It’s interesting that this year’s UN Climate Change Conference COP27 is being referred to as the “African COP”, as if it’s the first to take place on the African continent. It isn’t. In fact, COP17 in South Africa was the first African COP, and that was followed by COP22 in Morocco. 

So why does it feel like this year is the first time a COP has taken place in Africa? Well, because over the last few years African citizens have been making progress in claiming their seats at the climate change discussion table, their stories are finally starting to be amplified, and the continent’s young people — who were just children when COP17 kicked off in Durban in 2011 — are now active leaders with defiant voices; they’re the ones today leading the call for heads of state to get serious about tackling climate change. 

How we talk about climate change has also changed, and the information that the African public needs to know about what is happening to their communities is less gatekept and more readily available to them, thanks to the rise of climate education, access to the internet, and social media. 

Libyan activist Nissa Bek told Vogue: “Although this is not the first African COP, it is the most anticipated because the climate crisis is now more widely known in this part of the world than it was seven years ago.” 

This all means that African citizens and activists are driving a movement that’s putting more pressure on world leaders to step up and deliver on Africa’s climate change needs. It means the climate crisis discussion is our discussion too, and the people whose points most need to be raised are better able to have their say. 

So yes,  even though Egypt is in the northernmost tip of Africa, it is a country that is transcontinental, and the conference itself is taking place in the part of the country that really isn’t Africa at all but Asia; this is the first African COP, because the people and communities that need it to be, say so. Here’s why it matters:

1. Africa Contributes the Least to Climate Change

If you’ve read almost any Global Citizen article about climate change and its impact on Africa, you’ll know this fact already; but we’ll never stop saying it because it is key to climate justice. Africa contributes just 3.8% to global carbon emissions, which are the root cause of global warming, yet it is already experiencing the worst of the climate crisis. 

Droughts in the central, northern, and eastern parts of the continent are contributing to high hunger rates, conflict over resources, and low agriculture production. Storms and extreme weather patterns in the west, parts of the east, and the southern parts of the continent have caused significant damage to homes, businesses, schools, and infrastructure; displacing millions of people. 

2. Developing Nations Need up to $580bn a Year in Climate Finance for Loss and Damage; with North and Sub-Saharan Africa Needing the Most

Extreme weather patterns, global warming drying up vital water sources, the agricultural economy suffering from the reduction of natural resources; it is evident that Africa has yet to adapt to the climate crisis — and yes, it is on wealthy countries (who have done the most to cause the climate crisis) to boost their funding to support them in doing so. 

As a result of the (severe) lag in adaptation funding, Africa and other Global South regions also need separate financing to handle the loss and damage that climate change has caused — for example, damage to vital infrastructure like health facilities and schools, as well as the lives and livelihoods that have already been lost. 

According to a widely-cited study found in the book, Loss and Damage from Climate Change, developing countries are set to suffer between $290 billion and $580 billion a year in climate loss and damage, with sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, and North Africa potentially experiencing the worst of the issue. 

3. An Estimated 111 Fossil Fuel Projects Are Being Planned for Africa’s Future

That’s right. At a time when the world is meant to be stepping away from fossil fuels and moving towards green energy — or face the devastating consequences of further rises in global temperatures — African countries are facing a flood of fossil fuel developments largely being driven by companies in Europe, the United States, and China. 

According to a March 2022 report by BankTrack, exploring fossil fuel financing across Africa between 2016 — when the Paris Agreement was signed — and 2021, BankTrack’s research found 782 fossil fuel projects in operation or under construction across Africa. In that time period, a further 111 projects were announced, proposed, or permitted. 

Read more about the scramble for Africa’s fossil fuel resources in our opinion article here, written by Greenpeace Africa’s Climate and Energy Campaigner, Thandile Chinyavanhu.

4. Africa and Asia’s Populations Are Expected to Grow Significantly by 2050

Fighting the climate crisis is about immediate action today, but it is also about protection for future generations. Africa is the fastest growing continent by population in the world, and with the continent experiencing the worst of climate change, there needs to be consideration for how we are leaving the continent for those who will follow. 

Overall, the world's population is predicted to increase by 2.5 billion people between now and 2050, with Africa and Asia accounting for 90% of that growth. This means that the number of people on both continents who will be directly exposed to the impacts of climate change, will grow too. 

If natural resources are diminishing now, and extreme weather destroying nations today, what will there be left for future generations? 

5. Climate Change Will Force Up to 113M People to Relocate Within Africa By 2050

Climate migration is a growing issue, and with Africa experiencing some of the worst blows climate change has to give, its people are being forced to flee their homes to seek safety and better access to resources. 

According to a new report by the Africa Climate Mobility Initiative, 113 million people will be forced to relocate from their homes by 2050 because of the impacts of climate change. 

The report highlights that this climate migration will very likely be a response of last resort, as a majority of African citizens are connected to the land they call home, and will be forced to leave as a result of circumstances they can’t control, namely, the impacts of the climate crisis. 

Global Citizen Explains

Defend the Planet

5 Reasons the UN Climate Change Conference COP27 Had to Happen on the African Continent

By Khanyi Mlaba