Africa’s Climate Week: An Awakening Moment to tap opportunities in Crisis
Like the rest of the globe, Africa has faced endless emergencies for the past three years. Extreme climate change-induced events like the cyclone Idai and Kenneth caused damages exceeding $ 3 billion. The locust outbreak cost up to $ 8 billion in losses. To droughts costing over $600 million in livestock losses. The COVID-19 pandemic cost up to 50% of all African jobs and pushed 40 million more people into extreme poverty. The food and oil crises that have caused a 12.2% increase in inflation, the highest since 2008, communities across Africa have faced one frantic emergency after another.
Globally, the energy sector — its generation and use — is the leading source of emissions that exacerbate climate change and its horrendous socio-economic impacts. But Africa’s unique circumstances do not mirror this global narrative. Africa, which holds up to 17% of the worldwide population, accounts for a maximum of 4% of global emissions. It is the least responsible for the changing climate effects. From this alone, it is safe to say that Africa is net positive regarding emissions. It is a net sink. However, it is the most vulnerable despite contributing the least to the changing climate. It is disproportionately susceptible to the changing climate change effects, primarily because of its very low socio-economic base. While climate change effects are global, the poor are disproportionately vulnerable because they lack the resources to afford the goods and services to buffer against the worst of climate changes. This is to say that for Africa, addressing climate change and a just transition must centre around one word — “socioeconomics” — more food secure homes, competitive economies, jobs for young people and more money in more pockets as economies transition to the low emissions development pathway. And in so doing, multiple Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are actualized.
Monday 29 August 2022 marks the start of Africa Climate Week in Libreville, Gabon, a milestone event on the climate calendar designed to drive regional collaboration, boost climate action and accelerate the implementation of the Paris Agreement. The big question we must answer during this event is, how does Africa tap opportunities in crises to reshape its economic development and enhance economic competitiveness?
The answer is a re-imagination of solutions to accelerate economic competitiveness & productivity while enhancing environmental and climate resilience. And for this, Africa needs to re-imagine its developmental policy positions in 5 critical areas, including by injecting climate resilience and opportunity: food, energy, cities, connectivity infrastructure, and innovative financing blending modern and traditional approaches. This re-imagination aims to maximize these areas’ productivity and enterprise creation potential by leveraging lessons arising from crises. It is to unlock this potential through specific policy leanings that can catapult the region out of perennial vulnerability and economic competitiveness. These are as follows:
Food systems: Re-imagining food systems should be geared towards climate-proofing them and maximizing their productivity through value addition and trade to spur local opportunities and buffer the continent against international food price shocks. Through value addition, where clean energy is decentralized to power processing, these losses can be recouped and turned into much-needed incomes to build stronger, resilient economies that can withstand economic emergencies and adversities.
Energy systems: It is estimated that up to 580million Africans lack access to electricity. To illustrate this access gap, while the global average electricity access rate is 87%, Africa is only at 43%. It has been estimated that the amount of electricity consumed in sub-Saharan Africa with nearly a billion people is about the same as what is consumed in New York State with just over 20 million people. On average, up to 84% of the energy poor in Africa are in rural areas. Therefore, the implication is that bridging the gap among these most underserved needs to be prioritized for immediate impact. Based on some factors, decentralized solutions such as solar mini-grids have been billed as the cheapest way to electrify rural Africa. In addition, the cost of these decentralized solutions is set to be further reduced by up to 60% in the next eight years. In addition, it is estimated that bridging Africa’s electricity gap by investing in clean energy, including decentralized systems, could result in as many as 11.8 million jobs by 2050 while abating emissions.
African cities: Africa is recorded as the fastest urbanizing place on the planet, and at this rate, the urban population is projected to double in the next 20 years. This implies that the concept of sustainable cities must now become an urgent imperative for these growing urban areas. And for this, key target areas for the continent to invest in include energy efficiency, waste management, and green infrastructure. Waste currently, up to 90% of waste generated in Africa is disposed of in uncontrolled dumpsites and landfills. Increased investment in waste recycling is an urgent step toward building greener cities. Currently, only 4% of the waste generated in Africa annually is recycled, yet 70–80% of this waste is recyclable. Policies to incentivize informal waste pickers, who collect up to 90% of recyclables and handle between 20% and 50% of the overall generated waste in Africa, are urgent. On green infrastructure, the rate of storms in Africa has quadrupled, and flooding in African cities has increased nearly 10-folds relative to the 70s. To be sustainable, African cities need to prioritize two key aspects. First is water harvesting. On average, an African city can recover and save between 2.3 to 23 million cubic meters of water to enhance freshwater availability. In flood management, green infrastructure solutions such as rehabilitating natural wetlands within the cities so they can become natural drainage for floodwaters, improving city planning to protect natural systems such as wetlands, etc., have proven cost-effective.
Transport & connectivity infrastructure: Africa is at times referred to as “one giant construction site”. This scenario reflects the large infrastructure gap that the continent is accelerating to close. By 2050, up to 80% of vehicles sold globally are expected to be electric as fossil vehicles will increasingly be phased out. Africa will be expected to follow this trend. One of the critical enablers for such a transition is the charging infrastructure. Investments in such infrastructure will need to prioritize rural areas to enable such electric vehicles to close goods market gaps. This will go a long way to enhance the continent’s investment return.
The weight of the tears of mothers, fathers, sons, and daughters across the continent afflicted by the changing climate bear on our conscience. Like this African proverb reminds us, “once you carry your water, you’ll remember every drop”. Let the many tears being shed across the continent be the constant reminder of the urgency for workable solutions that the continent thirsts for and which we are well able to deliver.
Africa Climate Week 2022 provides that opportunity to give the needed impetus for Climate Action. See the detailed programme and register here.
Dr Richard Munang is the UN Environment Deputy Director for the Africa office.