by Cecilia Russell (Nairobi)
The road to COP29 has begun in earnest in the backdrop of a global climate report indicating that not only was 2023 the warmest year in a 174-year climate record, it was the warmest by far. Record-breaking temperatures, combined with El Niño, pushed vulnerable and poor nations in the Global South to the frontlines of extreme and severe weather events.
It was a climatic carnage in Africa with fatal floods in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, and Libya’s storms and floods that wiped out a quarter of a city. Deadly cyclones in countries such as Malawi, severe drought in Kenya, and a months-long winter heatwave in Southern African countries.
Against this backdrop, the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, Simon Stiell, delivered a major speech on February 2, 2024, from Baku, Azerbaijan, the host city of the COP29 UN Climate Conference in November 2024. The speech previewed the key issues and actions needed in the crucial periods ahead, building on progress at COP28 in Dubai.
“The time has passed for business-as-usual in all aspects of the world’s climate fight. So today, I will take a different approach to this lecture. I want us to start in 2050, imagining what the world will look like if we do succeed in both limiting global warming to 1.5°C and protecting all people from climate change impacts,” he said.
“Of course, it will be no utopia, and there is a potential extinction to contend with, but I will come back to that. In this vision of success, global energy systems are at net-zero emissions. Countries—or at least regions—will largely be energy self-sufficient.”
The speech touched on all key issues at the heart of the global journey towards decarbonizing the world by 2050, in line with the Paris Agreement. At the UN’s COP21 in Paris in 2015, world leaders came to an historic agreement that offers a solid framework for the achievement of crucial climate goals and the preservation of the environment, people, and all life on Earth.
“Countries are indeed making noteworthy progress to reach set goals, such as significantly reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. However, pledges and commitments from governments are not ambitious enough and will not get us to net zero—cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as possible by 2050. As we countdown to COP29, we must also track what has been achieved in terms of commitments made during the inaugural 2023 Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi, Kenya,” Amos Kaggwa, a Ugandan-based climate activist, tells IPS.
On renewable energy, Stiell says, “Renewables have made energy accessible, affordable, and predictable for all. That means we avoid the shocks and inequalities that have shaped economic trends and conflicts in the past. The global financial system has prioritised human wellbeing over servicing only the bottom line.”
Stressing that “the trillions previously spent on fossil fuel subsidies are available for better purposes: health care, education, and safety nets for those who fall behind. Our resilient societies have moved from an extractive to a regenerative relationship with nature. It is no longer medically hazardous to go outside in major cities due to air pollution. Millions of lives are saved each year as a consequence.”
Kenya has already launched its Long-Term Low-Emission Development Strategy (LT-LEDS), aimed at steering this East African nation towards a net-zero emissions future by 2050. Only eight other African countries have submitted their LT-LEDS. There are 68 countries in the world that have submitted their LT-LEDS overall, and the majority of them are high- or middle-income nations.
Limiting global warming to 1.5°C will require a 43 percent decline in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, per estimates by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Burning fossil fuels for electricity, transport, and heat accounts for the great majority of harmful emissions, at approximately 73.2 percent.
In this context, decarbonizing leaders are those with the greatest investments in renewable energy to transition away from fossil fuels. They include China with a USD 758 billion global investment in renewable energy capacity from 2010 to 2019, the United States with USD 356 billion, Japan’s USD 202 billion, Germany with USD 179 billion, and the UK’s USD 122 billion.
“The United States, China, Russia, Brazil, Indonesia, Germany, India, the United Kingdom, Japan, Canada, France, Australia, Argentina, Mexico, South Africa, Italy, South Korea, Saudi Arabia, the European Union, and Türkiye as the G20—together responsible for 80 percent of the world’s emissions in 2025—have seriously re-engineered their targets on this basis,” Stiell says.
“Because they know that PR spin, re-branding, or tinkering around the edges won’t cut it to meet their climate responsibilities, and that it would also leave them badly behind the innovation curve, not at the cutting edge. These national climate plans aren’t just pieces of paper; they must be backed by robust policy instruments, costed out, and translatable into shovel-ready investment opportunities.”
An estimated 3.8 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions are emitted by Africa, but only two percent of the proportion of renewable energy investment went to Africa in 2023. Kaggwa says Africa has many competing, pressing challenges and that powerful, developed nations must ensure that the Loss and Damage and other climate finance funds work to lift the continent out of the climate catastrophe.
“Africa is severely affected by climate change, but it receives only three percent of global climate finance. Africa needs about USD 579.2 billion in adaptation finance from 2020 to 2030. The COP26 commitments included doubling climate adaptation finance by 2025. Current adaptation flows to the African continent are five to 10 times below what is needed,” Kaggwa emphasizes.
Stiell says it is time to get on with the job of saving the planet, people, and all life on Earth, urging citizens around the world to demand bolder climate action now. Promising that at the UN Climate Change Conference, there will be no rest in pushing for the highest climate ambitions in accordance with the science—working side-by-side with all governments, businesses, and community leaders.