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Climate change justice for Africa

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By Evelyn Dan Epelle

· 8 min read


According to the 2022 edition of The United Nations Climate Change Conference or Conference of Parties (COP27), issues of Mitigation, Adaptation, and Climate Finance are top priorities for all 197 member nations under the signed treaty on climate action. The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres has warned that “the world is on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator”.

Increased calls for wealthy nations and corporations to atone for ‘loss and damage’ is due to extreme storms and rising seas that worsen outcomes for underprivileged persons in developing countries like Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Cameroon. 

Destructive flooding is more common in the West African region, and critical to the conversation on climate change is the issue of climate finance. To avert losses to nature, countries must commit to reducing global warming substantially below 1.5°C under the carbon trading initiative. Despite the slow recovery from the global pandemic and rising debt that exacerbates inequality, there is a dire need for sustainable infrastructure to mitigate the climate crisis of the future while cushioning the climate effects of the recent past.

Africans living in rural communities must now focus on surviving floods, recovering from water-borne diseases, and seeking aid for sustained livelihood.

The need for climate activism in Africa

For years, activists like Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate have headlined many conversations about climate change while pressuring heads of government to meet their agreed carbon emissions targets. Climate change activities must push government stakeholders to act with more urgency by approaching the conversation as a personal exigency.

In Africa, climate activism is personal. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the continent has contributed less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Yet, Africa is the most vulnerable and hardest hit by the effects of climate change. The risks associated with climate change in Africa include forced migration, floods, droughts, starvation from food insecurity, and extreme health stressors.

The African Development Bank (AfDB) estimates that Africa will need investments of over 3 trillion US Dollars by 2030to mitigate and adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change. Despite the grim reality of risks and expenses for underserved communities in Africa, the biggest threat to achieving climate justice for Africa is simply inaction. 

National governments in some African countries are failing to implement Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) for climate mitigation. African politicians are also failing to invest and budget for climate change catastrophe. These diminishing efforts prevent their countries from achieving climate change justice in Africa.

The issues of climate change in Africa are scarcely prioritized but heavily politicized. Recently a consortium of more than 1,000 organizations from 48 African countries formed out of the rationale for climate justice for Africa. The Pan-African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) emerged to end the complete absence of the African civil society voice in the international climate change dialogue processes. Now working towards a people-centered climate action for Africa, PACJA has implemented the Climate Justice Torch, a campaign that encourages activism for climate justice in Africa.

While symbolic efforts like PACJA’s activism towards climate justice for Africa is increasingly common, the African common position on climate justice has not morphed yet. This gap in ideology underscores the need for climate change activism in Africa.

How African media frames and covers climate change

Around the world, media reports are compounding, and climate change reporting is becoming more diverse and frequent. News stories and media engagement about extreme climatic conditions worldwide increased in 2022 but rarely made the front page for many media outlets. Journalists say that climate reporting “is a disposable beat” and “relatively new” despite its obvious importance.

A case study on Media Coverage of Climate Change in Africa at the University of Oxford found that media framing and coverage of climate change is prominent only at the crisis stage. The media plays a crucial role in disseminating useful climate information to effectively guide public debate and understanding of the weather. Thus far, coverage of climate change in Africa has notably failed to aid adaptation to climate change or inspire action on climate justice.

Beyond the activism and symbolic messages to world leaders, African leaders need to be at the forefront of the outcry for climate justice. Africa is relegated across foreign policy dimensions and in the global order of leadership and governance, which delegitimizes Africa’s potential influence in international climate change dialogues. The media can help change this narrative by prioritizing climate reporting and centering the voices of Africans and African leadership in OpEds and headliners.

Some positive traction followed the publication of an OpEd by the President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari who called out climate disasters in Africa to leaders at the COP27 event in Egypt. His insights became a critical conversation starter at the high-level climate policy dialogue, and African leaders can learn from President Buhari’s apolitical and motivational rhetoric on How Not to Talk with Africa About Climate Change. 

The media is evidently well-suited for championing opportunities to dialogue, regulate, and steward investments in climate mitigation with global private sector participants. This framing technique can also help stakeholders execute climate policy in Africa by overcoming the barrier of heavy politicking.

Climate policy trends in Africa: lessons from Morocco, Gabon, and Nigeria

Climate change presents a major challenge to Africa's achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. Under the climate finance architecture, Africa needs to focus on climate adaptation as a priority over climate mitigation. To industrialize Africa, energy is required to develop and power many systems. The transition to a low-carbon, climate-resilient, and developed Africa is possible, but it will require phase-wise fiscal and financial policies running alongside cost-effective structural reforms and flexible access to finance. Morocco, Gabon, and Nigeria are good examples that can inspire action for climate justice anywhere on the continent.

Morocco is ranked as the country with the highest achievement in climate protection by the African Climate Change Adaptation Performance Index (ACCAPI). According to the World Bank, Morocco has adopted green policies that will help conserve its natural resources while making agriculture more resilient in the coming years.

Gabon is a High Forest Cover Low Deforestation (HFLD) country, and the country’s forest management approach is evidence-based and robust. Gabon has been able to further reduce CO2 emissions despite its historically low rates of deforestation and forest degradation.

Nigeria uses crowd-sourced and personal methods to access finance for climate mitigation. Kenyan-Nigerian Gesare Chife raised the Anam Flood Victims Relief in October 2022, bringing relief to hundreds of people experiencing catastrophic flooding in the southeastern community of Anam. The region has experienced heavy annual floods that have displaced over 75% of the population.

Ultimately, coherence and coordination across different climate policy dimensions will be the most effective and sustainable approach for all stakeholders working to access finance for peacebuilding, community development, and humanitarian services in Africa. The rest of the continent can learn from the success of Morocco, Gabon, and Nigeria and take the following actions to fight a climate disaster:

  1. Depoliticize climate justice in Africa. African policymakers and climate change activists must move from climate victimhood to actively steward practical climate policies under the green growth strategy.
  2. Publish climate-focused journalism in African media. Intellectual and human capacity development in the area of climate journalism is critical for the economy of the future. The African media must prioritize the training of journalists for increased messaging and advocacy about climate change to attract sustainable development and investments in Africa.
  3. Invest in climate resilience. African governments and private sector stakeholders must channel resources for providing immediate relief to communities surviving floods, recovering from water-borne diseases, and seeking aid for sustained livelihood.
  4. Support research and development in clean energy. Research and development in climate science will open opportunities for Africa’s teeming youth population as well as increase trade options and business opportunities for industries.


Climate justice is a concept that requires equitable distribution of the benefits and burdens of climate change. It is a grave injustice that the impacts of climate change are felt by people living in developing African countries, considering that Africa contributes the least to the climate crisis.

The transboundary nature of climate change requires that all countries work to the full extent of their abilities to achieve net zero carbon emissions. Ultimately, the effects of climate change and the fragility of the planet can neither be denied nor ignored.

This article was also published by Baobab Consulting. illuminem Voices is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of leading Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

Photo credit: Global Day of Action Climate March by Oxfam International on Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
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About the author

Evelyn Dan Epelle is a resident Communications Fellow at the Center for the Study of the Economies of Africa (CSEA). She is a foreign correspondent at KAFTAN TV and a Catalyst at Baobab Consulting LLC. She holds a Master of Arts degree from Georgetown University and a Bachelor of Engineering degree from All Nations University, Ghana.

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