Africa’s development and climate change experts are confident that the historic Paris Agreement on Climate Change that was unanimously adopted last December in Paris will be a win for the continent. At the Paris summit, 195 countries agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions and enhance adaptation in a way that will keep global temperature increase to “well below 2° C” and, more optimistically, to attempt to limit it to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
For Africa, the sweet spot in the deal is an agreement to allocate money to the adaptation and climate mitigation needs of developing countries. African negotiators had urged rich countries to build on the promise by developed countries to ramp up climate financing by $100 billion by 2020 for developing countries, in line with the 2012 Cancún commitment. They got their wish, plus more, because the Paris deal stipulates that the $100 billion commitment will be revised upward from 2025.
According to the deal, however, while the rich countries will dig deeper into their pockets, developing countries are required to make some contribution too. The second Africa Adaptation Gap Report of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says African countries must raise up to $3 billion per year between 2016 and 2020. To ensure transparency, the climate deal calls for prospective financing information to be communicated every two years.
Prior to the Paris Conference, 189 countries — including every African country, submitted a national climate plan, known as the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution, that spells out what they will do to address climate change, and what they will further do if financing is available. In Paris, countries agreed that they will submit updated plans every five years which will detail ongoing activities and efforts to achieve the goals in the Paris Agreement. Each plan is expected to be more ambitious than the preceding one.
Considering Africa’s comparably negligible emissions over the years, while climate change will impact Africa more than many other continents, the Paris Agreement’s adaptation financing plan and its strong review mechanism convey powerful statements of intent. The goal is for African countries to tap existing opportunities in adaptation and mitigation and to consequently achieve sustainable industrial development with minimal to zero emissions.
For example, tapping the continent’s vast renewable energy resources, such as solar and wind, could bridge the energy gap, support climate change adaptation and unlock income opportunities in Africa, according to the International Policy Digest, an independent foreign policy publication. The Digest advises African leaders to enhance agro-value chains through Ecosystem-Based Adaptation (EBA) approaches, including agro-forestry, efficient irrigation and conservation
agriculture, in which soil is managed in ways that do not destroy its structure and biodiversity.
The 2015 Africa Progress Panel (APP) report, issued by a group of 10 distinguished Africans that includes former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, advocates for sustainable development in Africa and reinforces the need for a focus on renewable energy. The report states that sub-Saharan Africa’s energy poverty is high, with over 60% having no access to electricity while 80% lack access to clean cooking facilities. In the rural areas, where 70% of Africa’s poor reside, access to grid electricity is estimated at between 1% and 8%. Still, people in these areas pay 20 times more (estimated to be $10 billion annually) for unclean lighting sources, mostly kerosene lamps, than rich households connected to the grid spend on lighting, which further entrenches poverty.
In addition, Africa spends $50 billion yearly on oil subsidies, which mostly benefit the richest 40% of households. Considering that $50 billion is 5.7% of Africa’s GDP, which exceeds spending on health, redirecting such funds to low-carbon initiatives could go a long way toward improving living standards and even lead to environmental sustainability. Investments in clean energy such as solar and wind are the most economical for electrification in remote areas, and such investments enhance household savings and create jobs, maintains the International Policy Digest.
On solar, representatives from governments, business and civil society announced many new initiatives and commitments in Paris that included plans to mobilize up to $1 trillion per year—the so-called Clean Trillion—in solar investments worldwide, which is more positive news for Africa. In 2015 the renewable energy sector created 7.7 million jobs globally, an 18% increase from 2014. Though its share of renewable energy is still paltry, Africa can create a thriving electricity industry in addition to adding an estimated 2.5 million temporary and permanent jobs, according to the McKinsey Report, a global management consulting firm.
Africa has abundant sunshine, yet over 600 million Africans are energy poor. Demand for solar home systems (SHS) should continue to increase. Bangladesh’s example is inspiring: despite being one of the least-developed countries, Bangladesh’s SHS sector has created over 115,000 direct jobs and an additional 50,000 indirect jobs through investments in solar in rural areas. Africa’s governments can emulate Bangladesh by providing financial and technical support to renewable-energy businesses.
In addition, Africa’s poor households can save up to $8 billion annually through access to renewable options such as solar. By switching to clean energy, sub-Saharan African can lift between 16 million and 26 million people out of poverty, according to the APP report.
Clean energy benefits the environment. Leading up to 2040, Africa could achieve a 27% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, according to various projections. The Paris Agreement provides a policy framework as well as technical and investment support for the continent’s emissions-reduction efforts.
Given that the climate deal hammers on the need to restore no fewer than 127 million hectares of degraded land in Africa and Latin America, mostly through agro-ecosystems, the net gain for Africa could be increased agricultural productivity leading to food security, climate adaptation and income and job creation. Agriculture employs about 64% of all Africans, providing livelihoods for 70% of the rural poor, according to the International Fund for Agricultural Development.
Ecosystem-Based Adaptation–driven approaches enhance agricultural productivity and ensure that ecosystems are not damaged but continue to provide water, soil formation, insect pollinators, hydrologic regulation and other benefits. Applying these techniques in farming can boost yields by up to 128%, enhance ecosystems capacity and climate adaptation, lower climate-induced crop failure risks and increase farmer incomes.
Experts suggest that by providing farmers who practice Ecosystem-Based Adaptation with affordable financing, reliable and efficient access to markets and clean energy, agro-industrialization can be spurred to create as many as 17 million jobs and boost Africa’s agricultural sector, projected to be worth $1 trillion by 2030. The World Bank states that a 10% increase in crop yields translates to approximately a 7% reduction in poverty in Africa, and that agricultural growth is at least two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than commensurate growths in other sectors.
Implementing the deal
While commending the Paris Agreement, Africa’s development experts also acknowledge that the continent’s implementation record hasn’t been stellar. However, the general consensus is that Africa appears determined to implement the agreement. To start with, the African Union Commission (AUC) and UNEP have already established the Ecosystem-Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) as a policy and an implementation platform. This platform is expected to promote and support agro-value chains through an EBA-driven agriculture approach. To achieve sustainable and inclusive growth, countries will be urged to integrate these techniques in their agricultural policies and implementation.
Overall, the consensus is that the Paris Agreement is a win for all. For Africa in particular, it presents a unique opportunity to create and implement strategies that use new approaches and technologies to realize the dream of an environmentally sustainable and economically flourishing continent.
Richard Munang is an Africa climate change and development policy expert. Robert Mgendi is an adaptation policy expert. They are both with UNEP.