COP28: when Kenyan President William Ruto wants to be the spokesperson for Africa

The catastrophe suffered by his country and his region should give Kenyan President William Ruto all the arguments to challenge his interlocutors at the 28th Climate Conference of the Parties (COP28) on the climate emergency in Africa. As the conference opens in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Thursday, November 30, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia are the scene of what humanitarians are calling the floods of the century. Caused by the El Nino climatic phenomenon, they left at least 265 dead and more than a million displaced, according to provisional reports given by the three countries. Before these record floods, the Horn of Africa was struggling to emerge from the worst drought it had experienced in four decades.

The Kenyan Head of State received African delegations in September in Nairobi, during the very first African Climate Action Summit, during which he took up the role of spokesperson for the continent on climate issues. . This sort of pre-COP was an opportunity to recall the injustice suffered by Africa; the continent is the most vulnerable to the consequences of climate change while being the one that emits the least greenhouse gases.

Delegations from all African countries took advantage of the Nairobi meeting to agree on a declaration intended to represent their position at COP28. William Ruto should symbolically wear it, in particular because of his position as current chairman of the African Union Committee of African Heads of State on Climate Change. Before him, only the former Ethiopian Prime Minister Mélès Zenawi had inherited such a role, during COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009.

“A new energy”

In addition to the extreme climatic phenomena that affect it, Kenya has established itself as one of the main interlocutors for the climate in Africa. East Africa’s largest economy generates 90% of its electricity from renewable energy. Nairobi also hosted the International Summit to combat the proliferation of plastic waste in mid-November. A good student in this area, the country banned the use of plastic bags in 2017.

“William Ruto has brought change to Africa, he is bringing new energy, he is the figure we needed on climate issues,” explains Serah Mekka, director of the anti-poverty organization ONE Campaign. It has a certain legitimacy, not only thanks to the Kenyan green model, but also because it stands up to developed countries on financing climate action. » During COP28, Kenya will be at the initiative, alongside France, of a think tank for a reform of international taxation.

On this subject, the Kenyan president described the current financial architecture in Paris on June 23 as “unfair, punitive and inequitable” during the Summit for a new global financial pact. A position endorsed by the Nairobi declaration. At COP28, the African bloc will advocate for debt restructuring measures and the establishment of concessional loans – on preferential terms – to facilitate energy transition efforts and adaptation to the climate challenge. The continent considers itself a doubly victim/in addition to being the most vulnerable to climatic hazards, it does not have the financial means to respond.

“Victim continent”

“We want clear-cut positions in terms of climate justice, we want to be recognized as a victim continent and we want the world to mobilize accessible and predictable financial resources,” summarizes an African negotiator at the COP, on condition of anonymity because not authorized to speak to the media. The establishment of an annual Green Fund of 100 billion dollars (91 billion euros) to enable countries in the South to adapt to global warming, promised in 2009, has fallen behind schedule. The sum for the year 2021 was reached two years late, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). However, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) estimates that “the financing gap for adaptation to climate change is widening, and is now between €194 billion and €366 billion per year.”

A similar fund, called “Loss and Damage”, intended to help countries affected by global warming, the principle of which was accepted at COP27 in Egypt, is planned for the discussions in Dubai. “Obtaining these two financing guarantees is the basis of our action during the COP,” assures the African negotiator previously cited. It is “a matter of life and death for people facing the serious consequences of global warming,” adds Ann Harrison, climate advisor for Amnesty International.

For the rest, the African Summit in Nairobi revealed the differences that separate certain African countries. “We argued instead of discussing,” confides the member of a delegation from Central Africa, on condition of anonymity. The fiercely negotiated Nairobi declaration notably proposes a carbon tax “on fossil fuels, maritime transport and aviation, (…) which could be increased by a global tax on financial transactions”. A measure opposed by the continent’s biggest polluters such as South Africa.

“Economic gold mine”

But the leadership of William Ruto, sometimes perceived by his peers as monopolizing the climate fight – particularly on the issue of carbon credits, annoys the continent. “We fear that he will go it alone, that he will use the legitimacy of the continent to ensure his own interests,” says an African diplomat. The importance he gives to carbon credits, of which Kenya already captures around a quarter of African revenues, has raised eyebrows. This compensation system allows the most polluting industries to be allocated greenhouse gas emissions quotas which they can possibly exceed by purchasing credits in the form of emissions reduction or carbon sequestration projects.

Touted as an “economic goldmine” by the Kenyan president, the market would have the potential to create 30 million jobs and bring $50 billion in revenue to Africa by the end of the decade according to the African Initiative on Business. carbon markets (ACMI). “The problem is that Ruto is opportunistically banking on this niche to channel financial flows quickly while we, in Africa, our top priority remains adaptation to climate change,” said the diplomat.

A fervent promoter of “positive green growth” and “climate solutions”, William Ruto sometimes has difficulty rallying the continent to his speech. Particularly because this trained agronomist is sometimes accused in his country of being very eloquent at the United Nations or the European Parliament but of being much less involved on local climate issues, a theme absent from his campaign in 2022. Since his election, the Kenyan president has taken a series of controversial measures ranging from lifting the ban on logging to the construction of a gas pipeline with Tanzania, including a nuclear power plant project. .

A man in a hurry

Despite everything, in a context of decarbonization of the global economy, Africa presents itself to Dubai with numerous assets – the Congo Basin is the second largest carbon sink in the world – and unrivaled potential in renewable energies. “We have the largest reservoir of renewable energy in the world (…): 60% of the world’s solar potential is found in Africa,” assured William Ruto before the European Parliament in Strasbourg on November 21, to invite Europeans to invest on the continent. In 2021, it attracted just 0.6% of global investment in renewable energy, according to research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

William Ruto is a man in a hurry. “I hear that there is a COP29 project, but it must be abandoned,” he said in June. We need a COP28 that addresses climate challenges once and for all. » In Egypt last year, he called the “blockages, avoidance tactics and procrastination” of developed countries a “cruel and unjust” strategy.