Inaugural African Climate Summit Opens in Kenya.

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Africa’s first Climate Summit is opening with heads of state and others asserting a stronger voice on a global issue that affects the continent of 1.3 billion people the most, even though they contribute to it the least.

The government of President William Ruto of Kenya and the African Union launched the ministerial session on Monday. At the same time, more than a dozen heads of state began to arrive, determined to wield more global influence and bring in fa more financing and support. Young people were included as the first speakers who demanded a more significant voice in the process. 

“For a very long time, we have looked at this as a problem. There are immense opportunities as well,” Ruto said of the climate crisis, speaking of multibillion-dollar economic possibilities, new financial structures, Africa’s huge mineral wealth, and the ideal of shared prosperity. “We are not here to catalog grievances.”

And yet there is some frustration on the continent about being asked to develop in cleaner ways than the world’s richest countries — which have long produced most of the emissions that endanger climate — and to do it while much of the support that has been pledged hasn’t appeared.

Present at the meeting, Mithika Mwenda of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance said to the gathering, “This is our time”, claiming that the annual flow of climate assistance to the continent is a tenth or less of what is needed and a “fraction” of the budget of some polluting companies.

The Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, Simon Stiell said “We need to immediately see the delivery of the $100 billion of climate finance pledges annually by rich countries to developing ones. In 2020, poorer countries received more than $83 billion in climate finance, a 4% increase from the year before but still short of the objective established in 2009.

According to Mohamed Adow of Power Shift Africa, “We have an abundance of clean, renewable energy, and it’s vital that we use this to power our future prosperity. But to unlock it, Africa needs funding from countries that have got rich off our suffering.”

John Kerry, the climate envoy for the United States government, and Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, are among the outside participants at the conference. Guterres has stated he will address finance as one of “the burning injustices of the climate crisis.”

“Of 20 countries most affected by the climate crisis, 17 are here in Africa,” Kerry said.

Ruto’s video welcome released before the summit was heavy on tree planting but didn’t mention his administration’s decision this year to lift a yearslong ban on commercial logging, which alarmed environmental watchdogs.

The decision has been challenged in court, while the government says only mature trees in state-run plantations would be harvested.

Kenya derives 93% of its power from renewables and has banned single-use plastic bags, but it struggles with some other climate-friendly adaptations. Trees were chopped down to make way for the expressway that some summit attendees used to travel from the airport, and bags of informally made charcoal are found on some Nairobi street corners.

Ruto made his way to Monday’s events in a small electric car, a contrast to the usual government convoys, on streets cleared of the sometimes poorly maintained buses and vans belching smoke.

Challenges for the African continent include simply being able to forecast and monitor the weather in order to avert thousands of deaths and billions of dollars in damages.

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