It’s Time for a Climate Agenda for All the People of Our Planet

9 November 2022

Op-Ed by Mo Ibrahim

This month marks a critical period for multilateralism. Over the next two weeks, both COP27 and the Paris Peace Forum will gather world leaders, civil society organisations, businesses, and financial institutions to discuss some of the global crises upon us.

Of the crises unfolding, climate change is the most acutely felt across Africa because it impacts our people’s daily lives and livelihoods. Adaptation, access to energy and Africa’s green potential must take centre stage, rather than the continent remaining dependant on decisions taken and solutions defined by what is commonly called “the Global North”.

Africa’s voice continues to be mainly side-lined in global discussions, while industrialised countries dominate the agenda. Up to now, the global climate debate has overlooked not only the needs but also the potential of Africa – this must change. If multilateralism is to make any sense, Africa deserves a seat in the boardroom, not just an invitation to the reception.

There can be no global sustainable future without Africa.


Africa must be empowered to adapt

Climate change is already affecting the lives of hundreds of millions of people across Africa, exacerbating the existing challenges of poverty, food insecurity, displaced populations, instability and resource-based conflicts.  I have seen the devastation the climate crisis is causing first-hand, and on a daily basis. In my home country of Sudan, people are struggling every day to manage the effects of drought, desertification, and conflicts over limited resources.

Africa is constantly being lectured about accountability and responsibility. But where is the accountability and responsibility when the world’s wealthy nations continue to shy away from addressing the crisis they are most responsible for? Instead, it is Africans, alongside millions of others from across the developing world, that are being forced to foot the bill and to witness the destruction of their homes and livelihoods.

The world’s heaviest emitters cannot continue to shirk responsibility. These global forums will just feed growing distrust in “multilateral” values if they remain platforms from which the Global North can make grand statements and impressive promises that are never delivered.

To begin with, climate financing must meet the $100 billion target set in Copenhagen that remains unfulfilled. As the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said ‘the polluters must pay.’ It’s now time for wealthy nations to put their money where their mouth is.

Investments must be made into adaptation solutions such as early warning systems and to build resilient infrastructures and resilient cities. There are business opportunities there, and potential jobs that are much needed in Africa. This can be done with the relevant blended finance tools, mixing both private and public resources, African and non-African resources.

"Global challenges require collaborative solutions that cross sectors and borders."

Mo Ibrahim • Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation


No climate justice without energy justice

More than 600 million people in Africa still lack access to reliable electricity. This restricts education, health, and job prospects. With current demographic trends, demand for energy will continue to grow in Africa. This is a quite different situation from already developed countries, where populations are declining, and where access to energy for all has been secured long ago.

We cannot shy away from the fact that as long as such an energy gap exists, Africa cannot develop. We need to acknowledge that with the current trends of climate-focused decisions, we might- or not- reach the climate goals, but we are sure to miss the global development goals, and we run the risk of “fuelling” more irregular migrations, more conflicts, more instability.

And this is why I was so baffled by the decision taken last year at Glasgow by 35 countries and development institutions to totally phase out fossil fuel financing abroad, but not at home. This is a double standard from those who exploit African gas at will, and are now running around the continent to buy more African gas for the use of their own population, whilst at the same time telling African people that renewables are the only possible answer. Africa cannot support Europe’s historically gas dependant lifestyle at the expense of its own development. This is not acceptable, and only fuels resentment and mistrust.

Of course, renewable energy is the long-term goal. Indeed, 22 African countries already use renewables as their main source of power, quite ahead of the green curve. But renewables alone simply cannot bridge the continent’s energy gap.

For this, gas as an energy transition source is unavoidable. 18 countries already produce gas in Africa. While we continue to speed up the development of renewables, we need to be able to make the best use of already existing resources. What is needed is investment into storage, transport and distribution, to address this energy gap challenge. Such investments will also be needed in renewables to ensure sustainable access.

Defining climate commitments at the expense of development has been an accepted practice for too long. We must learn from our mistakes and ensure that with climate justice comes energy justice, and development justice.


Make Africa part of the solution

But let us not consider Africa as just a victim, begging for aid and charity. Without Africa’s specific resources, there will be no global green economy. Why? Because the continent is now home to the world’s largest carbon sink and a wealth of natural resources critical to low-carbon technologies.

Indeed, Africa is not only already net-zero – it is carbon negative.

But this key role in carbon sequestration is rarely acknowledged, let alone rewarded. Instead, the view that the burden of curbing emissions must be shared equally remains pervasive in much of the so-called Global North. US Special Climate Envoy, John Kerry, recently called on Africa to do more to reduce emissions. So once again, it is Africa being asked to clean up the mess of its industrialised counterparts.

This imbalance needs to be addressed. Africa continues to offset the emissions of the heaviest polluters, and this must be recognised and compensated. COP27 must mark the dawn of a new, more equitable relationship between Africa and the world’s richer nations. This means not only acknowledging Africa’s low historic emissions but also, looking forward, assessing and monetising the continent’s sequestration power and establishing proper carbon pricing. The modern world is powered by markets, something we should capitalise on, rather than shy away from.

Together we must define the ways and means to make the best use of Africa’s critical materials, a use that fosters local businesses and local jobs – rather than just exporting raw commodities to some country who will process them and send goods back at prohibitive prices. We must also ensure proper governance processes, transparency of contracts, relevant labour rights, and strong environmental sustainability.

Global challenges require collaborative solutions that cross sectors and borders. All these huge global forums will be useless if they do not deliver a climate agenda for all the people of the planet, and an agenda that does not threaten the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals. We must stop working in silos.


Mo Ibrahim, Founder and Chair of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation