The Africa Finance Corporation Infrastructure Summit in May saw the launch of a white paper calling for a pragmatic approach to achieving net zero in Africa. Africa accounts for less than 4% of current global greenhouse gas emissions. The white paper, “Roadmap to COP in Africa: A Practical Path to Net Zero,” argues that there are limited benefits to be reaped from reducing the region’s already low emissions.
As the report notes, “Africans must balance the need to combat climate change with the urgency to develop the continent’s economies in order to alleviate hunger and poverty, among other UN Sustainable Development Goals.”
It calls for African efforts to combat global warming and develop the continent’s economies to focus on three areas: localizing production, building infrastructure, and promoting financial innovation to tap climate core funds.
Creating circular economies
Africa contains abundant reserves of many major natural resources, including iron ore and copper, as well as agricultural commodities, such as cocoa, coffee, and cotton. However, at present, these raw materials are overwhelmingly shipped abroad, especially to Asia, for processing. 74% of African cocoa and 86% of African crude oil is exported unprocessed, with some of the resulting processed goods being shipped back to Africa. Creating circular local economies will reduce shipping sector emissions.
This will require more abundant and reliable electricity supplies for industrialization in Africa, which in turn will boost local living standards and prevent the erosion of forest carbon sinks to provide firewood and charcoal. The report calls for the electrification process to be driven by renewable energy, with natural gas being used as a transition fuel.
Although the production and consumption of natural gas results in significant emissions of carbon and methane, the use of gas reduces the consumption of coal, diesel and firewood. Moreover, since the continent contains the largest reserves of some of the minerals needed for the renewable energy revolution, such as lithium and cobalt, “the manufacture of components for renewable energy technology, from electric vehicle batteries to wind turbines, is a circular economy essential to Africa’s development”, As stated in the report.
The need for a robust and resilient infrastructure
Achieving all of this requires developing a robust and resilient infrastructure in transportation, construction, and off-grid power and electricity networks. In addition, the defenses of the seas and rivers, as well as agricultural systems, must be redeveloped to mitigate the impact of global warming.
At present, the continent’s infrastructure is not well equipped to withstand climatic shocks. According to the United Nations, the annual cost of structural damage caused by natural disasters in Africa will rise from $250-300 billion now to $415 billion by 2030.
It is imperative that African-based institutions have access to climate funds to finance this investment. Although building resilience will save infrastructure repair and replacement costs in the long run, it requires greater upfront expenditures.
Aside from infrastructure, financing is needed to help maintain Africa’s carbon banks, including its vast rainforests, which absorb 1.1-1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide annually. As a result, Central Africa is one of the few regions in the world that absorbs more carbon than it emits.
The international community must take into account the needs of Africa
The AFC is calling on the international community to take into account Africa’s energy deficit and industrialization needs, as well as the requirements for climate-resilient infrastructure and the protection of carbon sinks.
Finally, the report warns that the global momentum around climate action is likely to lead to disruptions in the global flow of capital, with unintended consequences for developing countries’ access to funds.
This is already evident in the redirection of capital flows to middle-income countries to drive carbon mitigation, bypassing poorer and less polluted regions. This must be taken into account when crafting a blueprint for a viable transition for Africa that balances the continent’s ultra-low emissions and development aspirations, while also ensuring that the region engages in a realistic net-zero global agenda.
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