Africa’s future depends on a tough new global climate treaty
I have been a farmer in Nigeria for 35 years. Like tens of millions of farmers across our continent, I have seen first-hand how hard it is to succeed in agriculture in Africa. The climate is volatile and difficult, the soil often weak. Electricity supplies are unreliable and intermittent. As president of Nigeria, I was constantly reminded of these problems and sought to tackle them.
The Africa Progress Panel, of which I am a member, addresses these questions in its 2015 report, Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. The report calls for determined leadership within Africa to address the climate challenge – as well as concerted action by the international community at the December climate talks and beyond.
What we need to achieve together is to break the link between energy and greenhouse gas emissions. That will take bold political leadership and practical policies. In 2015, several global leaders have raised the bar and focused on the need for an ambitious outcome in Paris. We need to see more of such inspiring leadership – not just for our own sake, but for future generations and life on the planet.
Greater cohesion among African countries is essential to success – in terms of the positions in Paris, as well as in how they negotiate until the very end. A coherent set of common African demands is critical if the world is to reach the level of ambition needed for the global climate talks to end with a viable, effective agreement.
Greater cohesion among African countries is essential to success at the Paris talks
Africa’s leaders must push for “development first” while emphasising that it is possible for Africa to expand its economies and improve the wellbeing of its citizens by choosing a low-carbon path.
Africa stands to gain from developing low-carbon energy, and the world stands to gain from Africa avoiding the high-carbon pathway followed by today’s rich world and emerging markets. Indeed, some countries in the region are already at the front of the global trend of climate-resilient, low-carbon development, including Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
African countries need to expand our power generation hugely to achieve universal access to modern energy – and we can do it without locking in high-carbon fuels. We can leapfrog straight
to renewable energy sources, just as we leapfrogged to mobile phones, bypassing fixed lines.
A strong African voice promoting the opportunities for a “triple win” in climate action, energy and poverty reduction can up the tempo for a scaling up of low-carbon energy investment, not just on the continent, but globally.
Unlocking this opportunity will not be easy. More than 600 million people on the continent still do not have access to modern energy. Sub-Saharan Africa’s electricity consumption is lower than Spain’s. On current trends it will take until 2080 for every African to have access to electricity.
Changing this picture is not just a huge challenge, though – it’s also a huge investment opportunity. Mil- lions of energy-poor, disconnected Africans, who earn less than $2.50 a day, already constitute an energy market worth $10 billion a year.
What would it take to expand power generation and finance energy for all – while avoiding the high-carbon path that the rest of the world has followed? The Africa Progress Panel estimates that investment of $55bn per year is needed until 2030 to meet demand and achieve universal access to electricity. African governments could cover a large part of that financing gap themselves, by building credible tax systems and by redirecting the $21bn spent on subsidies for wasteful utilities and kerosene.
Additional revenues could be mobilised by stemming the haemorrhage of finance lost through illicit financial transfers, by narrowing opportunities for tax evasion and borrowing cautiously on bond markets. G8 and G20 countries must act on past commitments to strengthen tax-disclosure requirements, prevent the creation of shell companies and counteract money laundering.
The countries responsible for the lion’s share of emissions should tax them
Aid must play a supportive, catalytic role. Global and African investment institutions already see the growth and revenue prospects of African infrastructure in a world where demand is slowing in developed countries. Reforming energy utilities is also key.
Long-term national interest must override short-term political gain, vested interests, corruption and political patronage. Energy entrepreneurs can join the reformed utilities in investing revenues and energy funds in sustainable power that protects the planet and pays steady dividends.
Better and more accessible energy can also power up Africa’s agriculture. Governments should take advantage of climate adaptation opportunities that integrate social protection with climate-smart strategies to raise agricultural productivity and to develop rural infrastructure, cutting poverty while strengthening international efforts to combat climate change.
The countries responsible for the lion’s share of greenhouse gases should place a stringent price on emissions by taxing them, instead of continuing effectively to pay emitters by spending billions on subsidies for fossil-fuel exploration and production.
By 2018, developed countries should withdraw all tax concessions, royalty relief and fiscal transfers, and, by 2020, all state aid to fossil-fuel industries.
Unlocking Africa’s energy potential and building the foundations for a climate-resilient, low-carbon future will require ambitious, efficient and properly financed multilateral cooperation. Yet the current global climate finance architecture fails each of these credibility tests.
The pledge by the G7 leaders at the end of their summit this year to make deep cuts in emissions and to phase out fossil fuels by the end of the century is commendable. Their commitment to increase investment in the African renewables sector is also a powerful acknowledgement from some of the world’s major emitters of the important role Africa can play in the global low-carbon transition.
The only promises that matter at the Paris climate summit are those that are kept. Africa’s leaders must rise to the challenge. They are the voice of their citizens in the climate talks – and that voice must be heard.
Business leaders, religious leaders, the heads of social movements and the mayors of the world’s cities must continue to pressure political leaders to reach an ambitious Paris agreement, backed by carbon pricing and taxation. Together we can create an overwhelming force for change to avert climate catastrophe and seize the opportunity to transform our energy systems and our economies. We must us act now and act together. ●