The Platform

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As a continent, many parts of Africa are experiencing the worst effects of climate change.

“If you want to know the end, look at the beginning.” This African proverb aptly captures the parallels in Glasgow on November 13, as nearly 200 parties agreed to a compromise to keep the safe 1.52°C warming threshold within sight, just as they did six years ago in adopting the Paris Agreement. COP26 registered some notable achievements. For example, while the planet was on course to a dangerous 2.7°C warming going into Glasgow, new announcements made during the conference could see warming this century limited to 2.4 degrees C, or as little as 1.8 degrees C.

But what about Africa? One fundamental fact is that climate change stressors did not stop even as the negotiations ended in Glasgow. Africa is already heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and 20 countries are already warming more quickly than the globe. By proportionality, the implication is that as the world crosses the safe target of 1.5℃, Africa could be approaching catastrophic levels of up to 3℃. And with this, the escalation of socioeconomic misery that is already at breaking point is guaranteed. This portends more bad news. Be it the 257 million people experiencing hunger. The over 12 million young people who need jobs every year. To a surge in vector-borne diseases like malaria. To increase flood risks, where flooding costs billions of dollars a year in damages.

This then means that Africa’s pace to build resilience must exceed the global average. The continent must aim for resilience building at least at twice the global pace.

Already, the continent has taken steps to demonstrate this urgency. As countries submit second-round NDCs, already 37 countries have submitted revised NDCs, with 18 being highlighted for submitting stronger targets. But while impressive, these emissions cuts need to be considered in the context of achieving a just transition for a region that remains a negligible emitter yet disproportionately vulnerable because of a low socioeconomic base.

Fundamental questions need to be answered as to how the region approaches issues such as ending fossils fuel subsidies, operationalizing market mechanisms, the finance question among key elements agreed to in Glasgow towards ratcheting up implementation ambition of the Paris Agreement. The following are the key issues to guide Africa’s implementation of its climate commitments considering the need to actuate a just transition.

First, relook at fossil fuel subsidies. It is estimated that Africa has spent as much as $75 billion in fossil fuel subsidies in just one year. But the question we need to ask is, how do such expenditures contribute to a just transition? How do they contribute to job creation, for instance? The answer needs to start from a serious consideration of economic inclusivity. The entirety of Africa’s extractive sectors is estimated to employ less than 1% of Africa’s workforce. This calls for an urgent need to re-invest proceeds from oil and fossil-based extractive industries into the inclusive climate-resilient areas of the economy instead of fuel subsidies that are unsustainable in the long run. Part of the $179 billion in oil revenues that Africa earns, together with part of the $75 billion currently expended in subsidies, needs to be re-invested in inclusive and climate-resilient sectors of the economy to provide dividends in jobs and competitive enterprise opportunities for the majority.

The second is a transition in energy. Currently, over 580 million Africans lack access to energy. In addition, unpredictable and frequent power outages cost firms up to $300 billion each year. To bridge this gap, using fossil-based high emitting solutions such as generator-based power costs three to six times what grid consumers pay across the globe. This impedes the competitiveness of local enterprises that must pay more for unstable power than their competitors in the local marketplace. An equivalent discussion for Africa that will achieve the same objectives of abating energy-related emissions envisioned in Glasgow should be to bridge the energy divide using clean energy sources.

The third is the finance gap. Even as Glasgow parties agreed to double the $100 billion pledge to developing countries, Africa already needs a minimum of $2.5 trillion to implement its climate action commitments. This means that even if the pledges were honoured in full, the gap would still be significant. At the same time, the region already invests in adaptation at the rate of 2% of GDP each year. Some of the money pledged and promised should be used to incentivize a shift to non-typical sources such as micro-finance and cooperatives that are most accessible to most Africans in the informal sector and most vulnerable. Leveraging the informal sector that provides livelihoods for up to 80% of Africans and the youth to invest in enterprise actions that drive the realisation of country NDCs is a critical niche to tap.

Fourth, incentivise the youth and informal sector for implementation. Africa can only compete from a position of strength. The continent’s strength is its youth, who form over 60% of the population. Another is the informal sector that engages up to 80%. These two constituencies need to be tapped as the foot soldiers of ground implementation and inform policy recalibration to maximise implementation. For example, clean cooking is an area in which many youths are already engaged. It is crucial to support youth to retool their skills into establishing enterprise actions that drive clean cooking to lower pressure on ecosystems and minimize indoor pollution. Targeted fiscal incentives such as offering tax holidays for youth and informal sector entrepreneurs who establish enterprises in the NDCs areas to enable them to minimise their tax burden will go a long way to attracting enterprise growth and longevity in climate action.

The success in Glasgow elicited the nostalgia of Paris 6 years ago, where pragmatism and unity of purpose to combat common challenges of climate change led to the Paris Agreement. Africa will be among the regions that will benefit most from the agreement’s full implementation, which should now be the focus. The transition away from fossil fuels and towards a clean, just, renewable future is going to happen. Let’s keep the passion and faith!

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.