COP28 must not repeat the mistakes of the Africa Climate Summit | Opinions

In late November, the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) will be launched in Dubai. Coming at the end of a year which broke multiple heat records, the event is supposed to set the stage for a major push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and boost climate change adaptation globally.

But ahead of the conference, there have already been warnings from climate activists and civil society that unless there is a marked change in the approach to climate policies, COP28 could fail to deliver any meaningful progress.

In the Global South, there is persistent worry that wealthy nations and international corporations will push for policies that allow them to continue business as usual, with poorer nations, which are the least responsible for climate change, bearing the brunt of the climate crisis.

Such tendencies have already been observed at previous climate events, including most recently at the Africa Climate Summit held in Nairobi in early September.

The conference, which gathered thousands of representatives from governments, businesses, international organisations and civil society, was a chance for African peoples to agree on a common position on issues such as loss and damage compensation, climate mitigation and climate finance ahead of COP28.

But the final document issued by the summit – the Nairobi Declaration – did not reflect a consensus and the best interest of African nations.

This is not surprising, given that lobbyists for Global North countries and corporations were given the space and high-level access to push for false solutions. Meanwhile, many of the delegates – activists and members of civil society calling for clarity and solutions to support our continent ­– faced access difficulties during proceedings and were left feeling sidelined.

As a result, instead of pushing for policies that would see the Global North compensate African nations for its historic greenhouse gas emissions, which have catalysed global warming, the summit embraced policies that will further hurt African nations.

Its declaration focused heavily on – and legitimised – problematic practices like carbon credits, offsetting, and trading.

These are false solutions and they are not what Africa needs. They constitute a neocolonial tactic that allows the Global North to continue to emit greenhouse gases whilе retaining control over African land and people and taking the credit for African emissions reductions.

Carbon trading is based on the idea that emissions of carbon dioxide in one place can be “offset” by expanding carbon capture activities in another, such as planting new trees or protecting forests to allow for their natural regeneration. This allows the big carbon emitters of the Global North to pay nature-rich countries in the Global South to preserve or expand forested areas.

But a lot of these areas are inhabited by local people who use forests and land for their livelihoods and food. Carbon trading schemes effectively banish the people from their homelands and dispossess them of their rights in the name of preservation and carbon capture.

It has already been well-documented that such schemes are failing to address rising carbon emissions and enable the greenwashing of rich corporations and nations who refuse to reduce their emissions.

If carbon trading is not the solution, then how can the Global North support African countries to finance loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation?

Cap and share is one alternative model that is gaining popularity among climate activists and civil society. The system centres around an international carbon tax that would make polluters – including fossil fuel extractors and major consumers – in the Global North pay.

This tax, applied to fossil fuel extraction, would raise trillions of dollars a year for a global Green New Deal fund, which would finance the transition to renewables and support energy access for all. The fund’s income would also provide grants for loss and damage, adaptation and mitigation in the Global South, as well as universal cash transfers to support ordinary people.

Cap and share would establish a taxation system that operates beyond the nation-state; doing so is key for climate justice and in many ways, it is long overdue.

Modelling suggests that the economic effects of a global carbon tax would be highly progressive, with Africa seeing substantial gains, including the permanent eradication of extreme poverty in all participating nations. This policy can be applied along with universal basic income and tax justice measures.

As we move towards COP28, the mistakes of the Africa Climate Summit and other similar climate events should not be repeated. The voices of climate activists and civil society from the Global South need to be heard.

We say no to carbon markets. We say no to selling Africa’s carbon, forests, and land to the North. We say yes to climate justice, and to climate finance that comes without strings attached.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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