Even though the African continent damages the climate the least, the African countries are suffering the most from the consequences of climate change, including from increased droughts, desertification, flooding, and storms. They are also required to spend much more than they can afford in order to adapt to global warming.
The whole of the African continent produces no more than three per cent of the world’s total greenhouse-gas emissions that cause global warming. Russia alone is responsible for four per cent, India for seven per cent, and the US for 14 per cent. China comes out first at 30 per cent.
Half of the countries that are the most vulnerable to climate damage are African, according to the Global Climate Risk Index produced by Germanwatch, a German NGO. Mozambique, Niger, South Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Malawi are the most at risk. The African countries also have the highest risks in terms of water and food security. Among the most critical cases are Somalia, Burundi, Chad, the Central African Republic, Comoros, Congo, Madagascar and South Sudan.
Protecting coastal cities and their infrastructure is also sapping huge resources as rising sea levels threaten to erode African coastlines. In the light of such challenges, the African countries, along with the rest of the world, must work towards meeting the following priorities.
First, there must be a commitment to meeting the pledges of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This includes taking the measures needed to keep the Earth’s temperature from exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius above the average temperature before the first Industrial Revolution. It should be born in mind that the ravages from climate change that we see today are the result of temperatures that are on average only 1.1 degrees above the pre-Industrial era. Some African regions, especially in the east, have seen temperature rises that are double the global average, or 2.2 degrees higher than the pre-Industrial era.
On the other hand, Africa offers excellent opportunities for major investments in the fields of new and renewable energy. African countries are in prime geographical positions for major solar and wind energy projects. Already huge investments have been made in these renewable energy fields. Egypt, which will host the UN COP27 summit meeting on climate change in November, has one of the four largest solar-energy projects in the world.
Several African countries have also come together to form a Green Hydrogen Alliance. Its members, which include Kenya, South Africa, Namibia, Egypt, Morocco and Mauritania, aim to develop their capacities for producing green hydrogen and coordinate their technical, regulatory, and funding needs for manufacturing and exporting it.
The alliance was launched in Barcelona in May with support from the UN Climate Change High-Level Champions, the Green Hydrogen Organisation, the African Development Bank and the UN Economic Commission for Africa. The announcement coincided with the launch of the green hydrogen standard for the production of 100 per cent renewable energy with near-zero harmful emissions.
This development is especially significant in the light of the EU Commission’s acknowledgement that Europe is unable to become self-sufficient in green hydrogen. Africa’s export potential in this regard will thus be crucial for Europe, which desperately needs to diversify its energy sources and shift to clean and renewable energy. The many high-level visits that have taken place from EU officials to Africa recently underscore this need.
A crucial criterion that the African countries should bear in mind is the extent to which memorandums of understanding can be turned into long-term contractual financial commitments, through investments and not through loans, to develop clean energy export projects that simultaneously enable these countries to increase their technological cooperation and promote local production with high added value.
Second, there is the issue of climate adjustment, which has not received its fair share of attention in international public policies and financial commitments that have barely reached 20 per cent funding needs. Nor does Africa have access to the latest technologies used. Meanwhile, the developed nations continue to soar ahead in strengthening the resilience of their infrastructure, improving the management of water resources especially with regard to food and agriculture, and protecting coastlines and other areas where technological advancement and major financing go hand-in-hand in addressing climate-adaptation needs.
Third, there is a need to build an integrated early warning system and develop rapid response mechanisms to climate change. Africa stands to benefit from the UN secretary-general’s initiative to create an integrated global warning system on climate change within the next five years. Announced in March, it aims to enable early responses to severe weather and climate change to be undertaken. However, in Africa 60 per cent of the population lacks such early warning services, and therefore if Africa is to benefit from the initiative, the necessary institutions and mechanisms must be introduced on an extensive scale and not just in major urban centres.
Storms, floods, and other violent weather events do not discriminate between cities and rural areas. Scientific studies have shown that investment in early warning systems yields returns that are ten times higher than the cost of creating them. This is not to mention the lives that are saved, which cannot be reduced to a cost-benefit calculation. The COP27 summit meeting in Sharm El-Sheikh in November will follow through on commitments in this regard, including the completion of the plan for the early warning system which is being drawn up by the World Meteorological Organisation.
Fourth, there needs to be the development of an integrated carbon market. With its far-flung lands, forests, and abundant natural resources, Africa can play a central role in this process, especially given its potential for blending solutions for both climate mitigation and adaptation. But international cooperation and engagement with the private sector will be vital if such a carbon market is to acquire depth and liquidity.
The noted economist Raghuram Rajan, a professor at the University of Chicago in the US and a former governor of the Central Bank of India, has come up with a proposal that is well worth implementing. It involves taxes and incentives to encourage the reduction of carbon emissions and would oblige every country that exceeds the global average, currently about five tons of emissions per capita, to contribute a certain amount to a global stimulus fund in proportion to the excess amount of carbon it produces.
For example, if the amount to be paid were set at $1 a ton, the US, whose per capita carbon emissions are three times the global average, would pay $3.6 billion a year into the fund. At the same time, countries that produce less than average carbon emissions would be entitled to credits. Uganda, for example, would receive $200 million a year at the above-mentioned rate of $1 dollar a ton and would get much more if the rate were set at a higher level.
Such a system would considerably help the African countries contend with the challenges of climate change. Perhaps it would also be possible to begin by linking a fund of this sort to the carbon market, developing it across the continent and then expanding it globally.
Not only does Africa cause the least harm to the world’s climate, while sustaining the greatest harm from climate change, it also offers the greatest promise for returns from appropriate climate-related investments. This will be a focus of the COP27 climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh. However, priorities need to be acted on, and the parties concerned need to follow through on their generous pledges to help others deal with the challenges of climate change which have remained unfulfilled for years.
What has changed on this twisted road is that the African countries are now more aware than they were that they possess practical solutions. They have the human resources, the geography, the mineral wealth, and the other resources necessary for sustainable industries, renewable energy, and digitisation.
Maybe the world’s geopolitical crises, successive economic tsunamis, and climate-change challenges will offer opportunities to those who know how to set their sails rather than to blame the wind. They should seize the wind when it blows, because after every gust comes the doldrums.
*An Arabic version of this article appeared on Wednesday in Asharq Al-Awsat.
A version of this article appears in print in the 16 June, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.