COP 28: Brightspots for action in Africa

This was a big year for Africa. Riding on the coat tails of last year’s Africa COP – COP27, held in Egypt, this year Africa proudly hosted several landmark events that many say heralded a new chapter for the continent’s climate agenda and climate leadership. Gabon hosted the One Forest Summit in March, Kenya hosted the first ever Africa Climate Summit in September – the first ever convening of African heads of state on climate – and the Republic of Congo hosted the Three Basins Summit in October. This is not even to mention the African Unions formal entrance into the G20 this year.

African leaders continually raised the linkages between poverty, nature, and climate, through these and other multiple forums – including the BRICS Summit, the Summit for a New Global Financial Pact in Paris, and at the World Bank meetings. These events underscore Africa’s new age of climate leadership – showcasing the continent’s contributions to, commitments to, and perspectives on sustainability. So what was achieved during December’s culminating summit, COP 28 in Dubai? Here were three big highlights from my personal experience:

Local State and Non-State Climate Action

Attention to local climate action in Africa is becoming more important especially as the population of Africa’s cities is expected to double by 2050, reaching 1.5 billion people. At COP28, for the first time, cities —which produce 70% of the world’s greenhouse gases —were featured prominently in discussions. The first-of-its kind “Local Climate Action Summit,” supported by WRI, assembled more than 500 mayors, governors and other subnational leaders at the COP to elevate the role of cities in climate action, including through NDCs and financing. 

My team at WRI Africa played a large role in getting mayors and local leaders from across the continent to the Summit, and amplifying their messages through our platforms – such as the Mayor of Kigali, Rwanda, keynote at our reception. Twelve African countries signed up for the Coalition for High Ambition Multi-level Partnerships for Climate Action – signed by over seventy countries – that will enhance cooperation between national, regional and local governments on planning, financing and implementing national climate goals. How these committments pan into NDCs will remain to be seen, but for me, this was one of the bright spots of the COP – because we have seen the real power of local action.

WRI Managing Director Wanjira Mathai spotlighting the work of African County Governors and City Mayors at the COP 28 Local Climate Action Summit

Landscape Restoration and Food Systems Transformation

Africa’s food systems have been affected by drought and increased costs for farming inputs caused by the Ukraine war. Despite having 25% of the world’s arable land, Africa produces only 10% of all agricultural output in the world, with millions of people in the continent still going hungry.

For the first time, food was included in the COP28 climate agenda. Recognizing the impact of climate change on agriculture and food production, 159 countries, including 34 from Africa, signed a declaration to scale up adaptation and resilience, promote food security and nutrition, support livelihoods, strengthen water management in agriculture, and protect and conserve ecosystems and biodiversity.

Also, the role of landscape restoration in transforming food systems and delivering climate adaptation to communities has grown leaps and bounds. The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) had an entire pavilion at the COP for the first time ever, holding meaninful discussion and debate on how we can scale to millions of hectares of land under restoration – Africa alone has an estimated 700 million hectares of farm and forestland that could be brought back into productivity through restoration activities, spelling countless benefits. I had a chance to share the story of our work with partners on Local Restoration with this audience, and look forward to growing support and finance for restoration and food systems recovery and transformation across the continent.

WRI Africa Deputy Director, Rebekah Shirley, speaking at the UNCCD High-Level Event on Restoration at COP 28

Energy Transition and Green Development

The African aspiration of being a hub for low carbon industry, participating in global value chains, and manufacturing of green commodities for international markets based on its wealth of clean energy resources is now a well-established intention, thanks to the Africa Climate Summit held earlier in the year. But achieving this vision will require a tectonic transformation in the way we attract investment to the continent – today, Africa, with all this potential attracts only 4% of all global climate finance and investment. Africa’s clean energy sector accounts for roughly a third of this climate investment, at roughly US$9 billion per annum – not yet even half of the $25 billion per year that the IEA finds the continent needs to achieve its goal of energy access for all by 2030 – and clean energy is perhaps one of our most mature, commercial climate solution sectors.

At this COP there was some significant progress made on unblocking the barriers to greater flow of financing toward and within the continent for green development. In particular, the COP28 Presidency hosted the first-ever Africa Investment Earthshot Leaders’ Summit, which ‘brought together African Heads of State, investors, corporations and philanthropies, to shape an investment Earthshot roadmap process for the Nairobi Declaration, to mobilize private capital at scale that can be deployed at speed, and to co-create ambitious blended investments and institutional investor-public partnerships that can optimally marry regional and global market demand with Africa’s industrial and just energy system transformation and growth.’ 

The Summit showcased numerous initiatives already underway to help establish African green industrial infrastructure as a globally competitive investable asset class. WRI Africa is a founding partner in this intiative, and I was honored to moderate the entire event, which amplified a fresh and positive message on the practical steps being taken and that are crucially needed to deliver Africa’s clean energy transition and a robust green industrial sector. Much more to look out for on this front in the coming years.

It can be difficult to wrap our minds around how hard it is to garner or reach international concensus on climate action, and why progress is so slow. I try to focus on the bright spots of action and movement that lay in the midst of inertia, and these were three that stood out to me this year. Nevertheless, much work needs to be done on Local Adaptation and Loss & Damage, which ultimately sit at the heart of Africa’s climate response needs. See our WRI Africa take-aways from COP28 insight for more on this, and let’s look forward to a year of even stronger climate leadership and action for the continent.