Kenya dispatch: inaugural Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi shapes the global climate justice discourse

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Edwin is a student of the Kenya School of Law. He is also an Assistant Editor for JURIST. He filed this dispatch from Nairobi.

I am privileged to report for JURIST from Nairobi, Kenya. The inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS) is being held at the Kenyatta International Conference Center. This historic gathering that began Monday will continue through Wednesday and has attracted stakeholders from all over Africa and the world. The ACS is a beacon of hope and collaboration for Africa, as the world’s collective gaze turns towards the urgent need for innovative solutions to tackle this existential challenge. The ACS represents a beacon for Africa as the global community turns its attention to the urgent need to find innovative solutions for this existential problem. This summit, hosted by Kenya in partnership with the African Union and co-hosted by them, is a symbol of the importance of regional cooperation and continental collaboration in tackling one of the biggest challenges of our times. Together, Kenya, the African Union, and other countries are setting the scene for global discussions about climate action. This emphasizes the shared responsibility which transcends borders and geopolitical divisions. The ACS aims to align commitments and pledges with the legal concept Nationally Determined Contributions under the Paris Agreement. This is crucial for defining the climate-related obligations of each nation. The goal to influence commitments and results mirrors the consensus building processes inherent in climate negotiation, ensuring that collective actions adhere with the legal obligations of the agreements. Lastly, the mission to develop the Nairobi Declaration on Green Growth and Climate Finance holds legal weight as a foundational document guiding future actions and legal obligations.

The President of Kenya, H.E. William S. Ruto said during the ACS Opening Ceremony on Monday that Africa would not be afraid to confront uncomfortable realities and difficult conversations. The tough conversations will cover policy regulation, taxation and trade as well as climate justice. They will be examined on a national, regional and global level. Ruto, however, urged us to change the way that we view these discussions – a “lens of opportunity” approach. He argues that these climate challenges offer enormous opportunities for the African people. The summit’s purpose is not merely to catalog grievances and problems but to scrutinize ideas and assess perspectives to generate solutions.

Significantly, the summit’s import becomes evident through its departure from conventional climate discourse, as emphasized by President Ruto as host. Ruto says it’s time to stop playing the blame game, which pits North vs. South and developing vs. advanced countries, as well as polluters against victims. It is not disputed that Africa contributes a relatively small amount to the global carbon emissions, despite the fact that the continent suffers disproportionately from the devastating effects of climate change. Africa accounts for only four percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, but it is still suffering from some of the worst consequences of global warming. The remarks of President Ruto, highlighting the need for an equitable distribution of responsibilities in combating climate change and taking historical emissions into consideration, first highlight the principle of fairness in climate law. The remarks made by President Ruto first point to the principle of equity in climate law, emphasizing the need for a fair distribution of responsibilities to combat climate change, especially when considering historical emissions. The CBDR principle recognizes that different countries have different levels and contributions to the issue, as well as different abilities to deal with it. Second, Ruto’s emphasis of the disproportionate human cost of climate change invokes a concept of climate justice. This is a legal principle which highlights the protection human rights when faced with climate impacts. It advocates for solutions that protect vulnerable populations. In my observations of the Summit, it’s evident that the gathering goes beyond the realm of climate dialogue–it dives deep into the complex and vital domains of climate justice. The Africa Climate Summit is a platform where the fight to protect the human rights of those who are already suffering the devastating effects of climate change takes center stage. Many people are forced to relocate, crop yields are uncertain, and they have difficulty accessing enough food. Water supplies are also under increasing strain. What makes this situation remarkably unfair is that the people least responsible for causing the climate crisis, often lacking sufficient resources to shield themselves, are consistently enduring the most severe consequences.

President Ruto’s emphasis on addressing challenging legal aspects within the climate discourse underscores a critical imperative in the pursuit of effective climate governance. This holistic approach to governance and law on climate reflects the examination of various aspects, including policy regulation, taxation, trading dynamics and climate justice. Ruto’s call for a ‘opportunity-driven’ perspective in these discussions highlights the role of the legal community in harnessing transformative potential in climate challenges. This approach could lead to the creation legal frameworks which not only address challenges and grievances but also actively facilitate innovative solutions. In the end, this would serve the best interests for the people of Africa, in accordance with principles of justice and equity. The call for a just energy transition away from fossil fuels is a clarion call for climate justice. It acknowledges that the fossil-fuel industry has created environmental, economic, and social disparities, which have disproportionately impacted marginalized communities. The shift to cleaner, sustainable sources of energy not only mitigates the effects of climate change, but also corrects historical injustices while ensuring equitable access to energy. Climate change is a constant threat to lives and livelihoods. It is important to develop strategies that equip vulnerable communities with tools and knowledge they need to adapt to this new climate reality. We are protecting the dignity and basic rights of those who are most vulnerable. Memory Kachambwa – Executive Director of African Women’s Development and Communications Network – passionately stated that “We can’t genuinely discuss a transition without women at its core.” Climate justice is a conversation that must include everyone as the crisis has affected us all. She continued, “African Women have suffered the most from the crisis and experienced loss and destruction. Their unique perspectives should never be ignored.” Climate justice cannot exist without gender justice.”

Gender equality and the empowerment of women are enshrined in numerous international agreements, including the Paris Agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals. Insisting that women’s experiences and perspectives be integral to climate discussion aligns both with legal mandates as well as the broader concept of justice. Climate justice is a legal concept that requires addressing the disparate effects of climate change in vulnerable communities. Women are often a large part of those marginalized groups. These statements emphasize the need to have climate policies and action that are gender responsive, respecting human rights and equitable. This will help to advance the goals of climate equity on a global level. In the ACS discourse, I’ve heard concerns about displacement due to green energy projects. The importance of public participation is heightened with the rapid transition to greener energy. Kenya is an excellent example of a country where the principle of public participation is embedded in its constitution. As new laws and policy are developed in the wake of the Africa Climate Summit, it is essential that they prioritise and facilitate robust engagement of citizens throughout the implementation process of green energy initiatives. To my mind, a public participation approach should not only advance sustainability objectives but also place significant emphasis on protecting the rights and interests of the communities affected by these transformative climate action initiatives.

Concurrently, African Climate Week, organized in tandem with the Africa Climate Summit, offers an additional platform for consideration of climate issues. Policymakers, practitioners and representatives from business and civil society gather to discuss climate solutions and barriers. They also explore the opportunities that have been realized in different regions. This effort is instrumental in shaping the global stocktake that will conclude at the COP28 later this year in the United Arab Emirates. The summit undoubtedly opened the door to important discussions about climate justice and human rights protection in the face climate change. However, the impact of the summit will depend on how these dialogues are translated into concrete policy measures. The international community should closely monitor the implementation of the policies that resulted from the ACS to ensure the voices of those who are most affected by climate injustices and their rights are protected. The summit’s ideals can only be realized through sustained and meaningful action and policy changes. This will lead to transformative climate action in Africa and beyond. The summit is a unique opportunity for Africa to achieve unity and have a significant impact on global climate change. Africa is navigating these important dialogues as the world looks on with anticipation. The Africa Climate Summit has the potential to unlock the door for a sustainable and equitable future.