Climate High on the AU Agenda at its Annual Summit

Image: Heads of State meet at the AU’s 36th Assembly in Addis Ababa between 17 and 19 February 2023

The AU has resolved to continue pursuing membership of the G20 and efforts to promote climate finance reform. In parallel the Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change agreed to participate in climate change legal proceedings brought before the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea.

Between 17 and 19 February 2023, Heads of State of the African Union (AU) met at the body’s 36th annual assembly in Addis Ababa, to discuss a profusion of challenges facing the continent.  Climate remained high on the agenda, with Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal, and outgoing Chairperson of the AU, emphasising that Africa continued to bear the brunt of  the combined effects of global warming, an unprecedented health crisis and a major war.

The group emphasised the need for the AU to be represented at the UN Security Council, calling for at least two permanent seats and five non-permanent seats. Sall announced that the process of accession as a full member of the G20 was on track, and that 50% of the group had already expressed their support for the AU.  G20 membership would not only strengthen Africa’s participation within key multilateral forums, but would provide an opportunity for African input into the G20 Initiative on the suspension of debt servicing, and the partial reallocation of Special Drawing Rights. These instruments could be used in debt for climate swaps or could free up fiscal space for African countries to spend on climate change. Calling out the inequity of ratings downgrades for African countries during the pandemic and thereafter, but where developed countries were spared, Sall also emphasised the need for the reform of the IMF and World Bank to better take account the needs and interests of African countries. To this end he called for African countries and the Commission to participate actively in the Bridgetown Initiative on the reform of the global financial architecture.  The Bridgetown Initiative aims to reform how global finance institutions to provide climate finance to the developing world.  

The AU’s Committee of African Heads of State and Government on Climate Change (CAHOSCC) also met in parallel with the Assembly on 18 February. Its coordinator, Kenyan President H.E. William Ruto, called on African countries to leverage their substantial capacity for renewable energy, and abundance of minerals required for green technologies. He called on African countries to contribute their voice to the leadership transition underway at the World Bank, to make it responsive, climate sensitive, and fit for purpose. His direct message to the World Bank, the IMF and the IFC was “Africanise, or perish!”

CAHOSCC also endorsed a decision to participate in the legal proceedings initiated by the Commission on Small Island States on Climate Change and International Law (COSIS) at the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS). This will be the first time that the bloc involves itself in legal proceedings on state liability for climate change. These proceedings were launched by COSIS in December 2022, when they submitted a request for an advisory opinion from ITLOS on the legal obligations of States to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to prevent, reduce and control ocean warming, sea level rise, and ocean acidification. While a legal opinion from ITLOS would not be binding, it would be highly influential in subsequent litigation between states and would also contribute towards the development of customary (uncodified) international law on the legal liability of states for climate change. The position of the AU on this issue demonstrates the continent’s appetite to tackle the inequality of being the primary bearer of climate losses and damages, and may support its negotiation positions in other forums.

CAHOSCC also urged the African Group of Negotiators (AGN) to continue to promote the need for formal recognition of Africa’s special needs and circumstances at COP28 to unlock additional financial flows to the continent. It stressed that developed countries needed to honour their commitment to double adaptation finance, and to not only honour the broader commitments to climate finance but to significantly scale it to at least US$6 trillion/year in the period leading up to 2030.  It  also called for US$4 trillion/year in investments in renewable energy and urged the AGN to seek a “substantive milestone outcome” at COP28 on the global goal on adaptation, i.e. something more than just an agreement to keep discussing the possible contents of an adaptation goal. CAHOSCC also underscored the urgency of operationalising the Loss and Damage Fund, and for the transitional committee which is in the process of establishing it to be guided by existing principles of the Paris Agreement (such as common but differentiated responsibilities in light of respective capabilities).

Further it welcomed the work programme on Just Transitions established at COP27, and invited African countries to consider their own just transitions and pathways to low carbon and climate resilient development in their respective economic sectors. This was to push against the narrative that there is a one size solution to a just transition and to demonstrate that each country has an individualised path. Lastly member states were encouraged to continue preparing for the global stocktake at COP28 this year, and advised to put forward outcomes and recommendations to inform the mitigation, adaptation and climate finance goals.

The AU also took note of and welcomed a proposal by the Republic of the Congo to launch an African and World Decade of Afforestation to combat climate change. An international conference on afforestation will also be held in the Republic of Congo in November 2023.  As co-ordinator of CAHOSCC, Kenya, will also host the African Climate Summit on 4-6 September 2023.

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