COP28: A crucial year for Africa's climate action
The clock is ticking. Humanity has less than five years to prevent irreversible global temperature increases beyond 1.5°C, a point of no return, as illustrated by the Climate Clock in New York's Union Square.
In 2023, alarm bells are ringing louder as we grapple with record-breaking temperatures and unprecedented flooding in many parts of the globe.
As we approach COP28 in Dubai this November, the urgency of climate action couldn't be more evident. COP, established in 1994, aims to combat climate change by uniting countries and stakeholders worldwide.
The summit has been held every year for almost three decades, with the aim of tackling climate change and advancing towards halting an increase in global temperatures.
In reality, the opposite has occurred. The month of July 2023, for instance, was the hottest month ever recorded in terms of global temperatures, according to NASA.
COP28 President-Designate Dr. Sultan Al Jaber has said: “To keep 1.5 within reach we must act with ‘ambition and urgency’ to reduce emissions by 43% by 2030.”
This is a tall task that requires cooperation from across the globe.
At COP27, South Africa played its part by introducing the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan (JET IP), a groundbreaking initiative in partnership with the US, UK, Germany, France, and the EU. JET IP will allocate around US$8.5 billion over the next 3-5 years to propel South Africa towards a low-carbon, climate-resilient society, serving as a model for other nations.
This comes as South Africa continues to face crippling power cuts, owing to loadshedding, and an intensified debate around prolonging the life of existing but aging coal stations.
Another pivotal outcome of COP27 was the establishment of a loss and damage fund, assisting vulnerable nations affected by climate-induced natural disasters. Funding could support early warning systems, disaster preparedness, and infrastructure improvements. But details on which nations will contribute and how much remain unclear. Representatives from 24 countries will collaborate to determine contributors and distribution methods.
COP28 does bring some promise, though, notably through the inaugural Global Stocktake (GST) which will be evaluating the Paris Agreement progress. Additionally, Vanuatu, a Pacific Island nation, is seeking an international court's legal opinion on states' climate obligations, potentially setting a precedent for climate justice and the loss and damage fund's implementation.
Vanuatu's success may inspire African cities to advocate for climate-resilient water infrastructure, agriculture, and a just transition to renewable energy. Initiatives such as the African Cities Water Adaptation Fund, Resilient Agriculture Innovations for Nature, and the Just Energy Transition Investment Plan for South Africa could be influenced.
The European Union (EU) aims for a more sustainable future, with EU nations committing to a global fossil fuel phaseout at COP28. Driven by climate impacts, geopolitical risks, and market volatility, this move is a welcome departure from the previous COP's failure to agree on a phaseout. The EU's commitment is vital, especially since oil-rich Saudi Arabia is a neighbouring country to the UAE.
Renewable energy's growth is encouraging, generating 12% of the world's electricity in 2022, per Ember. The 2023 International Energy Agency's report predicts that 90% of new electricity demand over the next three years will come from clean energy sources like wind, solar, and nuclear energy. This shift could make renewables the globe's largest electricity source, providing 35% of the world's electricity.
Taking all of the above into consideration, there are at least three areas where governments and stakeholders can look to make progress at this year’s COP28: these being infrastructure development, green technology innovation, and skills and training.
With regard to infrastructure development, we can expect discussions at COP28 to focus on improving infrastructure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This should provide more opportunities for addressing challenges around designing and building sustainable infrastructure, combined with better resource management of water and energy builds.
In terms of green technology innovation, increased funding and collaboration around green technologies is increasingly becoming a must in our world. And we need to do everything we can to ensure that this space thrives.
Finally, as sustainability and climate-related projects become more prominent, engineering firms will also need to invest in training and upskilling their employees to work on these projects effectively.
COP28 has the potential to accelerate sustainable policies and actions. For African nations, meaningful change requires solidarity, collaboration, perseverance, advocacy, and strong partnerships across public and private sectors, united with nations sharing similar interests and concerns.