Africa holds the key to many global climate solutions

Publicaciones del blog
Children playing in the Sahel
Photo: UNDP Chad

Originally published on here.

The UN Climate Change Conference (COP 27), taking place from 6 to 18 November in Egypt, has been dubbed the 'Africa COP'. The critical global gathering throws a spotlight on how the climate emergency is playing out on the continent and how African countries and global partners are responding. We spoke with UNDP Africa Director Ahunna Eziakonwa about the key issues and the outcomes she expects from COP 27.

1. Africa is one of the regions most affected by the impact of climate change. If the world does not take any action, what kind of impacts are we looking at in the coming years?

The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres recently referred to this global phenomenon as ‘climate destruction.’ And it is no secret that Africa has been impacted disproportionately. The Sahel and the Horn of Africa are experiencing the longest drought in over 40 years, and drought cycles in the Horn of Africa have compressed from every 12 years a few decades ago, to less than 5 years, making it extremely difficult for affected communities to recover. African countries recognize the existential threats posed by climate change are already taking steps to address them.  For example, African governments have pledged US$264 billion of national resources to implement their Nationally Determined Contributions to climate change.

A recent analysis indicates that public investment in renewable energy across the continent grew from US$4 billion between 2000-2009 to US$55 billion between 2010 to 2022. But this is only 10% of the US$2.8 trillion they would need between 2020 and 2030. While this is laudable, it still falls short of the US$50 billion African countries would need to invest every year in order to combat climate change. This is why the world must join Africa in raising the requisite level of financing to address this global catastrophe.

Failure to take immediate and adequate action will not only affect the 60 percent of Africa’s 1.4 billion people who live in rural areas and depend on climate-sensitive livelihoods threatened by increasing water stress, expanding drylands and deserts, as well as sea level rise. At the same time, ocean acidification and rising temperatures have a negative impact on ocean dependent economies in Africa – in particular those of small island developing states.

These changes will worsen food security, undermine just energy transitions, and push millions more way below the poverty line across Africa.  But it could also undermine global economic growth, trigger mass forced displacement, and jeopardize global security.  

If we do not take action, I am afraid, the scenarios we face is deeply troubling.

A woman farmer from Kenya inspecting sorghum in Turkana county
Photo: James Ochweri/UNDP Kenya

2. Many African countries that are on the forefront of the climate emergency also struggle with fragility and conflict. What does this imply, and what are the solutions from your perspective?

People living in fragile and conflict-affected regions often stand on the frontline of climate change, but with even more limited capacity to manage shocks and stresses due to the loss or lack of climate and environmental data and services on which early warning systems rely, as well as loss of key infrastructure and economic livelihoods. In addition, climate change impacts are increasing competition over limited natural resources – a situation which creates fertile ground for violent extremism, which then means bigger barriers to resource mobilization, and so on.

The issues keep compounding and early warning systems need to be enhanced. For example, UNDP is working with the African Union and countries in the Sahel to strengthen disaster risk reduction and management efforts, and the recently established Africa Multi-hazard Early Warning and Early Action System of the African Union is a case in point.  

This situation calls for more investments in solutions that can accelerate development and offer peace dividends, while tackling the root causes of climate change. But we need to do more, and this is why UNDP is also investing in stabilization programmes. In this regard, and under its signature offer dubbed “A Regeneration” in the Sahel, UNDP is providing the basic infrastructure that sustains livelihoods and is investing in renewable energy programmes with youth as a major catalyst for these initiatives, particularly in the Lake Chad Basin and the Liptako-Gourma region. 

Wind turbines in Nigeria
Photo: UNDP Nigeria

3. Endowed with substantial renewable energy sources, Africa could meet nearly a quarter of its energy needs from local and clean renewable energy by 2030. How is UNDP helping to scale up clean energy access?

Africa’s largest land, solar and mineral resources are critical in driving a renewable energy revolution that can also power the continent’s industrialization. This is why UNDP’s Renewed Strategic Offer in Africa singles out sustainable and affordable renewable energy as a major pillar for UNDP’s investments in Africa. We want to seize the opportunity to work with governments and private sector to ensure that the over 600 million people in Africa still waiting for electricity get access to renewable energy, in line with UNDP’s Strategic Plan.

Our approach is aimed at increasing financial viability and promoting scaled-up private sector investments with a focus on innovative business models to the profit of end-users, who will benefit from lower tariffs and expanded service.

A girl studying with a solar lamp in Nigeria
Photo: UNDP Nigeria

4. African countries have expressed massive financial support needs to implement their climate pledges by 2030. Why does this international support matter? 

African countries are paying a heavy price for the global climate crisis to which they contributed the least. Responsible for 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is unconscionable for Africa to be required to indebt its people to tackle climate change. This is why UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres recently emphasized that ‘polluters must pay’.

With recent socioeconomic shocks caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the consequences of the war in Ukraine, Article 9 of the Paris Agreement, which stipulates that developed countries shall provide financial resources to assist developing countries with respect to both mitigation and adaptation in continuation of their existing obligations under the Convention, must kick into stronger gear if we are to get results on Africa’s climate goals. 

Carbon markets must operate on a fairer basis. By purchasing permits or credits generated from emissions-reduction projects, emitting companies can unlock funding for the net-zero transition in Africa. And while it is home to some of the largest forest resources, including the Congo Basin rainforest – the world's second largest – the benefits of protecting nature continue to elude African communities to whom these resources belong. Africa only accounts for 2% of trading in the global carbon markets – with South Africa and North Africa having received the bulk of Clean Development Mechanism funding under the Kyoto Protocol. This is why it is critical to get credible carbon markets regulations on the table at COP 27. 

Forest in Sao Tome and Principe
Photo: UNDP Sao Tome and Principe

5. What outcomes do you hope to see out of COP27 for Africa?

With its extraordinary natural resources, Africa holds the key to many global climate solutions and a transition towards greener economies. As it is taking place in Africa, this COP must be the place where consensus is agreed on what constitutes the just energy transition. Financing is also central to ambition raising and needs to be unlocked through:

  • Increased and more transparent climate financing, as developed countries at COP26 reaffirmed the pledge of USD 100 billion in climate funding for developing countries and a commitment to double adaptation funding to USD 40 billion.
  • Fairer carbon markets, with clearer rules that can work for developing countries with carbon rich resources. Most African countries will also need support to strengthen their regulatory and policy environments for carbon trading and to better quantify their carbon resources. 
  • Heightened attention to loss and damage and climate reparations for impacted communities. COP26 opened the door to further commitments in this area, but communities ravaged by climate change impacts need action right now to recover and build forward differently, and better.