The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed an underbelly around the lack of preparedness to disasters, pandemics, or climate change globally, and Africa is no exception to this. As everybody journeys towards COP-26, there are both the acknowledgment and realization that we need to look at adaptation and mitigation as two sides of the same coin in order to amplify the level of preparedness and action needed to tackle the impacts of climate change.
As the pandemic has ravaged Africa over the last 18 months, climate change’s ripple effects and other natural disasters have also affected the continent, from floods and Locust invasions to droughts and other extreme weather events. In addition, many parts of the continent have faced severe food crises as a result. This is all to say that, on top of the pandemic, Africa was not spared at all from climate change impacts.
Why does COP26 provide a watershed moment for climate change globally and Africa, in particular?
With over 600 million people with limited access to clean energy, the potential to leapfrog or even quantum leap to another “energy level” is huge for Africa. As such, the first watershed moment is reflected in the IEA’s new Report on Net Zero by 2050: A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, showing that Africa will be part of the global trend towards decarbonization. In fact, the report highlights that prospective oil and gas projects in Africa will no longer be pursued as overseas markets and financing for it will shrink. At the same time, the continent’s vast renewable energy potential, especially hydropower and solar, will become increasingly bankable and highly attractive to investors. As such, Africa’s potential is significant and, with such a transition, the continent aims to gain by building up renewable energy and its capacity to produce the necessary minerals, software, and hardware to shift to a zero-carbon energy economy.
The world will be watching to assess the level of commitment and/or action towards a just planet in the coming two weeks. During the months leading up to the climate COP in Glasgow we observed multilateral processes such as the G7, G20, and COP15 on Biodiversity calling for a higher level of ambition to stop us going beyond a 1.5-degree global temperature increase. With Africa dealing with the Covid-19 vaccine inequity, there is now more than ever an acknowledgement that it needs to take the climate crisis into its own hands.
The second watershed moment relates to science’s crucial role in dealing with the climate crisis. For a long time, science used to be peripheral to the climate discourse, and disinformation spread by the fossil fuel industry did not help. However, the current climate crisis — whose impacts are now being experienced beyond Africa — has triggered an awakening that we are all in this together. From the wildfires in California, to the floods in Germany, Belgium, and parts of China, extreme weather events show what scientists have proclaimed for over thirty years. The latest IPCC Sixth Assessment Report launched in 2021 saw several African authors included in this process. Similarly, policy-makers across Africa are taking science and its considerations seriously in their policy processes to address the climate crisis. More recently, the Africa Union’s Green Recovery Action Plan has also flagged the importance of science as has the work on Africa’s and the world’s largest restoration and adaptation Initiative – the Great Green Wall (GGW). In addition, work on the GGW has recognized the importance of Indigenous knowledge systems in complimenting science.
The third watershed moment relates to Africa’s Youth dividend. The world saw the African youth’s engagement at the Youth4Climate Summit that was convened by the Italian Government in Milan this past September. Young people across Africa and beyond are very concerned about inheriting a dying planet. They are also cognizant they will be active in decision making processes soon than later and, as such, robust and well-defined building blocks ought to be consolidated. For African youth, the blocks include addressing the issues related to fossil fuels and opportunities that renewable energy provides.
In their call to action, they envisage a net-zero goal by 2030 stressing the need for more nature-based solutions to help preserve biodiversity and facilitate communities’ adaption to climate change impacts. In fact, in her speech at the Milan Pre-COP, the young Ugandan Activist Vanessa Nakate decried that though Africa has emitted the least emissions, the climate impacts for the continent have led to loss of culture, livelihoods, traditions, and ecosystems, among others. She further called upon Global Leaders to address, invest, and provide climate finance towards “Loss and Damage” as “reducing and avoiding” is no longer enough. She further added that with climate change, “Africans cannot adapt to lost cultures, lost traditions, lost history and starvation”.
Finally, beyond the Governmental action that has been called for, Africa’s young people envisage that other stakeholders beyond COP26 will also invest in transformations related to entrepreneurships, digitalization, fashion, circular economy, the arts, sports, and academia.
In conclusion, in a world that’s fast changing, we can no longer afford to address the planetary crisis in a siloed fashion. Now more than ever, systems thinking and systems Leadership are needed across the board, in Africa and the world over.