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Kenya: African climate summit in Nairobi to showcase green power potential

A man stands in front of an Africa Climate Summit logo ahead of the Africa Climate Summit 2023 at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre in Nairobi, Kenya   -  
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LUIS TATO/AFP or licensors


Kenya hosts this week a flagship climate conference designed to showcase Africa as a potential powerhouse for green energy, in the first of a flurry of big meetings ahead of crunch UN talks.

With the world far adrift of its goal of slashing carbon emissions and communities battered by extreme weather events, the November climate summit in oil-rich United Arab Emirates will be dominated by clashing visions for energy.

Kenyan President William Ruto says he wants the first African Climate Summit, running in Nairobi from Monday to Wednesday, to help "deliver African solutions."

The goal is to transform the continent into the source of the world's revolution in green power -- but to achieve this, it needs an influx of funding and help for its debt burden.

Ruto and other African leaders have sought to show that "Africa is not a victim but a critical player in solving the world's climate crisis," said Mavis Owusu-Gyamfi of the African Center for Economic Transformation (ACET).

Africa, home to 1.2 billion people spread across 54 nations, is famously diverse, politically and economically.

Despite this, said Owusu-Gyamfi, its leaders have homed in on a set of climate priorities, from debt relief and low-carbon development to overhaul of the global financial architecture.

The hope is to generate momentum for a series of key international meetings leading up to COP28.

These include G20 negotiations in India, the UN General Assembly, and the World Bank and International Monetary Fund annual meeting in Marrakesh.

When Africa speaks "with one voice" on an issue, she said, it can be "impossible for the rest of the world to ignore."

- Green power -

The Nairobi meeting is expected to draw a number of African heads of state, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and UN head Antonio Guterres and other leaders.

A draft version of the final declaration seen by AFP puts the spotlight on Africa's vast renewable energy potential, young workforce and natural assets.

Those include 40 percent of global reserves of cobalt, manganese, and platinum crucial for batteries and hydrogen fuel-cells.

Mohamed Adow, director of the think tank Power Shift Africa, said the conference was a chance to transform Africa into a place for making rather than extracting, and rise above rivalries between China, the United States and Europe.

"Just like we were able to leapfrog the fixed telephone line, this continent -- if it unites and uses this pivotal moment that we're now in -- we can effectively leapfrog dirty energy and become green leaders," he told AFP.

The draft declaration includes a provisional commitment to triple renewable energy potential across the continent from 20 percent in 2019 to 60 percent in 2030.

Kenya has taken the lead, with a pledge for renewables to make up 100 percent of its electricity mix by 2030.

But there are daunting challenges for a continent that is among the hardest-hit by climate impacts and where hundreds of millions of people lack access to electricity.

Despite hosting 60 percent of the world's best solar energy resources, Africa has roughly the same amount of installed capacity as Belgium, according to a commentary published last month by Ruto and the International Energy Agency chief Fatih Birol.

- 'Perspective shift' -

Charra Tesfaye Terfassa of the think tank E3G, welcomed the "perspective shift" on African development but said the continent's lack of political clout and financial weakness should not be underplayed.

Reminders of Africa's instability came this week, with a military takeover in Gabon that came little more than a month after a coup in Niger.

A clean energy transition across the world's developing nations will be crucial in order to keep alive the Paris Agreement goal of capping global warming "well below" two degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, and 1.5C if possible.

To make that happen, the IEA says investment will need to surge to $2 trillion a year within a decade -- an eight-fold increase.

But currently only about three percent of energy investments worldwide are made in Africa.

Globally, wealthy nations have yet to meet their pledge to provide, by 2020, $100 billion a year in climate finance to poorer nations, eroding trust that polluters will help vulnerable countries least responsible for warming to tackle the challenges of climate change.

Against this unpromising background, African countries are hamstrung by a mounting debt crisis.

According to the World Bank, of nine countries that in March were in debt distress, eight were in Africa.

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