Focus switches to COP27 as African leaders gather in Gabon for Africa Climate Week

The Commonwealth Secretary-General, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC, joined African leaders at Africa Climate Week 2022 to discuss Africa’s climate change challenges and regional collaboration towards implementing solutions to mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Speaking at the opening ceremony, which kicked off in Gabon’s capital, Libreville, on 29 August, the Commonwealth Secretary-General noted that climate change is a profound challenge for Africa, where 21 countries are members of the Commonwealth. “Climate change is perhaps the greatest challenge of our time,” the Secretary-General said, adding that it poses an existential threat to small states and is “a threat multiplier which amplifies existing social, political, and economic inequalities.”

The road to COP27 – it’s time for Africa

The high-level event comes just months before the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 is scheduled to take place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November, and brings together ministers, officials from key UN and multilateral agencies and more than 1,000 delegates from 42 African countries.

Nicknamed the African COP, COP27 is set to build on previous successes and serve as an opportunity for stakeholders to effectively tackle the global challenge of climate change and pave the way for future ambition.

African countries continue to disproportionately face the brunt of climate change although they contribute little to it. The event also comes as the continent reels from several extreme weather events such as drought and destructive floods, thus increasing the threat of food insecurity.

Noting the urgency for climate action and the importance of the two events being held on African soil, the Commonwealth Secretary-General said:

“Africa Climate Week is an important opportunity for us to come together, to work together and to share with, listen to, and learn from one another.

“Africa is a central player in the modern Commonwealth, and climate change is a profound challenge for Africa – so climate change in Africa is a central consideration for the Commonwealth.

“We are at code red for humanity, and the window for action is rapidly closing. As we move from COP26 to COP27, the focus is firmly on elevating existing commitments and ensuring their implementation.

“Tackling climate change will require the most significant political, social and economic effort that the world has ever seen. It is up to us to set the tone and shape the quality of that effort.

“If we choose, we can be the solution we need. Africa can be the answer, and this is our time. We are the first generation to suffer the consequences of climate change, but we are the last generation able to do anything about it.”

Echoing the Secretary-General, Gabon’s President, H.E. Ali Bongo Ondimba, in his keynote address highlighted his country’s efforts to boost climate action and called for regional collective efforts to mitigate its impacts. He said:

“In less than three months, the UN Climate Change conference will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. COP27 is described as Africa’s COP and will significantly shape our future. As one of the last major climate events before COP27, Africa Climate Week can bring us together to walk down the road to COP27 with unity of purpose and resolve for a better future. I urge you to take this opportunity to work on innovative, concrete, and sustainable solutions and give African nations the means to fight climate change successfully.”

On his part, Egypt’s Foreign Minister and COP27 President-Designate, H.E. Sameh Shoukry, said:

“As we prepare for COP27, this week is opportune to articulate Africa’s priorities for reducing emissions, building transformative adaptation, accessing appropriate finance and addressing loss and damage. The disproportionate responsibility placed on Africa, which contributes less than 4 per cent of the world’s energy-related emissions but faces serious consequences to the lives and livelihood of its people, cannot be described as anything but climate injustice. We need bold and collective actions built on the principle of equity. Egypt’s COP27 Presidency is committed to ensuring that no one is left behind.”

Commonwealth climate support to member countries

During the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in June 2022, leaders underscored the urgent and increasing threat of climate change, particularly to developing countries, least-developed countries, and Small Island Developing States.

In her speech, the Secretary-General highlighted some of the Secretariat’s initiatives –  the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, the new Living Lands Charter, and the Commonwealth Sustainable Energy Transition (CSET) Agenda – that support member countries in ratcheting up their climate commitments and implementation, protecting their environments and using their natural resources sustainably.

The Living Lands Charter, for example, commits Commonwealth member countries to safeguard global land resources while taking coordinated action on climate change, biodiversity loss and sustainable land management. And to date, the Commonwealth Climate Finance Hub has unlocked $50 million for climate-vulnerable countries with another $800 million in the pipeline. While the CSET Agenda offers a helping hand, enabling member countries to work together to fast-track an inclusive, just, and equitable transition to low-carbon energy systems across the Commonwealth.

Gabon leading by example

Gabon hosting the Africa Climate Week marks a historic juncture in its resolve to position itself as a model country for environment conservation.

The log export ban, forestry and marine protection laws, and its comprehensive Climate Plan have enabled Gabon to achieve impressive biodiversity and environmental governance milestones.

The country has successfully managed to preserve its rainforests, which are part of the Congo Basin, and cover almost 90 per cent of the country’s surface, making it the second-most forested country on the planet. Furthermore, last year, the country became the first African country to receive payment for reducing emissions by protecting its forests. Gabon has further passed legislation to begin trade in carbon credits.

The Secretary-General’s participation at Africa Climate Week marks the conclusion of her debut visit to Gabon where she met various senior government officials to discuss Commonwealth support to the country and explore areas of mutual cooperation.

During her stay, the Secretary-General met with the country’s Minister of Forests, Oceans, Environment and Climate Change, Prof. Lee White, to discuss how they could collaborate and build on Gabon’s environmental successes through Commonwealth programmes such as the Blue Charter, the Climate Finance Access Hub, and others.

She also visited projects that aid with environmental conservation efforts such as Gabon’s Special Economic Zone in NKOK, which houses logging factories that process plywood and veneers. Logs entering the Special Economic Zone are tracked and traced from their origin to ensure that they are sustainably sourced. Furthermore, at AGEOS, the Gabonese Agency for Space Studies and Observation, satellite imagery is used to monitor climate risks and assess the damage to forests, including tracking down illegal loggers. The Secretary-General also visited the Arboretum de Raponda Walker, a protected forest that houses trees and plants of various species covering approximately 6,770 hectares.

Africa Climate Week runs until 2 September and is hosted by the Government of Gabon and organised by UN Climate Change in collaboration with global partners UN Development Programme, UN Environment Programme and the World Bank Group. Partners in the region include the Africa Union, the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and UN Gabon.

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