COP28 must Deliver on the Just Transition.

As the world continues to witness the devastating impacts of intensified climate change, we are reminded of the imperative to prioritize climate action now or never. In the year 2022, global emissions reached a record high of 36.8 billion tons of CO2.Today, vulnerable countries especially in Africa continue to experience the wrath of climate change induced disasters such as floods, cyclones and droughts that have translated into the loss of lives, disease, forced migration, poverty and conflict.

In addition, the current geopolitical tensions that have translated into high costs of living  as food and energy prices surge have to an extent hindered the global call for countries to adopt low carbon development pathways. For example, the deliberate goal of decarbonization, that had set centre stage before the start of the Ukraine-Russia war has over time changed to energy affordability with some countries re-establishing their coal fired power plants and others, embarking on an oil and gas development trajectory. Such actions pose significant threat to biodiversity, risk generating stranded assests and ultimately, frastrate the urgent need for climate action.

Averting the climate crisis through combined effort and collaboration is the only pathway to responding to global callenges such as food and energy insecurity that have to a larger extent been amplified by the current economic model that does not work for all.

This month in Dubai, global leaders, civil society, policy markers and thought leaders from across the world will be converging for the 28th Conference of Parties (COP28) to deliberate on climate action. More than before, it is essential that this year’s COP is centred on the Just Transition as an effective alternative to sustainable economic prosperity. A just transition promises to deliver climate-resilient economies, healthier ecosystems and more inclusive and equitable communities characterized by social justice without leaving no one behind. Implementing a just transition would mean yielding socio-economic benefits such as improvement in the quality of work and an increase in the number of jobs to respond challenges like unemployment.

It is projected that a just transition in the energy sector, would translate to creating approximately 24 million new jobs by 2030. Not only this but vulnerable and underrepresented groups of people such as women and youth who are often denied access to economic opportunities in the current economic model, would be best placed to benefit from structural changes brought about by  the just transition. Fundamentally, a just transition takes into account strategies through which social and economic opportunities of climate action can be maximized while at the same time minimizing and responding to job losses and other related unintended challenges that would arise from climate action.

Notably, a poorly financed just transition is unjust in itself. As such, discussions on climate finance need to come out strongly in negotiations at COP28. Africa contributes the least to climate change yet suffers the brunt of its impacts given the low adaptive capacity. Frequent climate change-induced disasters like floods continue to endanger socio-economic activities and livelihoods in vulnerable countries, with Malawi being a recent case where approximately 1000 people lost their lives and property destroyed from cyclone Freddy. While there has been some effort from rich countries in influencing climate finance flows to Africa, more needs to be done since the current levels of climate finance in Africa fall short of the contient’s needs. According to research findings, Africa’s USD 2.5 trillion of climate finance needed between 2020 and 2030 requires on average, USD 250 billion each year. However, as of 2020, the total climate finance flows that were recorded for Africa were only USD 30 billion highlighting the existing wide financing gap.

Similarly, while mitigation finance plays a key role in supporting efforts geared to reducing green house emissions, more needs to be done in regards to raising adaptation finance so as to finance actions that help vulnerable communities reduce potential socio-economic risks incured from climate disasters. In this case, climate adaptation finance would support intervention strategies such as the growth of drought-torelant crops among others. However, adaptation finance continues to lag behind mitigation finance globally and nationally. For example, a report on Kenya’s climate finance landscape indicates that as of 2018, 78.9% of climate finance was directed to mitigation projects, while only 11.7% went to adaptation. In the quest to reduce the risks, vulnerabilities and impacts of climate change in Africa, significant climate finance needs to be channelled to strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity. A priority action at COP28 should be about rethinking means and strategies through which adaptation finance can be scaled considering the evident dire need. Essentially, this will require building strong synergies for collaboration and partnership with financing insitutions, the private sector and development partners.

Lastly, while COP27 marked an important milestone in establishing a loss and damage fund, to compensate poor countries for destruction from climate disasters that have been made worse by emissions from rich nations, we hope more about the fund will be unpacked including its operationalization, commitment and most importantly, time lines. It is important to understand that funding for loss and damage goes beyond financing  for climate adaptation. It is a clarion call for climate justice which is an important component for global sustainable development.