The Platform

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The findings of the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report have been described in some quarters as “apocalyptic.” The core findings of the report are that the globe is on track to breach the 1.5℃ warming threshold in 20 years. These very drastic findings remind me of one insightful African proverb which says, a “wise person does not test the depth of a river with both feet.” With this latest report, our choices are clear: either pursue policies to deal with climate change or continue business as usual.

The latest headlines paint quite a picture – from uncontrollable wildfires that even the richest countries in the world are unable to control, to deadly flooding in Europe and Asia, to record high temperatures throughout the globe, and to the loss of ice in the Arctic. The writing is on the wall.

Africa has also faced its fair share of extreme events in recent years. In 2017, four African countries experienced devastating floods. Then in 2019, two tropical cyclones in close succession – Idai and Kenneth – hit southern Africa and caused a trail of losses; over 600 fatalities, over 1.7 million people affected, and damages exceeding $3 billion. Almost simultaneously, East Africa and the Horn of Africa experienced drought.

Science tells us that some parts of Africa are heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe. In a sample of 30 African countries, over 60% of them are already warming faster than the globe. In 2021, Africa experienced the fourth-warmest April.

According to the Climate Change Vulnerability Index for 2015, seven of the ten countries most at risk from climate change are in Africa. The continent cannot afford anything short of direct action to combat climate change.

As a region that emits negligibly – just 2-3% of global emissions, yet is already experiencing a changing climate, Africa faces a unique set of contextual factors. And these center on one word – socioeconomics. While climate change is global, the poor are disproportionately vulnerable to its effects because they lack the resources to quickly recover from its effects. Increasing ambition for Africa, therefore, means that efforts to combat climate change must align with accelerating socioeconomic growth to build resilient populations. What Africa needs more is “implementation ambition.”

First, climate action must be premised as an investment opportunity. The climate action narrative across the entirety of Africa must urgently graduate from projecting liability to projecting opportunities as we “leverage mitigation actions to power adaptation.” For example, decentralizing simple climate action solutions of solar driers to farmers in local markets, to enable them to dehydrate and preserve their harvest that remains unsold at end of the day and sell when demand peaks, has proven able to not only cut post-harvest losses but increase earnings up to 30 times. The scalability of this approach is multiplied when we consider the $48 billion worth of annual post-harvest losses Africa experiences.

Second, leverage the informal sector as the primary constituency for NDCs implementation. Up to 80% of employment in Africa is driven through the informal sector. The micro, small and medium enterprise sector, in which some 91% of businesses operate informally employs more people than the formal sector. Incentives and programmes should be put in place that directly engages this sector to take up and implement the country’s NDCs as part of their enterprises and business expansion. As an example, zero-rating material, spares, and components for making affordable low-cost solar dryers can catalyze growth and innovations of solar dryers for decentralisation to bridge gaps in agro-processing.

Third, invest to retool youth skills. Africa has a demographic window of opportunity to unleash a demographic dividend that drives economic growth and climate ambition. The majority of these youth find their first job in the informal sector. The big question is – how can this population be leveraged to enhance climate ambition? The answer lies in skills retooling.

Every young person, regardless of educational and social background will need to be structurally guided and inspired to find their passion, and adapt, and refine their skills, and any training they have, so it can be applied to deliver climate action solutions as an investment opportunity. These opportunities exist at all levels.

As an example, most countries’ climate plans have an unconditional objective to reduce dependence on charcoal and limit pressures on forests and minimise emissions. However, climate action areas of waste recovery to clean cooking fuel briquettes can substitute unclean cooking that is used in up to 95% of households, and lower the risk of indoor pollution. In addition, these briquettes are up to 2 times cheaper than charcoal while being more effective, meaning they stand to tap a ready market and engage young people in enterprise actions that implement climate action solutions. Through skills retooling, youth can be guided to invest in waste recovery to fuel briquettes – a more dignified, cleaner source of fuel to replace unclean solid fuels while creating income opportunities for young people.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the authors are associated.

Dr. Richard Munang is a multiple award-winning environment and development policy thought leader and climate change and sustainable development expert. Richard is also author of 'Making Africa Work Through the Power of Innovative Volunteerism' in 2018.

Robert Mgendi works with the Africa Climate Change Programme.