Kenya's president said Monday that Africa had an "unparalleled opportunity" to benefit from the fight against global warming but needed massive investment to unlock its potential as Nairobi hosts a landmark climate summit focusing on the continent.
The inaugural Africa Climate Summit comes ahead of diplomatic meetings leading to the November-December COP28 international climate summit in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, which will likely be dominated by clashing visions for the world's energy future.
The three-day event in Nairobi is billed as bringing together leaders from the 54-nation continent to define a shared vision of Africa's green development -- an ambitious aim in a politically and economically diverse region of 1.4 billion.
"The overarching theme... is the unparalleled opportunity that climate action represents for Africa," President William Ruto said in his opening address.
He said as the climate crisis accelerates, trillions of dollars in "green investment opportunities" would be needed and the international community must help unblock financing for Africa to play its part.
"Africa holds the key to accelerating decarbonization of the global economy. We are not just a continent rich in resources. We are a powerhouse of untapped potential, eager to engage and fairly compete in the global markets."
- 'Less talk more action' -
Security has been tightened and roads closed around the summit venue in central Nairobi, where the government says 30,000 people have registered to attend the event.
The meeting is expected to draw several African heads of state, UN head Antonio Guterres, EU chief Ursula von der Leyen and other leaders.
Hundreds of protesters, flanked by a marching band, held a demonstration near the conference against what they called its "deeply compromised agenda" and focus on rich-nation interests.
"I think the world needs to see us beyond being victims, or vulnerable to the climate crisis," said Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate.
"It's true that the African continent is on the frontlines of climate change. But it's also true that different people on the African continent are on the front lines of the fight for climate justice."
Although Africa contributes only 2-3 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it disproportionately suffers from climate change, battling drought and flooding, according to UN figures.
Countries in Africa are hamstrung by mounting debt costs and a dearth of finance, and despite an abundance of natural resources just three percent of energy investments worldwide are made in the continent.
Ruto said Africa had the potential to be entirely energy self-sufficient through renewable resources, noting that Kenya itself aimed to be "100 percent renewable" by 2030.
A clean energy transition across the world's developing nations will be crucial in order to keep alive the Paris Agreement goal of capping global warming "well below" two degrees Celsius since pre-industrial times, and 1.5C if possible.
To make that happen, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says investment will need to surge to $2 trillion a year within a decade -- an eight-fold increase.
International investment must be "massively scaled up to enable commitments to be turned into actions across the continent", said Ruto, COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber, and AU Commission head Moussa Faki Mahamat on Monday in a joint statement.
- Rebuild trust -
IEA chief Fatih Birol said it was an "injustice" that around half of the population on the continent did not have access to electricity, calling for a surge in investment.
"When I look at the future of energy and climate, I see that the best and most optimistic agenda is that clean energy is set to dominate the game," he said.
But he warned that geopolitical tensions risked overshadowing progress globally, urging the US and China in particular to "leave aside their tensions" at COP28 in Dubai and come together on key issues.
Globally, wealthy nations have yet to meet their pledge to provide, by 2020, $100 billion a year in climate finance to poorer nations.
This has eroded trust that polluters will help vulnerable countries least responsible for global warming and the three leaders said developed nations "must deliver on their historical commitments" to rebuild confidence.
A draft version of the final declaration seen by AFP puts the spotlight on Africa's vast renewable energy potential, young workforce and natural assets.
Those include 40 percent of global reserves of cobalt, manganese and platinum crucial for batteries and hydrogen fuel-cells.