For the first time, Africa has a central role in the negotiations of an international climate conference.

On Tuesday, François Hollande chaired a COP21 meeting in the presence of a dozen heads of state of African governments, who met with potential lenders. Among the concrete projects on the table is the construction of a “Great Green Wall.”

The mammoth project would grow a band of trees across the Sahara Desert, countering desertification; helping to preserve Lake Chad, which from 1960 to today has lost about 80 percent of its surface; and enhancing the Niger River Basin, the third-most important of the continent, stretching from Sierra Leone to Nigeria through countries (Guinea, Mali, Niger) plagued by conflicts.

The undertaking would create pockets greenery, spaced closely together, which would reforest the area, improve the habitat and help the production of energy — renewable energy.

Africa “is the continent that suffers most of the climate disorder,” said the president of the World Bank, Jim Yong Kim. “Responding to this suffering is a matter of justice and a condition for the COP21 to come out with a serious agreement.”

At the meeting, the African leaders made an explicit connection between the deleterious effects of climate change — destruction of economic resources and pauperization — and the growth of terrorism. The point was directed at Hollande: France has troops in the Sahel fighting terrorists.

Hollande responded by promising to double French funding between 2016 and 2020 to develop renewable energy in Africa, bringing the pledge to €5 billion, with at least €1 billion for adaptation to climate change.

Going forward, $16 billion could be mobilized for the Green Wall, with public and private funds. That would be just the beginning. The African Union expects to spend $250 billion on renewable energy overall, and somewhere between $12 billion and $20 billion in the first phase, by 2020 (producing an additional 10 gigawatts from renewables).

“Today I am proud of my continent,” said South African Kumi Naldoo, executive director of Greenpeace International. “It has often been said that the nations of Africa do not have the same historic responsibility to act because they’ve done so little to cause the problem. But today they came forward and demonstrated remarkable vision. Africans are in the front line of climate change, and ours have often been the loudest voices calling for ambitious action.

“The plan to push for 300 gigawatts of renewables by 2030 is certainly ambitious. But the major chunk of it needs to come through solar and wind installation, as opposed to big dams. Only then will this initiative bring sustainable low-impact energy to huge numbers of people who currently don’t have access to electricity. Africa could become the clean energy continent.”

Today, Africa’s contribution to the production of greenhouse gases is lower than 4 percent. Two-thirds of the population — now 1.1 billion, expected to hit 2 billion by 2050 — does not have access to electricity.

The World Bank is planning the Africa Climate Business Plan to pilot new financing. At the recent EU-Africa summit in Valletta an Emergency Fund for Africa of €1.8 billion was approved. Even the G7 countries made promises last June.

Now we’ll see if the promises pass from words to deeds.

As the Environment Minister of Senegal, Abdoulaye Baldé Bibi, noted: “The global goal of 2 degrees corresponds to a real increase in temperature of 4.3 degrees in the coastal countries of Africa, which is likely to cause disasters ecologically. We urge a revision to 1.5 degrees.” The request will almost certainly not be satisfied.

On the financing side, the project is supported by Bill Gates and other billionaires, including Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Ma of Alibaba, the Indian magnate Ratan Tata, Richard Branson of Virgin and Jeff Bezos of Amazon. For their Breakthrough Energy Coalition, the goal is to use private investment to blow up what Gates calls “the wall of death” and secure renewable energy access to everyone.

Thematic meetings among 7,000 negotiators representing 196 countries will continue through Saturday and conclude with the presentation of a text — the 55-page final draft of the agreement, still full of brackets. That is, full of issues in dispute.

Then there will be a “ministerial stage” analysis of the proposed text. That should take until Dec. 9. After that, states will get two days to study in detail the legal implications of the text in hopes that by Friday, Dec. 11, the agreement will be signed.

–> Originally published in Italian at il manifesto on Dec. 2, 2015