Africa Must Position Itself as a Champion of Climate Action

The devastating floods in Pakistan have affected 33 million people, many of whom are among the country’s most vulnerable. Closer to home, millions of people in the greater Horn of Africa face hunger and starvation as the region faces one of its worst droughts in decades.

At the same time, the war in Ukraine has highlighted the global north’s continued dependence on fossil fuels and their vulnerability to energy insecurity. Energy prices have risen steeply since early 2022, exposing ‘Europe’s economies strategic and ethical dilemma.

While in a meaningful way, climate change requires a collaborative global agenda, Africa is not currently at the table, and the positions being taken in Africa are largely reactive. We must change the narrative from Africa being victims of climate change requiring help, to Africa, a champion of climate action and mitigation.

As citizens of Africa, we have been conditioned to believe we are helpless in a global world. It is time to take back control, write our narrative and be the masters of our destiny. Coupled with having the youngest and fastest growing population on earth, we have enormous untapped opportunities to place us firmly at the table of the climate debate.

Africa’s Twin Challenges

Africa contributes less than 4% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Despite being a minor contributor to global emissions, the continent is among the most vulnerable to its negative effects. Our low emissions are often positioned on the worldwide stage in a positive light; however, it has come at a developmental cost – Africa’s twin challenges.

Firstly, Africa did not become a low emitter by choice, or knowingly embark on an intentional journey towards climate action. Our low emissions are symptomatic of significant underinvestment in power generation and infrastructure over the years.

Secondly, due to this low investment, there is a severe lack of access to reliable electricity on the continent. Earlier this year, a report released by the International Energy Agency (IEA) said 600 million people living in Africa, or 43% of the continent’s population, lack access to reliable electricity.

Energy, in general, underpins economic growth, and reliable access to electricity is crucial to Africa’s development. No country in the world has eliminated poverty without first eliminating energy poverty. Africa’s rapidly growing population will require a reliable energy supply to power industrial production, electrify households and expand the use of transport to drive economic activity. Therefore, Africa’s position on the global stage as it relates to climate action, must also address the twin challenges of a lack of electricity and investment in its generation.

The African Opportunity

I am convinced that Africa can develop a narrative that attracts people to want to engage us on climate action on a win-win basis. With this outcome in mind, our narrative should include three elements. Firstly, we have an enormous opportunity to develop carbon credit programs on the continent, many success stories can be scaled, and new ones developed. This is largely within our control through policy commitments and appropriate incentives. Developers are looking for bankable opportunities but require policymakers to create an environment which attracts investment into this space.

Several organizations have launched an initiative to establish a concrete action plan to stimulate the production of carbon credits across the continent at scale. By COP 27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt this November, we hope to see an overall ambition for voluntary carbon markets in Africa established, lighthouse projects identified, and a concrete roadmap for the years ahead developed. If successful, it will radically reduce the time it takes to generate credits, increase the underlying quality of African carbon credits enabling them to command a price premium, and significantly increase the volume of credits.

Secondly, we have limitless untapped renewable energy sources. We require a policy regime that encourages the private sector, both foreign and domestic, to invest in demonstrably profitable renewable energy projects. The IEA has noted that renewables, including solar, wind, hydropower, and geothermal, could account for over 80% of Africa’s new power generation capacity by 2030. While our continent is home to 60% of the best solar resources globally, we only have 1% of the world’s installed solar energy capacity. In the medium to long-term, Africa has an immense opportunity to produce and export green energy to sunshine-poor northern climates.

The Rockefeller Foundation, IKEA Foundation, and Bezos Earth Fund joined forces to launch the Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) at COP26 and is already working to deliver transformational programs in partnership with countries across Africa. With national governments, GEAPP leverages its convening power, distinct and rare philanthropic capital, expertise, and a network of 18 Alliance partners to design, finance, and execute renewable energy projects.

Finally, our narrative needs to take account of our abundance of labour that is willing and able to work on these projects. 60% of our continent’s population is under the age of 25, with a median age of 19 years. We are also facing rapid urbanization, with Africa’s urban population expected to nearly triple to over 1.3 billion people by 2050, who will need access to goods, services, and job opportunities.

Time for Action

There is a vital role for both the public and private sectors to play on this journey. The public sector controls policy and the legislative agenda – a considerable part of what is required to get this done. They also maintain relationships with some of the world’s biggest most prominent development finance institutions. Ultimately, their responsibility is to create a conducive environment for large-scale investments. This could include tax breaks for those investing in renewables, permitting the repatriation of profits for foreign investors, and coming to market with bankable projects with the necessary approvals and government support.

The private sector brings with it commercial capital, expertise, and innovation. Therefore, the two sectors need to work in mutually beneficial harmony. They need to come together and develop a harmonious agenda so that the private sector invests at scale to benefit our people. Philanthropy can be a great convener and facilitator of this.

Africa’s starting point on this journey is developing a new, bold narrative. The Rockefeller Foundation could play an important role as a convenor that brings stakeholders together to discuss the issues and develop a coherent narrative that accurately depicts Africa as it exists right now. We could also share this with the relevant institutions to secure important buy-ins to make this a successful endeavour for the people of Africa

A common, realistic position adopted by African states that paints us in a positive light, not as victims, but as key role players in addressing climate change, will help shift dynamics and ensure that we take our rightful seat at the table in global discussions. We want the world to see Africa as the best investment destination for green energy projects and carbon credit programs with our limited natural resources and abundant labour. It is up to us Africans to realize this potential and become champions in the climate debate.

Written by William Asiko on CNBC AFRICA

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