/ 6 October 2021

To tackle climate change properly, the world will need Africa’s help

(Delwyn Verasamy/M&G)

Madagascar, my home, is experiencing the world’s first-ever climate change-induced famine, according to the United Nations World Food Programme. 

The Amazon rainforest, once one of the world’s largest and most important carbon sinks, now produces more CO2 than it removes. 

For the first time in recorded history, it rained at the summit of Greenland’s 3,216-metre ice peak. So unexpected was the rain that scientists could not accurately predict how much had fallen because the equipment was only made for snow. 

But 2021 also could be the first time there is a truly global effort to address climate change, climate finance and that developing countries receive the right funding for climate mitigation as well as for investment into renewable energy. 

There are barriers. We need only think back to when Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate was cropped out of a photo of young white climate activists at Davos in January last year to understand how some members of the international community view Africa’s role in the fight against climate change. 

It is startling that the countries that most need the assistance to contribute to the fight against climate change are at times not only sidelined, but also not given the tools to reach their renewable energy and climate management potential. 

Africa’s 54 countries produce 2% to 3% of global carbon emissions and are only responsible for 1% of all historic carbon emissions. Africa’s geographic location makes it set to experience the worst effects of climate change and, according to the NGO Germanwatch, in 2019 five of the most affected countries by extreme weather events were African. 

The fact that Africa will pay the highest price is even harder to swallow when we consider that bold climate action and finance could potentially create $26-trillion in global economic benefits in 10 years. This could be achieved through the creation of 65 million new low-carbon jobs, and the correct implementation of carbon pricing could raise $2.6-trillion in government revenues. Africa can act as the pioneer for this growth, and given the vastness of its natural resources and potential for renewable energy generation, could lead a renewable energy revolution. 

The United Nations Climate Change conference (COP19) in 2013 in Warsaw failed to mobilise $100-billion by 2020, reaching only $75-billion in climate finance — so something must change if Africa is to receive the support it needs. 

The money is there and so are the good intentions. More African countries just need a plan to get that support and finance. Certain African countries are already doing this.

Gabon has positioned itself as “Africa’s green superpower” by using the Congo Basin rainforest — the “lungs of Africa” — as a source for global firms seeking carbon offsets and carbon credits. 

The Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has half of Africa’s forests, began leveraging the extensive Congo Basin Forest against developed nations through a “pay by performance” scheme to ensure its protection. The project aimed to raise $1-billion to fund a “green development programme”, to encourage economic alternatives to logging and farming that have not only been a traditional income source, but the main method through which Indonesian and Brazilian forests have slowly disappeared. 

More African countries should be embracing their potential for renewable energy and climate mitigation and it is for this reason that I believe Africa should be a key focus of COP26 in Scotland next month. 

Much of the continent is a renewable energy “greenfield” — meaning that some regions have the chance to leapfrog directly into embracing renewable energy for a sustainable future, without first having to shift from coal, to diesel, to gas to nuclear. Just as Nigeria was able to leapfrog fixed-line telephones and directly embrace the power and ability of cell phones, much of Africa can and must do the same with renewable energy. But we need help.

The developed world had the time and money to take their time to reach renewable energy — and even now are struggling to adopt renewable energy as they did coal. But the developing world does not have those luxuries. We have limited resources, time and financial power and only with help can we achieve a net zero growth and sustainable future. 

Most recently, leading global politicians such as the United Kingdom’s prime minister, Boris Johnson, and US President Joe Biden have made landmark efforts to mitigate climate change — but they have avoided the reality that to tackle climate change, the world will need Africa’s help, because it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a new climate friendly economy and growth model. 

Next year, COP27 will be hosted in an African country, but by then it may be too late for Africa to get the attention and assistance it needs. “Urgent action is needed now,” the latest and last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported a few months ago.