A Tale of Resilience: Is Africa the Invisible Hero in the Battle Against Climate Change?

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Prerana Tirodkar
Senior Sustainability Analyst

WatchWire. Boston, Massachusetts, United States.

Conversations about the African continent in the context of climate change often center on its physical risks: wildfires, rising sea levels, floods, cyclones, and droughts. Just this past year, Africa endured six severe weather disasters, ranging from Cyclone Freddy’s impact on Madagascar and Mozambique to drought in Somalia and floods in Nigeria. Collectively, natural disasters, socio-economic impacts, health emergencies, infrastructure loss, population displacement, and food insecurity cost Africa 15% of its GDP per capita growth annually.

Yet, amidst these formidable challenges lies Africa’s untapped potential driven by its abundant natural resources, energy reserves, and people. This dynamic interplay between abundance and scarcity, if harnessed effectively, could position the continent as a savior in Earth’s climate battle. Firstly, as we evaluate Africa’s capability to meet the world’s clean energy demand, it is essential not to overlook its own need for an equitable energy transition. While gauging the vast natural resources that can unlock climate financing through voluntary carbon markets, it becomes crucial to establish comprehensive frameworks and policies that directly address mounting market concerns surrounding the credibility and authenticity of carbon credits, in addition to their impact on neighboring communities.

Lastly, with the youngest global demographic and substantial indigenous population, there arises a compelling need to empower and enable, creating policies and initiatives that simultaneously benefit local communities, uphold human rights, and provide education that helps future generations adapt and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

Perhaps the real conversation for Africa in the context of a changing climate is: What bold steps must be taken, and what collective efforts are required to enable the continent to facilitate its pivotal role in decarbonizing the world?

Managing the juxtaposition of energy potential and poverty

Africa holds a surplus of renewable energy potential that surpasses not only its domestic needs but also the global demand for clean energy. The continent has 39% of the world’s renewable energy potential and an abundance of hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, and bioenergy resources, more than any other continent. This abundance, however, starkly contrasts with a disconcerting reality. Today, part of the continent – Western Africa, has one of the world’s lowest electrification rates and the highest electricity costs, making individuals in the region particularly vulnerable to energy poverty.

Acknowledging the pivotal role of electricity in improving people’s opportunities and freedoms, African leaders made a resolute commitment to “affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all” at COP 27 in 2022. This commitment is underscored by two notable agreements: the Kigali Communique, where high-level representatives from countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, and others discussed the prerequisites for a just transition in the continent, and the African Common Position on Energy Access and Just Transition, an encompassing strategy that outlines Africa’s short, medium, and long-term energy development pathways to expedite universal energy access.

In recent decades, North African countries, including Kenya, Cameroon, Gabon, Morocco, and Namibia, have embarked on a variety of clean-energy initiatives. While over three-quarters of Kenya’s population has access to electricity today, contradictions persist.

A quarter of Kenyan citizens still lack electricity access, and even for those with access, the reliability of the power supply remains a pressing concern. Frequent power outages and unreliable electricity access are fuelled by factors such as insufficient infrastructure, limited investments, technical constraints, and distribution inefficiencies. These challenges impede economic growth, disrupt daily life, and pose hurdles across sectors, including education, healthcare, and industry.

The global renewable energy market is projected to approach a value of $2 trillion by 2030, and even a modest 10% share of this sum could inject $200 billion into Africa’s economy. To harness the potential of Africa’s renewable energy abundance and address these challenges, it is necessary to manage the paradox and take a comprehensive approach. This involves investments in power generation, enhancements to grid infrastructure, and the enactment of effective policies. A holistic vision encompassing policy interventions, market-driven incentives, and the complete realization of a Domestic Energy mix that is beyond solar.

A Robust Governance Structure and Consistent Assessment Frameworks Can Help Unlock the Potential Of the Voluntary Carbon Market And Bridge Africa’s Climate Financing Gap

Voluntary carbon markets (VCM) enable companies to achieve net-zero goals by allowing them to offset their emissions through investments in projects that reduce or eliminate carbon from the atmosphere. For instance, a tech company could buy carbon credits from a renewable energy project to offset their emissions, thereby promptly addressing their current carbon footprint.

The global market for carbon credits is growing rapidly –, with the value of the voluntary market estimated at anywhere between $40-$100bn by 2030. As home to the world’s second-biggest rainforest, the largest tropical peatlands, and swathes of mangroves, this is a huge financing opportunity for Africa. The launch of the African Carbon Markets Initiative (ACMI) at COP27 aims to tap into this potential and unlock $6 billion in income and new job creation by 2030.

But, amidst their potential, voluntary carbon markets face several challenges. Recently, the world’s largest issuer of voluntary carbon credits – Verra, suspended the issuance of credits from an award-winning project in Kenya -the Northern Kenya Grassland Carbon Project, citing concerns that the offset was altering long-standing Indigenous herding practices and couldn’t accurately account for how much carbon it was removed from the atmosphere.

Today, carbon offsets operate within a self-regulated market, with participants voluntarily adhering to the standards and guidelines developed by independent organizations. The complexity of carbon offset methodologies and compliance, coupled with a lack of global standards, add to mounting market mistrust and hinder growth. Ensuring the credibility of emissions reductions and verifying projects requires robust verification processes and policies that address misleading claims and greenwashing.

How do we then calculate, decide, and justify the real value of the 1 billion tonnes of CO2 absorbed by trees in the Congo Basin each year?

For ACMI to succeed, it is going to be increasingly important to build a comprehensive governance structure centered around integrity, transparency, stability, and accountability to maintain confidence, achieve liquidity, and scale the carbon markets.

Designing mutually beneficial green projects and enabling Africa’s youth with skills to manage and mitigate future climate shocks.

The flip side of the renewable energy revolution brings to light some concerns. As large-scale wind and solar developments expand to cover extensive lands, certain communities that depend on and inhabit these areas find themselves facing threats. The United Nations estimates that over 370 million indigenous people are spread across more than 70 countries worldwide, often among the most marginalized in economic, social, and cultural terms and disproportionately affected by climate change. Notably, these indigenous lands are home to an impressive 80 percent of global biodiversity.

Over the past decade, more than 200 instances of alleged abuse involving renewable energy companies have come to light. These allegations encompass activities such as land and water usurpation, violations of indigenous rights, and the denial of fair labor practices and living wages. A recent case underscores this concern – the Kenyan Environment and Land Court in Meru ruled in 2021 that certain title deeds were acquired irregularly and unlawfully.

But, An example of a collaborative approach centered around communities helps address this concern. In Canada, First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities are partners or beneficiaries in nearly 20% of the country’s renewable energy infrastructure – a noteworthy figure given that these groups make up just 5% of the total population. When local communities are actively involved in the development and oversight of renewable energy projects, human rights risks can be mitigated, leading to shared prosperity

By 2030, young Africans are expected to make up 42% of the world’s youth. A population that will be in their peak earning period by 2050, when some of the worst impacts of climate change are projected to hit the continent. This makes it imperative to educate and empower future populations about climate change and effective climate mitigation techniques.

 Equipping these young minds with a comprehensive understanding of climate change, how it relates to them, its causes, and the strategies to combat its adverse effects is pivotal for the continent’s sustainable future. By fostering environmental awareness and instilling practical skills for mitigation, such as regenerative agriculture techniques, sustainable resource management, and clean energy utilization, we must empower the youth to become proactive agents of change. This education not only enables them to safeguard their communities against the increasing threats posed by climate change but also positions them as catalysts for innovative solutions that can shape a resilient and ecologically balanced Africa. In essence, investing in the education of the young population in Africa today is an investment in the region’s environmental stability and prosperity tomorrow.

In the face of mounting challenges, Africa’s resilience shines as a beacon of hope in the global fight against climate change. As we navigate the intricate interplay of natural resources, indigenous wisdom, technological innovation, and sustainable policies, Africa’s potential to lead by example becomes more evident. By embracing a holistic approach that draws from ancient knowledge and modern advancements, the continent can truly become an invisible hero, not just for its own people but for the entire world.

As we move forward, the question remains: Will we seize this opportunity to unlock Africa’s climate potential and forge a path toward a sustainable and harmonious future? The answer lies in our collective actions, our commitment to change, and our determination to build a world where resilience and progress go hand in hand.