African nations want Cop26 to open discussions this week on a mega-financing deal that would channel $700bn (£520bn) every year from 2025 to help developing nations adapt to the climate crisis.
Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale, the chair of the African Group of Negotiators on climate change, said the increased finance was needed for the accelerated phase of decarbonisation required to hold global heating to 1.5C.
These funds would also be essential, he said, to cope with the impacts, including fiercer heat, widening droughts and more intense storms and floods, which are using up an increasingly large share of GDP. According to a recent study, some African nations are already spending more on climate adaptation than on healthcare and education.
“The work on this needs to start now,” said the climate diplomat from Gabon. “Talks about finance take time so we need to have a roadmap now with clear milestones on how to achieve targets after 2025 to ensure the money flows every year.”
It is also a question of justice. The climate problem was largely created by Europe, North America and east Asia, but the worst impacts are in the southern hemisphere. In 2009, rich nations promised $100bn a year, which was considered a downpayment and an important gesture of trust.
Until now, they have welched on the deal by providing only 80% of what they had promised. For the African group, Glasgow is a time to make amends and lift the level of support in line with the greater urgency demanded by science.
The money is needed immediately, say negotiators. According to a recent study by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Cameron devotes close to 9% of its GDP on climate adaptation, Ethiopia 8%, Zimbabwe 9%, while Sierra Leone, Senegal and Ghana are all more than 7%. Even with these high shares of domestic funding, the study found a gap of about 80% between need and expenditure.
Gahouma-Bekale, who also serves as special adviser to the Gabonese president, Ali Bongo, said the opening phase of Cop26 had pushed the world in a more positive direction, but words needed to be backed by actions in the second week.
“We have received some assurance during the world leaders’ summit that they really want to close the gap and we have seen strong announcements on deforestation and methane,” he said. “What we want to see now is implementation. Only implementation can give us the assurance we need that we can keep warming to 1.5C.”
Africa accounts for less than 4% of historical global emissions, compared with 25% for China, 22% for the EU and 13% for China. But it has suffered many of the most devastating effects of climate disruption, recently including droughts in the Sahel and floods in the Nile delta. In future, it is expected to be among the most vulnerable regions of the world to heatwaves and crop failures.
Some African countries have shown leadership. Gabon is among a handful of nations that already have a carbon-negative economy because its vast tropical forests in the Congo Basin absorb more greenhouse gases than its factories, cars and cities emit. It has recently passed an ambitious climate law that aims to ensure the country remains dependant on forests and agriculture rather than the fossil fuel industry. To achieve this goal, it needs outside support so that the government can continue to raise living standards.
Many African nations depend on coal for electricity and did not join a declaration this week by more than 40 countries to quit this most polluting of fossil fuels. Gahouma-Bekale said this pledge was an important step forward, but developing nations would need more time.
“This is very good news for the world,” he said. “If we want to succeed with the Paris goals, then we must phase out all fossil fuels, and coal is among them. But our situation in Africa is different. We are still on our way to be developed. We can’t drastically stop coal and oil. For now we need to use it to eradicate poverty and access to energy. We will need support for the transition. And we need to be flexible. For five to 10 years, we must do the two together [coal and renewables] so the transition can be smooth.”
That transition will depend on a flow of funding. African nations insist wealthy countries are held as rigorously to account on their finance promises as they are on emissions reductions. That means regular reporting on the levels of support provided, needed and received.
“What we want to achieve at this Cop is a transparency framework with strong rules on accounting,” said Gahouma-Bekale.