘‘I share your frustration’’.

Fossil Fuel Lobbyists Crawled all Over

Whilst activists and representatives of vulnerable communities were blocked from engaging directly with negotiators at COP27, fossil fuel lobbyists crawled all over the conference advancing their agenda, and basking in the bold acknowledgement of their contributions to the conference as highlighted by their beneficiaries. For instance, CocaCola, the world’s leading plastic polluter was identified as a major sponsor of this year’s United Nations conference in SES. Also among the event’s sponsors were banks that ‘‘directly finance the fossil fuel industry such as Afreximbank and Mashreq’’. In an embarrassing display captured by the media, the Nigerian pavilion at CO27 showcased a drop banner featuring a list of their sponsors, the majority of whom were big polluters and fossil fuel corporations.

According to Phillip Jakpor, CAPPA’s Director of Programmes, and team member of the Global Witness, a global campaign group that monitored proceedings of the summit, COP27 paraded a total of 636 fossil fuel lobbyists who were very much in tune with their assignment to derail talks at the event.

A Historic Win with Grey Areas

So far, the agreement to establish a loss and damage funding facility, particularly for vulnerable countries has been touted as the biggest win of COP27. L&D funding facility has been one of the most pressing demands of the biggest negotiating bloc within the UNFCCC climate negotiations – the G77 and China.

Last year, efforts to get negotiators to decide on it proved unsuccessful as developed nations refused to consider such arrangements at COP26 but agreed to consider it as an item for dialogue on the agenda of the Bonn Climate Change Conference, an intersessional meeting halfway to COP27. Campaigners subsequently mounted enormous pressure for the addition of loss and damage to the list of agenda items discussed at COP27.

For Zikora Ibeh, CAPPA’s Policy and Research Officer who was on the ground at COP27 as an observer, until the facility becomes operationalized, and funds begin to flow in and out of it, campaigners must retain some scepticism towards the issue. This is because whearas the consideration of L&D is now decided, it is not clear yet who will pay into the account or whether the new fund will be domiciled within the UNFCCC or outside.

In fact, key issues regarding the operationality of the fund were left to 2023 even as the loss and damage text avoided mentioning ‘‘liability and compensation’’ which have become trigger words for wealthy countries like the United States. What this means is that the establishment of the facility does not come with any responsibility that compels historically emitting nations to contribute to it in accordance with the UNFCCC’s polluter pays principle.

If past experiences are anything to go by, developing nations are in for a long ride. In 2009, developed nations pledged at COP15 in Copenhagen, to channel US$100 billion a year to very poor nations in order to help them adapt to climate change and mitigate global warming but this promise was broken, and it is uncertain whether it can be met annually until 2025. Other sources of climate finances set up for the same purposes have also not met the expectations of developing nations who have in recent times complained about a lack of access, the draining processes and high-interest rates associated with such monies.

Strategic Litigation: Now is the Time to Act!

Strategic litigation is fast gaining grounds as a powerful advocacy tool for pressuring governments, corporations, and decision-makers to do what is right to mitigate climate crisis. According to Barrister Chima Williams, Executive Director of Environmental Rights Action (ERA), while campaigners rejoice at the breakthrough in the discussion about loss and damage, they must also leverage the turning point to organize themselves better to not only demand accountability from government entities but also hold polluting corporations responsible for the damaging impacts of their activities on the lives of citizens.

To build solidarity and strengthen the weight of such climate litigations, campaigners and activists can identify climate-impacted communities across Africa and small Island states, and work together with affected groups from such areas to build a rights-based litigation that can ensure the fulfilment of international climate pledges. Most importantly, this kind of approach can also help to set the agenda while accelerating conversations on the functionality and operationalization of the loss and damage finance facility ahead of COP28 scheduled to hold in Dubai.

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