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Africa should be a prime focus for Cop28 policymakers

The continent's climate needs mean it should be seen as a special case

Cop28 Africa Reuters/Temilade Adelaja
Residents wade through flood water in Obagi, Nigeria. Adverse weather events disproportionately affect poorer African countries

Climate change is, of course, a global problem, but perhaps nowhere else in the world faces such a severe set of combined challenges as Africa.

History, demographics and climate conspire to present the continent with a perfect storm of problems that can only get worse if global climate policymakers – meeting this week in Dubai at Cop28 – cannot get the world back on track to hit the targets of the Paris Agreement.

As the UN Environment Programme pointed out recently, Africa is responsible for only 2 to 3 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, but stands out disproportionately as the most vulnerable region in the world.

The continent has never got to enjoy the benefits of rapid hydrocarbon-fuelled industrialisation, as did Europe, North America and parts of Asia. Economic development was snail-paced even after the colonial powers formally left.

Demographic projections will only exacerbate the problem. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts that by 2050 there will be 2.5 billion Africans – around a quarter of the forecast global population – all needing power to fund an aspirational lifestyle.

Throw in another couple of factors, such as the fragility of many African states and the fact much of the continent lies in the torrid tropics, and it seems the perfect recipe for climate disaster.

“From the Central African Republic to Somalia and Sudan, fragile states suffer more from floods, droughts, storms and other climate-related shocks than other countries, when they have contributed the least to climate change,” the IMF said recently.

Adverse weather events also have a disproportionate effect on poorer African countries, lopping 4 percent off GDP three years after they occur, compared with 1 percent for developed countries, the IMF added. 

So, should Africa get special treatment at Cop28?

Increasingly, Arabian Gulf countries – perhaps more aware of the problem on their doorstep than others – seem to think that indeed some urgent attention should be devoted to the continent.

Delegations from the UAE and Saudi Arabia were prominent at an inaugural Africa Climate Week forum in Kenya last September.

Cop28 president Sultan Al Jaber, pledging $4.5 billion to help African countries to develop cleaner energy, told the forum: “We need a complete upgrade, in fact a surgical intervention of the global financial architecture that was built for a different era” in Africa.

A big chunk of the UAE commitment will come from Masdar, the renewable company in Abu Dhabi, to develop solar and wind projects for electricity generation in the rest of this decade.

These projects will have a direct positive impact on Africa. On other environmental initiatives, such as a recent plan to create carbon offsets in Zimbabwe and other African countries, the jury is still out as to their practical benefits.

Saudi Arabia has, if anything, gone even harder for the nitty gritty.

At a Saudi-Africa summit in Riyadh earlier this month, the energy poverty of the African continent was very much on the minds of delegates. They heard plans from Saudi Arabia to invest $2 billion in clean cooking – a real and urgent need in a continent where many lack even basic electricity for essential domestic tasks.

Scale of the challenge

Valuable as such initiatives are, the macro-economic picture for Africa is problematic.

The US Brookings Institute recently calculated that around $30 billion per year was committed by the rest of the world – public and private – to African climate adaptation in 2019-20.

But what the continent actually needs over the rest of this decade is $580 billion to ensure its transition towards cleaner and renewable forms of energy. That is the scale of the challenge facing Cop28 policymakers.

Much of the controversy so far generated by Cop28 has focused on the “loss and damage” initiative.

This is a long-agreed but so far unimplemented proposal to pay poorer parts of the world to compensate for climate damage they have already suffered and for the measures they will have to take to mitigate further losses.

As of now, a sum of $100 billion has figured in most narratives of the convoluted discussions around loss and damage. It is obvious that such an amount is woefully inadequate, especially in the case of Africa.

The leaders at Cop28 would do well to set a far more ambitious target, and to specify that a significant portion of that enlarged amount goes to where it is needed most: Africa.

Frank Kane is Editor-at-Large of AGBI and an award-winning business journalist. He also acts as a consultant to the Ministry of Energy of Saudi Arabia

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