Thousands call on the African Development Bank Group to increase transparency in energy investments

In celebration of Africa Day, thousands of people across the continent took a stand to fuel the fossil free movement and turn the volume up on ambitious climate action; calling on local and national leaders to commit to building a just and sustainable Africa that puts people and justice before profits.

On 25 May 1963, thirty African nations came together and founded the Organisation of African Unity – now the African Union – with the aim to decolonise African colonial nations, including South Africa. Now, over fifty years later, in the same week as Cyril Ramaphosa’s presidential inauguration and South Africa’s Carbon Tax Act being signed into law, Africans stand together in solidarity once more to show their determination to free themselves from the oppressive and exploitative age of fossil fuels.

On 24 May, a declared Global Climate Strike day and the eve of Africa Day, African Climate Reality Project and 350Africa.org took the fossil free movement to the African Development Bank Group offices in South Africa to deliver the Zero Emissions|Omissions petition.

“There has been investment from the African Development Bank into renewable energies and climate finance and we recognise that but on the other hand we see that there is still investments going into fossil fuel finance. We believe in development for Africa, but it’s about how we go about doing it, and avoiding making the same mistakes as the West has done,” says Gillian Hamilton, African Climate Reality Project Branch Manager. “We would like the Bank to use their power to move funding forward for sustainable, targeted, low-carbon development.”

Zero Emissions|Omissions, a coalition campaign led by African Climate Reality Project, calls on the African Development Bank Group to publicly commit to 100% renewable energy investments in the Bank’s power lending portfolio. Additionally, the call is also for an improvement in the Bank’s transparency policies around Disclosure and Access to Information, Operational Management and Carbon Pricing, the Energy Efficiency Strategy, and Greenhouse Gas Emissions Accounting at the project and portfolio level.

“The AfDB has been sluggish in aligning its financial flows to the Paris Climate Agreement according to E3G’s May 2018 report on 6 major Multilateral Development Banks (MDBs), including the World Bank,” said Ahmed Mokgopo, 350Africa.org Campaigner. “The AfDB is the second least transformational MDB and needs to become more proactive in supporting the resilience of African countries by mobilizing around calls for the Bank to stop investing in fossil fuels, and to support African countries in preventing irreversible damage as a result of the climate crisis.”

As the least responsible, and yet most vulnerable to climate change, Africa must follow the Climate Vulnerable Forum pledge made by 16 African governments to accelerate the transition towards an economy powered by 100% renewable energy. Climate change is no longer some future, looming threat – and it becomes the responsibility of Africa’s governments and public institutions, like the African Development Bank Group, to lead the world by example towards demonstrable and marked reduction in emissions.

After handing over the petition, Hamilton, Mokgopo, and climate activist Richard Worthington, met with several of the African Development Bank Group’s Southern Africa regional staff to discuss several of the campaign concerns, and the Bank’s progress towards meeting some of the Zero asks.

One of the concerns raised was the need for the Bank to be more proactive in what they communicate, and how this can influence future investments. In a response to the Zero Emissions|Omissions, the African Development Bank raises that the Bank will set aside 40% of its annual financial approvals to climate action, by 2020. But what constitutes climate action for the Bank, and what doesn’t?

The Bank’s New Deal on Energy for Africa (2015) encourages renewable energy investments, but also allows for fossil fuel finance under the context of developing countries expanding energy access with the resources available to them. “The African Development Bank’s New Deal on Energy for Africa focuses on low-carbon developments, and since about 2015 the Bank hasn’t done any coal-fired generation,” said Farai Kanondo, the African Development Bank Group’s Regional Operations Manager. “We are pushing the renewable energy agenda as much as we can and our financing over the last three years despite policy saying otherwise we have not done any coal funding, and I don’t see us doing anything going forward.”

However, coal is not the only fossil fuel the Zero coalition would like to see kicked off the agenda. “For example, investments in gas in a country like South Africa, we would argue are not consistent with the Paris Agreement. So rather than saying the Bank is doing low-carbon projects and investments – what does low-carbon mean, what are the parameters?” said Worthington at the meeting with the African Development Bank staff. “We would like to see quantified benchmarks when it says low-carbon, and to get proactive communication of what it means to be consistent with the Paris Agreement of 1.5˚C.”

Njeri Kinyoho, the Bank’s Senior Civil Society Officer for the Southern Africa Region emphasised the Bank’s position on positive partnerships with civil society organisations, and in turn, with communities on the ground. By engaging with the Bank, she said, civil society is able to support the Bank by providing practical evidence and solutions that the Bank can use to improve on their projects and programmes.

“We are a Development Bank and development is really about the people. We want to engage more civil society organisations as they have the benefit of working directly with communities,” said Kinyoho. “We want our projects to be more targeted, we want to become more accountable, and create more impact, but we also want communities to become more vocal and to own these projects. Because at the end of the day they are their projects, and we want to help improve the quality of their lives, so we see you [civil society] as a very critical partner in insuring that that does happen.”

The African Development Bank has a huge role to play in unlocking finance all over the world, but also can play the lead in saying what that finance can be used for – and the Zero coalition think it should only be used for sustainable development. “We know that there are vested interests within countries. For example in South Africa we have a problem with vested interests in coal; but it’s about using the power as the African Development Bank to put restrictions into place to disallow investments that do not contribute to sustainable development, and those that have negative environmental and social impacts,” said Hamilton.

The petition handover does not mark the end of Zero Emissions|Omissions. It is rather an opportunity to show the African Development Bank Group that already there are thousands of Africans and people from around the globe that believe they can do more to support Africa in leapfrogging towards new and clean energy sources of the 21st century – for our climate, our health, and a just and sustainable future.

Following the petition handover, the African Development Bank Group handed over a written response which you can read here.