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African leaders warn on climate talks failure at UN General Assembly

Gap widens ahead of COP27 on finance and carbon targets between rich and developing economies

The first week of speeches at the UN General Assembly augured badly for progress at the UN's COP27 Climate summit in Sharm el Sheikh with leaders from the global South rejecting strictures on their energy policies and calling for far greater commitment on climate finance and compensation payments from rich countries.

Many African and Asian leaders were frustrated with the almost exclusive focus by the west on Russia's invasion of Ukraine to what they said was the detriment of other global issues such as rocketing food and fuel prices as well as a lack of seriousness in preparing for COP27 (Dispatches 21/9/22, Developing economies step up pressure on food crisis climate finance).

African leaders' speeches coalesced around two main arguments: western countries should meet their overdue promises to provide funding so that Africa can transition to cleaner sources of energy.

Secondly, given that Africa pollutes the least and lags furthest behind in industrialisation, it should be allowed to exploit its oil and gas resources.

Senegal's President and African Union chair Macky Sall led the charge, telling the General Assembly that the climate adaptation funding should be given in global solidarity 'in return for efforts made by developing countries to avoid the polluting patterns that have plunged the planet into the current climate emergency.'

Similar messages were conveyed by the presidents of Ghana, Kenya and Rwanda.

The issue is becoming increasingly charged ahead of COP27. Leaders in the global South worry that the summit in Sharm el Sheik will see a rowing back on commitments both finance for adaptation and mitigation as well as on carbon emission reductions – all of which will hit their countries hardest.

Lack of progress in those areas will encourage African governments to exploit their own fossil fuel supplies for domestic and export purposes in the wake of Europe's scramble for alternatives to Russian gas.

Adding to the sense of frustration from African leaders and accusations of western hypocrisy is that the 12-year-old promise by wealthy countries to jointly mobilise $100 billion a year by 2020 to finance climate adaptation and mitigation shows little sign of being met soon.

Last week, ministers from Uganda and Tanzania reacted furiously to a European Parliament resolution which called for 'an end to the extractive activities in protected and sensitive ecosystems, including the shores of Lake Albert', as part of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline, and for 'maximum pressure' to be exerted on the project backers led by TotalEnergies, China's CNOOC International plus Uganda National Oil Company (UNOC) and Tanzania Petroleum Development Corporation (Dispatches 24/5/22, Campaigners disrupt East African pipeline plan).

The demand 'represents the highest level on neo-colonialism and imperialism against the sovereignty of Uganda and Tanzania', retorted Thomas Tayebwa, the Deputy speaker of Uganda's National Assembly, while President Yoweri Museveni tweeted that 'if the French energy group was to choose to listen to the EU Parliament, Uganda  shall find another partner.' Tanzania expects to double its thermal coal exports next year, according to Reuters. 

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