Mo Ibrahim Foundation: Climate-change debate must shift from cutting emissions to adaptation

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Thursday, 14 July 2022 06:00

The Congo Basin rainforest absorbs the equivalent of Africa’s entire carbon emissions. Jens GROSSMANN/LAIF-REA
The Congo Basin rainforest absorbs the equivalent of Africa’s entire carbon emissions. Jens GROSSMANN/LAIF-REA

A Western-dominated debate on reducing carbon emissions needs to include ways to adapt to climate change and broaden African energy access, according to a new report from the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

Financial pledges towards adaptation remain “small and mostly unrealised, while the majority of global financing is disbursed to industrialised middle-income countries for mitigation purposes”, says the report titled The Road to COP27: Making Africa’s Case in the Global Climate Debate.

The 10 countries that are most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa. In eight of those countries, at least 60% of the working population are employed in the agricultural sector, which is highly sensitive to climate change. Africa is more affected by droughts than any other continent, and it is the second-most affected by floods.

Almost 40 million people in sub-Saharan Africa could be pushed into extreme poverty by 2030 due to climate change, more than in any other world region, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation report says.

Violent disputes over water access are also correlated with climate change. Since 2010, the number of protests and riots in Africa over water resources have multiplied by 40.

  • In Egypt, Burkina Faso and Sudan, more than 60% of violent events occurred in provinces suffering from extremely high water stress, the report says.
  • In 2021, Madagascar was the world’s first country to face a famine solely due to the consequences of climate change.

African countries need to set up clear adaptation investment plans, the report argues.

  • A focus should be put on climate-resilient infrastructure, housing and urban planning.
  • Africa’s climate research and statistical capacity need to be increased.
  • The report sees gas as an essential transitional fuel for Africa.
  • However, for gas or renewables, there is a need to look beyond production and expand transmission and distribution infrastructure, the report says.

Carbon sinks

Over 600 million people still lack access to electricity in Africa. This constitutes a “global injustice”, with 90% of the population in the rest of the world having access to electricity, the report says.

At COP26, the responsibility of the global North and high carbon-emitting countries to compensate developing countries hurt by climate change was discussed, but no concrete actions have been taken on compensation, including the failure to establish a ‘loss and damage’ fund for developing countries.

Africa is home to key global carbon sinks, such as the Congo Basin rainforest, which absorbs the equivalent of the continent’s carbon emissions. African countries should be compensated for the preservation of these global assets, which needs to include a price on carbon storage, the report says.

Vera Songwe, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, has said that putting a price on carbon storage in Africa would allow the creation of 136 million jobs.

Clean cooking using liquefied petroleum gas is key to protecting those carbon sinks. According to research from Oxford Economics Africa in July, the lack of access to clean cooking fuels in Africa is even more pervasive than the lack of electricity. The burning of toxic biomass may have implications for the effectiveness of the continent’s carbon sinks if unaddressed, Oxford Economics says.

“The environmental impact of increased use of hydrocarbons such as natural gas should be weighed against the gains made on electrification and subsequent reduction in the use of unsustainable biomass.”

Bottom line

The global carbon emissions debate needs to place African energy access and security at the core rather than on the margins, says the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.

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