In early September 2023, during the inaugural Africa Climate Summit (ACS), Presidents Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, and Bola Tinubu of Nigeria did not attend. This absence raises the question: why did these leaders choose not to participate in the summit?
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports that over 30 gigatonnes of CO2 enter the Earth’s atmosphere each year, mainly from fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources. Surprisingly, Africa, despite bearing the brunt of climate change impacts, is responsible for only four percent of global carbon emissions. This discrepancy has led to discussions about the polluter pays principle, emphasizing the responsibility of major polluting nations to address climate change and support environmental initiatives.
One key reason for President Museveni’s absence was his reluctance to be lectured by US climate envoy John Kerry, given that the US is one of the world’s top carbon emitters. President Museveni viewed this as disrespectful, as he believed that the countries responsible for the climate crisis should take action to mitigate it.
Additionally, President Museveni’s decision was influenced by the US’s strong criticism of Uganda’s anti-LGBTQ legislation, which includes severe penalties for homosexual acts. This criticism strained US-Uganda relations, and Museveni made it clear that he did not wish to engage with US leadership at the summit.
Furthermore, South Africa withdrew from the summit due to pressure from European partners to transition away from coal, a vital energy source for the country. South African leaders were unwilling to be lectured about their energy choices while facing energy shortages.
Nigeria, as Africa’s top oil producer, expressed reluctance to attend the summit, fearing they would be lectured about their oil production and carbon emissions. They were also concerned about discussions related to the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty initiative, which seeks to phase out fossil fuel development and reduce carbon emissions.
Despite these notable absences, the summit failed to produce a new development model that would reduce Africa’s reliance on fossil fuels. The Nairobi Declaration called for phasing out coal and eliminating fossil fuel subsidies but missed the opportunity to prioritize a complete transition away from fossil fuels.