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Professor Omowumi O. Iledare

1.0  Preamble

The 28th Annual Summit of the United Nations on Climate Change brought together several diplomats, scientists, leaders, and others from nearly 200 countries in Dubai, UAE.  As in past years, the purpose of the gathering is to address the climate crisis and accelerate the global transition to clean energy. Expectedly, quite a quantum of people from emerging petroleum economies attended the Annual Summit. Nigeria, according to the narratives in the social media, was represented by about 1000 delegates out of the 84,000 delegates worldwide.  The number of delegates is quite surprising, perhaps, because of the propensity to consider such a Summit, in Dubai, as a jamboree. The jamboree perception of many of the delegates, notwithstanding, a Summit addressing the climate crisis within the context of the emerging global energy landscape is quite laudable. It is laudable because discussing climate crisis and proffering identical solutions to problems emanating from the crisis, have global implications. This op-ed offers a pedagogical review of how the key takeaways from COP28 affect Africa.

2.0 Some Key Takeaways from COP28 

It is not conjectural, perhaps, that the unshaken commitment to limit long-term increase in global temperature to 1.5o C as agreed in Paris in 2015 within the context of intergenerational consequences, remains the primary purpose of the 2023 Climate Summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirate. However, what remains conjectural is whether reducing carbon emissions depends exclusively on defunding fossil fuels development.

2.1–Transition away from Fossil Fuels

COP28 seems not to have completely resolved that dichotomy among nations on whether reduction in fossil fuels production and lowering carbon emissions are mutually or non-mutually exclusive. Perhaps because fossil fuels consumers are majorly and disproportionately responsible for carbon emissions from energy use and not producers, there seems to be an agreement that a just transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy requires different speed and pathways. Empirical evidence also supports that not all countries have the same technical, financial, and political values to take the same climate actions, thus there must be fair share of the responsibilities required in this journey to net-zero emissions. Thus, there seems to be no dissenting voices on the importance of keeping in perspective the long-term goal to limit the rising global temperature as agreed in Paris 2015. There is also tactical support for the adoption of a mixed energy-systems strategy as well as low and zero-carbon technologies to accelerate reduction in carbon emissions without specificity per se.

Is it genuinely correct to characterize COP28 agreement on the need to aggressively take rightful actions to curb energy-use emissions as the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era? Time will tell, but phasing down fossil fuels is not synonymous with phasing out petroleum, even though the compromise decision from the Summit, transition away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, seems agreeable to many countries. The emerging economies in Africa, especially, must be strategically transformational in its energy systems arrangements as tactically and collectively supported in the COP28 declaration. 

Africa must go after a robust energy-systems mix, driven purely by technology, economics, public policy, and good governance in the journey to a fitting net-zero target and deadline. This journey requires strategic thinking which avoids political expediency. Governments in Africa need an energy transition framework that balances energy security, equity, and sustainability in an efficient, effective, and equitable approach. A transformational leadership mindset is also necessary to find an optimal transition pathway to energy transition. It is a policy issue worldwide, including Africa.

2.2—Global Climate Justice Fund

The Global Climate Justice Fund approved at COP28, according to experts, is meant to support vulnerable countries to climate crisis, which is attributable to unbridled carbon emissions from wealthy nations. The aim is to address the irreversible losses, economics, or non-economic losses, including loss of life, biodiversity, or cultural value caused majorly by global warming. Thus, with great enthusiasm, President Sultan al-Jaber announced $30 billion fund for Global Climate Justice, which aims to attract 250 billion in investment by the end of the decade. There was also a cooperative pledge of $700 million by several countries that experts opined is significantly lower than the estimated $400 billion economic and non-economic losses caused by climate change each year.

Low-income countries stand to benefit greatly from the climate fund, but it must be used for the intended purposes, including facilitate the adoption of a mixed energy system with a net-zero carbon emissions target, objectively. Thus, complementing the climate fund support, Africa needs to embrace without delay the adoption of a pragmatic energy transition pathway by using oil and gas revenues to accelerate green investments. Deepening renewable energy can promote optimal energy sustainability, accessibility, and equity.

2.3—Delimitation of Reliance on Renewables

The clamor to defund fossil fuels development remains a noble goal among some delegates at the COP28 Summit.  It is reported that more than one hundred countries endorsed triplicating reliance on renewable energy sources to reduce global emissions through the phasing out of fossil fuels from the global energy systems. Unfortunately, the unfavorable financial condition in emerging and developing economies is acknowledged to be a delimitation to the pursuit of renewables as the dominant energy source in the global energy systems. Competing demand for limited funds for poverty alleviation, social infrastructure, health and education apart from debt servicing seems to leave not much fund for investment in renewable energy sources and climate mitigation technologies. Thus, some experts and climate advocacy groups pronounced the inevitability of the global financial system to restructure debt for emerging and developing nations, including countries in Africa, to facilitate investments in technologies and other measures to reduce carbon emissions.

3.0 Concluding Remarks and Observations

The takeaways from COP28 seems to reflect, in my opinion, the unassailable fact, which OPEC members highlighted appropriately at the Summit, that reducing carbon emissions by phasing out or phasing down fossil fuels is objectionable with or without adequate fund for climate justice.  Additionally, the takeaways also reveal the low likelihood of phasing out fossil fuels from the global energy systems rapidly, without daring macroeconomic consequences and energy sustainability complexities in the developing economies. These nations that are riddled with financial burden from debt services, and the emerging petroleum dependent economies, with abundance of petroleum resources untapped, overwhelmed with economic and energy poverty are financially delimited to invest any climate change measures.

The negotiated consensus from COP28 supports the established mantra that energy transition is not static but dynamic. It has been suggested by experts that it takes about 50 to 60 years to transit from one dominant energy source to another, as evident in the unending transition from coal to crude oil. The displacement of a dominant energy source does not automatically eliminate that energy source from the energy supply mix with the displacement happening only through a smooth decline in demand for the dominant fuel. Does the agreement at the COP28 Summit, to voluntarily wean themselves of fossil fuels, constitute the beginning of the end of the fossil fuel era? Time will tell, but phasing down fossil fuels is not synonymous with phasing out petroleum. 

Finally, it must indeed be a welcome relief for OPEC and APPO that COP28 Summit delegates opposed the call for the phasing out of fossil fuels from the global energy systems, at least for now. The endorsement by majority of the delegates that emerging economies wean themselves off fossil fuels with no stipulated deadline nor rapidity of weaning is quite commendable too. Also commendable is the climate justice fund established to support vulnerable countries to climate crisis attributable to unbridled carbon emissions from wealthy nations. Africa stands to benefit from debt restructuring and it must take advantage of it with good understanding of the fact that, as funding for investment in renewables grows, opportunities follow.

Omowumi Iledare, Ph.D., Snr. Fel-
low USAEE, Fellow NAEE, Fellow
EI, Fellow NIPetE, Professor Emer-
itus in Petroleum Economics and
Executive Director, Emmanuel Eg-
bogah Foundation, Abuja, Nigeria.