Edwin Gakunga is a student at the Kenya School of Law and a JURIST Assistant Editor. He files this dispatch from Nairobi.
The bustling heart of Nairobi, Kenya, was the stage last week of a historic event—the inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS), held from September 4th to 6th. This pivotal gathering brought together African nations, organizations, and world leaders who were united not only by their commitment to addressing climate change but also by a shared understanding of the imperatives that will guide future action. As an attendee of the summit here at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC) and a news correspondent for JURIST, I am here to bring you key insights from the ACS’s final product, the Nairobi Declaration, a document that encapsulates Africa’s resolute climate commitments and issues a clarion call for concerted action. This dispatch will also touch on the Youth Declaration, a product of a significant youth assembly precursor to ACS, shedding light on the aspirations and determination of the young people in the inter-generational fight against climate change.
The Nairobi Declaration on Climate Change and Call to Action
Adopted on September 6th, 2023, the Nairobi Declaration transcends mere rhetoric; it stands as a solemn and binding commitment that underscores the continent’s resolute stance in confronting the daunting challenge of climate change. In a continent where the disproportionate effects of climate change are acutely felt, this declaration, the first of its kind, emerges as a beacon of hope, charting a clear and actionable pathway to address the crisis. This exposition aims to delve into the substance and significance of its contents.
I. Critical agendas for urgent collective action at the continental and global level
1. Accelerating Emission Reduction Efforts
The first critical agenda articulated in the Nairobi Declaration is a resounding call for urgent action to reduce emissions. This aligns with the global climate goals set forth in the Paris Agreement, emphasizing the legal responsibility of nations to adhere to their commitments.
2. Fulfilling the Promise of Climate Finance
One of the cornerstones of the declaration is the demand for the fulfillment of the $100 billion annual climate finance pledge made at the 2009 UNFCCC COP15 in Copenhagen. This commitment represents a binding legal obligation on the part of developed nations to support developing countries in their climate adaptation and mitigation efforts.
3. Phasing Out Coal Power and Fossil Fuel Subsidies
The underpinning for phasing down unabated coal power and ending inefficient fossil fuel subsidies cannot be overstated. This aligns with global efforts to transition to cleaner energy sources and underscores the legal imperative for nations to take concrete steps in this direction.
II: Africa’s Commitments
The Africa Climate Summit yielded important commitments in addition to the general Declaration. The key commitments revolve around a comprehensive strategy to foster sustainable growth and combat climate change in Africa. These commitments include:
- Green Growth: Developing policies and regulations to attract global investment in green and circular economies.
- Climate Alignment: The declaration emphasizes the alignment of economic growth plans with the Paris Agreement, fostering green production and global supply chains to support decarbonization efforts. This includes mainstream adaptation into development policy-making and planning, including in the context of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
- Climate-Positive Growth: Prioritizing climate-positive economic development, including renewable energy, climate-smart agriculture, and biodiversity protection.
- Clean Energy Transition: Promoting clean cooking technologies, gender equality, and rural development.
- Biodiversity Conservation: Strengthening actions against biodiversity loss, deforestation, and land degradation.
- Continental Collaboration: Africa aims to strengthen continental collaboration, particularly through grid interconnectivity and the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement. Aims to meet the needs for financial, technical, and technological support, and knowledge sharing for climate change adaptation.
- Green Industrialization: The focus is on energy-intensive industries, renewable energy deployment, and value addition to natural resources including the production of green hydrogen and hydrogen derivatives such as green fertilizer and synthetic fuels. It includes investing in workforce development for an inclusive green transition.
- Food Security: Increasing agricultural yields sustainably.
- Development of Global Standards: Contributing to global standards and market mechanisms to accurately value and compensate for the protection of nature, biodiversity, socio-economic co-benefits, and the provision of climate services.
- Climate Integration: Integrating climate, biodiversity, and ocean agendas into national developmen plans and processes.
- Promote regenerative blue economy: Supporting implementation of the Moroni Declaration for Ocean and Climate Action in Africa, and the Great Blue Wall Initiative. Led to the creation of the African Heads of State Panel for the Development of a Regenerative Blue Economy and the implementation of the Great Blue Wall Initiative.
- Early Warning Systems: Strengthening early warning systems and climate information services, including indigenous knowledge, is vital for disaster management.
- Water and Drought Resilience: Support for the Africa Water Investment Programme (AIP) and enhanced drought resilience systems is emphasized.
- Inclusivity: Ensuring the inclusion of marginalized groups through engagement and coordination with smallholder farmers, children, youth, women, persons living with disabilities, indigenous people, and communities in climate-vulnerable situations. Includes, upgrading informal settlements and slum areas to build climate-resilient cities and urban centers.
- Africa Union Climate Strategy: Speeding up the implementation of the African Union Climate Change and Resilient Development Strategy and Action Plan.
To provide a more comprehensive understanding of these commitments, the summit facilitated the creation of detailed, country-specific outlines of agreed-upon commitments. These outlines serve as a fundamental framework for catalyzing immediate climate action not only within Africa but also on a broader global scale.
III. Kenya’s Commitments
Kenya’s commitment to achieving Net Zero emissions by 2050 is a significant and ambitious goal. The launch of the Financing Locally-led Climate Action Program (FLLoCA) involves financial allocations at the county level, which necessitates careful fund distribution and project oversight. Additionally, the establishment of a New Green Hydrogen strategy and roadmap signals Kenya’s intent to support the hydrogen sector’s growth. Kenya’s commitment to Long-Term Low Emissions Development Strategies (LT-LEDS) for 2050 demonstrates the need for a comprehensive vision for emissions reduction. Furthermore, the announcement of a new National Climate Change Action Plan (2023-2027) and the Kenya Climate Change Act (Amendment) 2023 highlights Kenya’s dedication to guiding climate action and ensuring compliance. Lastly, Kenya’s selection as the location for the new Africa HQ of the Global Centre for Adaptation (GCA) is a testament to its role in climate adaptation efforts.
Conclusively, the commitments and announcements made at the Africa Climate Summit have various legal implications, including the need for domestic laws, regulations, international agreements, and legal frameworks to support climate action, finance management, and international partnerships. These legal aspects are essential for ensuring the effective implementation of climate-related initiatives and commitments.
IV. Call to action to World Leaders, Development Partners, and the International Community
The Nairobi Declaration culminates with a comprehensive Call to Action, urging world leaders to recognize the potential for global decarbonization to promote equality and shared prosperity. It calls on development partners to support Africa’s sustainable development, increase renewable energy capacity, and shift energy-intensive industries back to the continent. The Declaration emphasizes the importance of environmentally sound technologies, fair trade mechanisms, and smart technology adoption for decarbonization across sectors. Multilateral financial reforms, debt management, and inclusive tax cooperation are highlighted to mobilize capital for climate action, ensuring equitable access. It also proposes a new financing architecture and emphasizes the valuation of Africa’s natural capital and ecosystem services through natural resource accounting and national standards development.
The President of Kenya, H.E. William Ruto, addressing the public during the reading of the Declaration, made the following remarks:
“As a continent, we have developed our common position, which encapsulates our ambition for socio-economic transformation and our climate action agenda. This position is anchored on the potential that Africa holds to decarbonize the global economy and set the stage for green industrialization throughout the world. We demand a fair playing ground for our countries to access the investment needed to unlock this potential and translate it into opportunities. We further demand a multilateral development finance architecture to liberate our economies from odious debts and onerous barriers to necessary financial resources. We are clear in our minds and hearts that the international community must work with us in this journey into a future of prosperity and security on an ecologically balanced, thriving planet. Therefore, we are determined to have difficult conversations, take hard decisions, and make uncomfortable changes to set international consensus on an Afrocentric and globally inclusive path into an African future on a continent”.
The Youth Declaration
As a precursor to the Africa Climate Summit (ACS), on September 1-3 in Nairobi, the Africa Youth Climate Assembly (AYCA) collaboratively also produced the Africa Youth Climate Assembly (AYCA) Nairobi Declaration. Pursuant to Article 19 of the African Youth Charter on Sustainable Development and Protection of the Environment, they are calling for a robust commitment from African and international leaders to systematically embed youth engagement within African climate change frameworks and processes, with a focus on securing essential funding for climate action innovation.
This Youth Declaration implores key stakeholders, including African Union leaders, international organizations, development partners, the United Nations, civil society, and the private sector, to actively integrate youth involvement. It highlights key resolutions, emphasizing the vital role of youth in adaptation by urging African governments to lobby for doubled adaptation finance, primarily to address the unique needs of young people and support locally-led adaptation efforts while increasing youth engagement across National Adaptation Plans.
Additionally, the declaration points to the need for comprehensive policy and legal frameworks to protect and empower climate migrants, particularly young migrants, ensuring their access to basic rights, healthcare, and social security while recognizing migration as an adaptation strategy and promoting human rights and gender-transformative approaches in policies.
The climate change fight is challenging, but the spirit of cooperation and commitment to collective action and shared prosperity give us hope that we can indeed address the climate crisis and build a better future. The Nairobi Declaration serves as the foundation for Africa’s unified stance in the international climate change discussions, extending to COP 28 and beyond. The binding provisions of the declaration provide a roadmap for action, emphasizing the urgency of decarbonization, financial reforms, debt management, and the pivotal role of renewable energy and technology transfer, among others. Encouragingly, the ACS has been slated for biennial organization, a resolution reached with the African Union taking the lead and the AU Member States as gracious hosts. I have no doubt that this development will profoundly influence the future direction of the continent.
Opinions expressed in JURIST Dispatches are solely those of our correspondents in the field and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.