As rich countries slow walk green finance, Putin offers Africa an alternative

Two summits in one week presented a choice for African leaders: stalled promises of climate finance in Paris or business deals in Sochi

Vladimir Putin poses with African heads of states for the first Russia-Africa summit in Sochi, Russia. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS Host Photo Agency)

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Two summits took place this week, offering two radically different visions for Africa’s future. 

In Paris, France, rich and developed countries met to replenish the Green Climate Fund. The UN fund was created as a carrot to convince developing countries, which have little historic responsibility for climate change, to curtail their greenhouse gas emissions.

With existing funds expected to run-out by the end of the year, the GCF’s two-day pledging conference sought to raise at least $9 billion of new cash by Friday to finance green projects in poor countries during the period 2020-2023.

Speaking ahead of the GCF pledging conference, Yannick Glemarec, executive director of the GCF, told Climate Home News the fund’s objective was “for countries not to have to chose between today and tomorrow”, between meeting energy needs and cutting emissions, but to integrate climate action and economic development.

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New contributions to the fund totalling between $9bn and $10bn would be “a big success”, he said, and would “send a positive signal to developing countries”.

But many African leaders, the continent where 600 million lack access to electricity and the fund’s cash could make the most difference, were 2,900km from Paris, courting a very different opportunity on the shores of the Black Sea.

Dozens of African heads of state, including the leaders of Kenya, Nigeria and Ghana, along with ministers and thousands of business leaders arrived in the resort town of Sochi, to strengthen Russia-Africa cooperation and discuss prospective military, infrastructure and energy deals, largely focused on the oil, gas and nuclear industries.

The two-day summit, led by Russian president Vladimir Putin and Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, was the first Russia-Africa cooperation conference. It is a signal of Putin’s intent to compete for African business with China’s massive Belt and Road investment project.

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Opening the summit on Wednesday, Putin hailed Africa as “one of the cool centres of economic growth” and encouraged “building close business ties” in countries across the continent.

Making no mention of climate change, Putin praised the expanding work of Russian oil and gas companies Gazprom, Rosneft and Lukoil in Africa and the creation of a nuclear industry in Egypt and Nigeria. “We are most certainly going to support their plans at the government level,” he said.

Russian companies are currently developing oil and gas-fields in Egypt, Mozambique, Algeria, Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon and Angola. Russian total trade with African countries reached $20bn last year, a small amount compared with China’s $204bn the same year.

Egyptian president el-Sisi said Russia was “a reliable partner for the African continent” and welcomed investments in the development and infrastructure sectors that the continent needs. “We regard this forum as a platform to develop the relationship for mutual investment and cooperation,” he added.

Theo Neethling, head of political studies at the University of the Free State in South Africa, said: “Survival and developmental politics are much higher on Africa’s agenda than green politics.

“African states view Beijing and Moscow as partners – albeit senior partners – that could provide much-needed funding without any strings attached pertaining to democracy or human rights.”

Wealthy country’s commitment to delivering green finance is not viewed with the same level of trust. Rich countries have promised to mobilise $100bn of climate finance a year from a variety of sources by 2020. The OECD estimates that flow reached $71.2bn in 2017 (a number Oxfam has called “grossly overestimate[d]”), but still admits rich countries are not on track meet the goal.

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Even if contributions to the GCF at the Paris summit reach the $10bn mark, it would be less than donors’ initial $10.3bn pledge to the fund for the previous period to 2020. It would also not be enough to fund the existing $15bn pipeline of projects seeking assistance as of December 2018.

The US and Australia, which collectively pledged $3.2bn last time around (although Donald Trump’s US reneged to the tune of $2bn), have said they would offer nothing in 2019. Other countries’ increased contributions have not yet filled the hole.

Sixteen countries have already promised to deliver $7.4bn. Germany, Norway, France, UK, Sweden, South Korea, Denmark and Iceland announced a doubling of their contributions. Others like Japan, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, Finland Portugal and New Zealand are yet to make a contribution. Russia is one of the 25 delegations participating in the pledging conference. It gave $3m in 2014.

With clean technologies becoming increasingly cheaper, climate advocates hope development in Africa will proceed along a less-carbon intensive pathway than Europe, the US, Russia or even China.

If Russia is cutting oil and gas deals in Sochi, “they are no friend of Africa,” Mohamed Adow, director of Power Shift Africa, told CHN, warning against the continent becoming “the dumping ground for other countries’ fossil fuel technology”.

“The GCF has become the most significant climate funder in Africa,” said Adow. “This funding is vital in diverting us from a path towards climate catastrophe towards one where the poorest people can have access to clean energy.”‘

But this vision is in danger of being outcompeted. Crispus Mugambi, resilience and climate change manager at Care Kenya, told CHN the money pledged to the GCF was “a drop in the ocean” compared to developing countries’ existing needs. This week, the UN’s Sustainable Energy for All issued a major report finding investment for electricity in sub-Saharan Africa was “alarmingly low” and had fallen in several countries.

“Africa probably needs hundreds of billions of dollars to be able to develop in a climate sensitive manner,” said Mugambi.

“There is common sense that development with clean energy is the way to go but African governments are trying to develop their economies with resources at their disposal,” he added.

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