Africa: Carbon emissions play a central role in current economic crisis

Patrick Smith
By Patrick Smith
Editor-in-Chief of The Africa Report.

Posted on Thursday, 23 June 2022 18:23

Climate activists take part in a demonstration outside the venue of the COP26 U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow, Scotland, Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 (AP Photo/Scott Heppell, File)

Stratospheric statistics and serial superlatives can still cut through – even in this age deluged by data. For some, today’s omnicrisis, born of the pandemic and the ensuing geopolitical clash over Moscow’s war on Ukraine, might seem to rival the great crash of 1929, which also followed a pandemic amid heightened geopolitical rivalries.

Yet other stunning but sometimes inconvenient data points are sidelined: such as Africa’s demographic exceptionalism, as it heads towards a population of more than 2.2 billion, almost half of whom will be under 18, by 2050; or the $23trn cost of inaction on climate change by 2050, as conservatively estimated by the Swiss Re insurance house. Such numbers may turn out to be the sleeping giants of the data universe: vital figures that should shape policy and international cooperation now, not be relegated to the medium term.

This may also stand as the first international economic crisis in which carbon emissions play a central role. Until societies, governments and corporations develop effective responses to climate change, it will either trigger or exacerbate economic disruptions.

In many ways, the looming recession, of which the IMF and the World Bank warn, recalls a bygone era. Global trading systems have been upended by a pandemic for which societies, particularly their healthcare systems, were chronically ill-prepared. Many state responses referred to the management strategies of a century earlier.

Just as backwards-looking is the centrality of fossil fuels to Moscow’s war. It has driven defections from Russia’s energy market. Those realignments and accompanying market panics have fed the soaring costs of fuel, and consequent spikes in food, transport and fertiliser costs. That led to oil prices reaching $120 a barrel by the end of May.

However good that looks for Africa’s oil and gas exporters, this resource boom will be little more than a blip, according to Carlos Lopes, who sits on the UN Climate Action Expert Group.

“The coming powerhouses will be based on renewables,” he insists. The omnicrisis will speed up that transition, undercutting the political power, even the viability, of fossil fuels.

That, for Africa and other developing regions, says Lopes, is where the opportunities will be. But first, there must be an honest negotiation over climate finance. The costs of meeting the UN Climate summit target require $4trn a year of public and private investment in renewables between now and 2030.

So far, the pledges, and still less the disbursed finance, are a fraction of those estimates. Climate damage is also holding Africa back from helping to solve today’s global food crisis. Calls for compensation for climate damage have been filibustered off the UN climate summit agenda.

Such tactics could prove harder at this year’s UN climate summit, focusing on Africa and hosted by Egypt. But struggling to be heard against the noisy backdrop of war-fuelled recession in the West, it will take herculean solidarity from African states to start to win the arguments over climate finance.

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