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Should Africa do the economic heavy lifting on climate change?

Posted on Monday, 30 November 2015 10:59

YES: To be clear, this Yes answer begins with a big No. No, Africa − which contributes just 2.3% of the world’s greenhouse emissions despite accounting for 15% of its population − should not be expected to bear the burden of combating climate change.

One of the particularly cruel ironies of climate change is that, to a large extent, it is Africa’s resources (human and material) that have driven industrialisation elsewhere in the world at the expense of the continent − and this history, which still shapes our present, needs to be remembered.

However, yes, Africa can and should do the heavy lifting of using these funds in ambitious and transformative ways. Africa, for example, has unbelievable potential when it comes to clean energy such as solar, wind and hydropower. And while initial costs may be relatively high, they are coming down rapidly and the power generated by these methods will get cheaper and cheaper over time and never run out.

Africa cannot stop climate change itself − the whole international system of exploiting the earth’s riches for never-ending expansion must be addressed − but it does have the potential to leapfrog and then lead the world by example when it comes to generating clean energy, protecting ecosystems and developing sustainable systems. James Wan, Editor, African Arguments, Royal African Society

NO:Africa is the most vulnerable continent to the impacts of climate change yet it contributes less than 3% of the world’s total carbon emissions.

Past estimates put adaptation costs for Africa at between $7bn and $15bn annually with a projection of $50bn per year by 2050. Yet Africa is the worst equipped to confront the challenges these impacts pose for people, communities and livelihoods.

Impacts are felt through changing rainfall patterns, reduced crop productivity and flooding. Later this year, world leaders are expected to decide on an international climate change agreement in Paris at COP21.

Africa will be negotiating with one common voice, pushing for interventions that help vulnerable communities better adapt to climate change. Africa should not be required to disproportionately take on the economic heavy lifting on climate change.

Creative climate solutions and innovations are needed for Africa that build on existing local knowledge and practices, capture the voices of key actors including women and youth and can be brought to scale.

The International Development Research Centre has been a part of efforts to find these creative solutions by supporting seven Adaptation Research Centres spread across Africa and led by Africans. Ultimately, Africa needs simplified access to climate financing, enhanced capacity and widespread adoption of low-cost innovations to help secure lives and livelihoods. Edith Ofwona-Adera, Senior Programme Specialist, International Development Research Centre

Other Comments

11 years ago, I discussed the causes of famine in southern and Eastern Africa with the Swedish Ambassador to Kenya on BBC’s News Hour programme in London. I was categorical as I am now thus: Famine in the fertile climes of these southern and some parts of eastern Africa seems shocking. But there’s a common thread: centralised state rule – incompetent at best – marked by corruption and sustained by aid. These are the shackles that keep Africans poor. Zimbabwe and Malawi, they lack economic freedom and property rights; their economies are mismanaged by the state; and they depend on aid. All these countries have a history of utopian schemes that failed to produce everlasting manna. State farms, marketing boards, land redistribution, price controls and huge regional tariffs left few incentives or opportunities for subsistence farmers to expand. Despite torrents of aid, these cruel social experiments could not turn sands verdant or prevent the granaries of southern and eastern Africa from rotting. In Zimbabwe, the murderous kleptocrats of Robert Mugabe’s regime deny that land seizure has pushed their rich and fertile country into famine. African leaders must be pushed to reduce economic intervention, free financial markets, remove bureaucratic obstacles to setting up businesses, establish property rights and enforce contract law. These are the forces that release entrepreneurial energy and promote economic development. But the ruling cliques will do none of these unless forced to do so as a condition of aid, in this case aid for adapting to climate change policies.
Franklin Cudjoe, Founding President & CEO, IMANI

Africa is the continent that stands to be most adversely affected by climate change and we are already experiencing some of these negative changes. Because of its geographical position and characteristics the continent is particularly vulnerable. It also has limited adaptive capacity. The African continent faces various threats including to its ecosystems, water stress and increased drought with multiple knock on effects. It is likely to suffer changes in rainfall patterns with major consequences for agriculture which is mainly rain fed. The threat of increased food insecurity for millions of Africans is real. There are many others. The African continent as a whole makes minimal contribution to greenhouse gases. As the least industrialised, continent Africa’s consumption of fossil fuels makes only a small contribution to global emissions of greenhouses. The per capita emissions from Africa are but a fraction of say the USA and Canada. What the continent contributes to climate change from deforestation is balanced out by what its forests absorb. It is important the efforts of the major industrial countries to renege on their differentiated responsibilities is resisted. They must pay up their climate debts to African and other developing countries who face the worst impacts of climate change whilst also having the least resources to support mitigation and adaptation. This way Africa can undertake the climate friendly economic structural transformation with industrialisation that is needed to improve the lives of its peoples.
Yao Graham, Coordinator, Third World Network-Africa

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