The crowd was loving what Bhekumuzi Bhebhe had to say, cheering loudly as he yelled “don’t gas Africa!” into the megaphone.
Standing under the baking Egyptian sun at the COP27 UN climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh on Tuesday, Bhebhe, a South Africa-based climate campaigner, was protesting against what he says is an attempt by rich countries to bribe Africa into investing in planet-warming fossil fuels.
In his mind, it’s yet another example of the hypocrisy western countries have showed toward the continent – which has barely contributed to the climate crisis but is experiencing some of its most devastating effects.
“Is this justice?!” he asked his fellow protesters. “No!” the crowd yelled back.
The Egyptian government, which is hosting and presiding over the UN-sponsored climate talks, had promised this year’s summit would finally be the “African COP” that would put the needs of the continent front and center.
But according to many representatives of countries across Africa, that promise remains largely unfulfilled.
Mohamed Adow, the director and founder of Power Shift Africa, a non-governmental organization focused on accelerating renewable energy there, said at an event on Sunday that the developments so far show the conference was “African in the name only.”
Any hopes that the summit would really focus on Africa were dashed early, when the conference participants denied a request by a group of African governments to include a discussion about the continent’s “special needs and circumstances” on the official agenda.
Philip Osano, the director of the Africa Center at the Stockholm Environment Institute, told CNN that the recognition of the special circumstances was one of the top three priorities for many African governments, along with climate finance and the clean energy transition.
“Africa contributes less than 4.8% of emissions, but the impacts have now become very serious, that’s why this is a priority item,” he said.
“The bad news is, it’s off the agenda. But it’s very complicated, because other parts of the world – especially small island states, developing countries – everybody is kind of having a special circumstance when it comes to climate.”
Mithika Mwenda, the Kenyan co-founder of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said he was “outraged” by the decision not to include the discussion on the agenda. Speaking after the item was struck, Mwenda said the development “set the stage for another COP that will fail millions of Africans dying unjustly” from climate change.
Paying for loss and damage
Some of the leaders of countries that are most vulnerable to the climate crisis – many of which are in Africa – have come to Sharm el Sheikh with high hopes that developed countries would finally agree to pay for the loss and damage already caused by climate change.
Going into the summit, leaders of climate-vulnerable countries said this was their number one priority, and there was hope that a new funding facility could be established this year. But negotiations have proven tough. Some of the richest countries are united in pushing against the idea of setting up a new fund.