Africa–G20 Compact: Climate justice for genuine partnerships

Jun 08, 2017

The G20 Compact with Africa downplays climate change and sustainability, relegating them to mere side-effects of doing business. There is no acknowledgement of the ecological debt the North owes the South. For sustainable development, climate justice and action,  it is imperative that the G20 meeting  gives more attention to  climate  justice.

Donald Trump’s renewed commitment to emitting unlimited greenhouse gases is the latest and most explicit attack on Africans, but amongst the G20 leaders (including South Africa) he represents continuities, not change. None of the most important 20 economies have programmes to decarbonise as sophisticated as, for example, Cuba’s.

Activists in Africa and the G20 must together work harder on genuine partnerships. In contrast, the G20’s top-down Compact with Africa promotes private profit at the expense of the climate.

With billions of people affected, global consensus has identified climate change as one of the major threats to sustainable development, inclusiveness, equitable economic growth and financial stability. Speaking at the 4th Australasian Emissions Reduction Summit in Melbourne, the Fijian Prime Minister and incoming COP23 President Frank Bainimarama highlighted insisted that the whole world “preserve at all costs” the historic Paris Climate Change Agreement and the multilateral consensus for decisive action to reduce carbon emissions.

The G20 summit provides an important opportunity for other major powers to resist Trump’s backsliding and even make progress in meeting the global climate challenge, bearing in mind the population of Africa.

By last November, 17 member states of the G20 had ratified the Paris Agreement, bringing it to effect far sooner than expected, a commendable show of leadership and commitment by the global economic powers.

This kind of leadership is needed now more than ever, so that countries deliver on commitments aimed at limiting the temperature increase to 1.5˚C. The Intended National Determined Contributions – which are non-binding with no accountability – only bring the temperature increase to 3˚C.

At this juncture, members of the G20 cannot afford to dither on their commitments or be undermined by any one country. There is no room for a compromise with Trump that results in diluting language on climate change, climate finance and decarbonisation to a mere footnote.

Given that G20 countries account for more than 70% of greenhouse gas emissions and more than 85% of global Gross Domestic Product, they have both the responsibility and the resources to promote low-carbon and climate-resilient infrastructure and  provide an unambiguous long-term direction.

The fact that  German G20 presidency is aiming to secure greater interlinking of energy and climate policies as well as fostering appropriate political frameworks, financing instruments, and  economic incentives  for  investments in climate-resilient  infrastructure is very much welcome.  However, it is important that as the global leaders meet in Hamburg in July, they avoid disregarding safeguards and sustainability  commitments they made towards the Paris Agreement and towards the Green Climate Fund pledges.

Africa’s greenhouse gas emissions are low in both absolute and per capita terms, in contrast to emissions by the highly-industrialised global powers. And yet the continent remains most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. As Africans sometimes say, “We didn’t go to the party and we didn’t make the mess, and yet they are forcing us to pay the bills.”

It is, therefore, disappointing, if not outrageous, that the G20’s Compact with Africa downplays climate change and sustainability, relegating them to mere “side-effects” of doing business. There is no acknowledgement of the ‘climate debt’ that the North owes the South. In the spirit  of sustainable development, climate justice and action,  it imperative the G20 Hamburg meeting  give more attention to  climate  justice. A genuine partnership aiming for a mutually beneficial and sound investment climate for G20 member states and African economies must start by balancing the budget. Africa owes a monetary debt that is becoming crippling – but the G20 owes Africa repayment of its ecological debt.

The July meeting should be a platform for introspection for the member states of the G20 with respect to their Paris Agreement commitments, not only a justified critique of Trump and his refusal to fund mitigation, adaptation and especially ‘loss and damage.’ Now that Trump shamelessly declares himself in default on the climate debt that the US owes to Africa, the rest of the he G20 should first admit that effective climate action requires more accessible climate finance.

The Green Climate Fund is not yet accessible, and the $100 billion annual promised spending starting 2020 is a mirage. It is important, therefore, that high up on the G20 finance minister’s agenda on June 12-13 should be discussions on ensuring that climate finance flows from the rich to poor countries.

It is also very important that the G20 members appreciate that, in the African context, adaptation and loss and damage reparations should not be neglected. There are a few countries – South Africa, Nigeria, Algeria, Libya, Egypt – which have high emissions and need attention to mitigation, but the main victims are in the centre of the African land mass.  So financial support aimed at increasing the adaptive capacity of vulnerable communities and increased climate resilience of ecosystems would mean the difference between life and death to millions of Africans.

Following the G20 Hamburg summit on July 7-8 comes the UNFCCC COP23 climate summit in Bonn in November, chaired by the government of Fiji. Both these summits would ideally craft new frameworks so mitigation speeds up to the level where the 1.5˚C Paris target is feasible, and ensure financial provisions to developing countries will be sufficient, transparent and inclusive.  After all, in many African countries, provision of finance to a dictator in power will not lead to inclusive climate action, but instead, worsening injustice. A system to pay victims directly, such as a Basic Income Grant, would be preferable, such as in the Darfur victims of climate change and associated violence, whose repression has made Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir a fugitive from the International Criminal Court.

It will be impossible to realise climate justice if communities and especially women in vulnerable households do not have the capacities and a seat at the table to enforce our interests. Only if lack of participation is addressed can the G20 member states  enable African states to properly implement the useful provisions of the UNFCCC at this crucial moment when climate diplomacy is breaking down.

That break-down must be avoided, because global, coordinated solutions are necessary. Fast, fundamental global action is required to reduce G20 emissions and to pay for African adaptation as part of the North’s climate debt.The responsibility falls on the shoulder of those who had the party: the G20. As  the most important forum for international economic cooperation, the G20 is now failing us – and it will be up to activists from Africa and other oppressed sites to change power relations and outcomes.




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