Climate Action

How COP27 can help African nations bearing the brunt of climate change

The image shows a woman in Africa tending the soil by hand, illustrating ahead of COP27 that Africa produces minimal carbon emissions yet suffers hugely from climate change

COP27 must take steps to mitigate the risks to Africa from climate change Image: Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Samaila Zubairu
President and Chief Executive Officer, Africa Finance Corporation
Dr. Vera Songwe
Chairwoman, Liquidity & Sustainability Facility
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Climate Indicators

  • Africa has suffered huge losses and destruction as a result of climate change, yet the continent produces less than 4% of greenhouse gas emissions.
  • With Africa hosting COP27, it is hoped that addressing Africa's climate needs will be high up on the agenda.
  • African nations can have a greater impact on reaching global net zero if three significant areas of change are focused on.

Amidst this year’s drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, catastrophic floods in Durban and deadly heatwaves in North Africa, the hopes of a continent fighting a climate crisis rest on the upcoming COP27 in Egypt. As we approach the next COP on African soil, it is critical that African policymakers are clear about the continent’s role in driving global net zero carbon emissions.

Africa is suffering climate change’s most destructive effects. Yet, the continent produces less than 4% of greenhouse gas emissions. Such minimal contribution reflects the fact that at least 75% of the global population without access to electricity live in sub-Saharan Africa. This crippling energy deficit curtails manufacturing and economic development. It also contributes to greenhouse gas emissions through impacts ranging from deforestation to provide wood for cooking, to pollution from transporting raw materials for manufacture overseas.

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COP27: mitigating Africa's climate change risks

While cutting emissions is essential for more developed and polluting regions, lower emitting African nations can achieve greater impact on global net zero carbon emissions, while tackling poverty through economic development, by focusing on three significant areas of change.

1. Localising

Localising processing and manufacturing within Africa eliminates emission-spewing shipments of the continent’s minerals and commodities. These typically go to Asia, only to be shipped again as finished goods to consumer markets, predominantly in Europe or America.

Localising means significantly reducing Africa’s energy deficit. The continent’s main energy needs are for cooking, with much of the local population depending on firewood for that necessity. As a result, Africa’s vast carbon sinks are under threat from people who depend on forests to survive.

The first urgent priority then should be saving those vital carbon sinks by providing substitutes, such as liquid petroleum gas (LPG). While renewable resources are the ultimate objective, the continent needs, in the immediate term, to utilise its abundant reserves of natural gas— in line with the European Union’s recent decision to classify natural gas as a form of energy that can help in the transition away from dirtier fuels.

Since significant swathes of Africa are effectively at net zero carbon emissions already, such development can be accomplished without detracting from global emission targets. With resultant job creation and economic growth, African countries can then invest further in renewable resources to make the final transition.

Local manufacturing of the components for renewable energy technology is the ultimate win-win for sustainable development. Africa has the world’s largest reserve of metals and minerals needed for batteries, including lithium and cobalt, making the continent a key supplier for the global energy transition. These metals must be unearthed in a way that minimises further pollution through the use of sustainable mining techniques combined with ecosystems fostering local production centres.

2. Re-build

Resilient building of ocean and river defences, agriculture and infrastructure will help develop the circular economies that drive growth and job creation.

Re-building of infrastructure from transport to electricity grids is crucial. Africa is the most exposed region to the ravages of global warming, largely because its buildings, roads and power lines are ill-equipped to withstand climate shocks. Without intervention, the cost of structural damage caused by natural disasters in Africa will increase to $415 billion a year by 2030 from between $250-300 billion now, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The world must learn from the devastation inflicted by ever more extreme global weather events – most recently the floods in Pakistan – and increase the flow of financing for adaptation or resilience building.

3. Finnovate

Financial innovation is the key to ensuring that Africa has access to essential climate funds. Green bonds are one example. Africa accounts for less than 1% of global issuance, largely because of a somewhat exaggerated perception of heightened risk attached to the continent’s issuers and a consequent lack of liquidity. An initiative to help assuage investor concerns is now underway. The Liquidity and Sustainability Facility (LSF) was launched at COP26 in Glasgow to provide private investors in African bonds with a viable repo market to boost liquidity, levelling the playing field with equivalent systems in more developed markets. By creating more equal terms for African green bonds, the LSF will help to catalyse private investment in sustainability initiatives at a lower cost.

Carbon trading is another example. Currently, developed world polluters offset emissions by buying carbon credits on African forests and other nature-based solutions for a pittance relative to projected costs of carbon capture and storage (CCS), while billions of dollars of G20 government subsidies pour into unproven technology for CCS. As a starting point in attaching consistent monetary value through a defined market for carbon trading, African institutions are working to develop a carbon registry for all 16 countries of the Congo basin that will create a common protocol for measuring emissions and issuing carbon credits.

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Collaborations between government and the private sector through blended finance is a further set of tools. One approach for just and pragmatic climate financing is for higher-polluting, developed nations to provide the first loss required to crowd in additional institutional capital.

With global financial institutions having pledged at COP26 to align portfolios worth $130 trillion to achieve net zero carbon emissions, climate funding is limited only by our ability to innovate. Translating opportunity into reality demands concerted international policy coordination and financial innovation.

Despite the continent’s lower emissions, Africa can contribute meaningfully to global net zero carbon emissions without sacrificing our urgent agenda to progress economic development. Policymakers approaching COP27 must stay focused on these three principles: localise, re-build and finnovate.

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