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Climate justice: Africa under the spotlight as COP27 talks loom
The challenges facing Africa’s clean energy transition will be thrust into the spotlight once again as Egypt prepares to host the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (‘COP27’) in November. Hailed as ‘Africa’s COP’, African nations have said they will use the conference as a platform to set the agenda for the continent’s energy development over the next decade.
Lamyaa Gadelhak is a partner at Helmy, Hamza & Partners, a member firm of Baker McKenzie International, based in Cairo. While she says the upcoming summit in Sharm El-Sheikh has galvanised local support and awareness of climate crisis issues, she believes the talks also present an opportunity for the country to stand up for the continent. ‘It is significant for Egypt being an African country and representing certain interests common to the region’, she says. ‘It’s not just about Egypt, it’s expansive – it’s the whole continent.’
In recent weeks the continent’s top energy officials have advocated for the right of African nations to use unexploited fossil fuel reserves, particularly natural gas – an issue that has roiled climate activists keen to see global powers reduce their reliance on fossil fuel energy and double down on previous emission-cutting pledges.
‘600 million people in Africa do not have access to adequate energy’, says Harjeet Singh, Head of Global Political Strategy at the Climate Action Network. ‘That energy poverty continues. We will see that the majority of the energy that’s going to be generated in Africa is not going to help people. Gas itself is also being promoted as a “bridge fuel” so we are not getting anywhere close to phasing out fossil fuels. In fact, we see more investments [in these projects] happening, and that’s deeply worrying.’
While Africa remains one of the continents that’s most vulnerable to the consequences of the climate crisis, there are concerns that growing pressure on high-income countries to move away from investing in oil and gas projects and redirect investment towards clean energy infrastructure in Africa could prove detrimental to a continent where an estimated 43 per cent of the population still lack access to energy.
The enormity of the challenge was underlined in June when the International Energy Agency (IEA) said energy investment in the continent this decade would need to more than double if it was to meet its energy and climate goals. The IEA said Africa needs more than $190bn in investment each year between 2026 and 2030, with two-thirds going towards clean energy. ‘This decade is critical not only for global climate action, but also for the foundational investments that will allow Africa – home to the world’s youngest population – to flourish in the decades to come’, said Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director.
There will be the question of finance because this is about not just local contribution appetite, but also global and regional contribution to make things happen
Partner, Helmy, Hamza & Partners
Ahead of COP27, Gadelhak says there has been a huge ‘surge’ in support for green energy and green hydrogen projects in Egypt. She believes the summit will encourage greater investment in similar projects across Africa, but that securing the necessary financing to get such projects off the ground will be key. ‘There will be the question of finance because this is about not just local contribution appetite, but also global and regional contribution to make things happen’, she says. ‘A more critical point is how does financing reach these projects, these causes, and [we must] have more concrete solutions or plans to see them happen within a certain time period in specific volumes.’
Andrea Forabosco is Energy Transition Officer of the IBA Oil and Gas Law Committee and Senior Counsel on energy transition issues at Shell International. He hopes the climate talks will provide an opportunity for lawyers from Africa’s oil and gas producing countries to take a more active role in the debate on the industry’s energy transition. ‘COP27 in Egypt and COP28 in Abu Dhabi will have a special focus on the Middle East and Africa’, he says. ‘We need to use that momentum to create platforms for lawyers in the oil and gas sector from these countries to bring more of their perspective into this discussion.’
Forabosco believes that oil and gas lawyers that are actively supporting the development and use of local labour, skills and manufacturing in Africa can help shape the industry’s approach to the continent’s energy challenges. ‘Bringing local lawyers from that part of the world more into the conversation will bring this dimension’, he says. ‘There’s a realisation that lawyers have a huge role in this area and that we have to do things together collaboratively: this is the time to deliver and there is a lot that lawyers can provide in terms of legal support for our clients to resolve the regulatory and contractual issues that will emerge as they try to decarbonise their operations.’
Reports of local non-governmental organisations (NGOs) being prevented from attending the summit have been roundly rejected by the Egyptian authorities. A recent report by Human Rights Watch also criticised the government for imposing ‘arbitrary funding, research, and registration obstacles that have debilitated local environmental groups’ as part of a wider crackdown on dissent. Egypt’s foreign minister said the report was ‘misleading’ and ‘counterproductive’.
Hina Jilani, Chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, says too often societies are in shock in the immediate aftermath of climate-related weather events and fail to speak out. She says civil society must be allowed to play an active role during the talks in November and ‘raise international consciousness’ of the problems they’re facing. ‘It is very important that COP27 not consider the NGO and civil society gatherings over there as just marginal’, she says. ‘They have to listen to what these people are saying because these are people who are affected. They are living the situations that they bring to COP27.’
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