Africa can’t wait for ambitious climate action – here’s what its leaders can do now

Construction of small hydro plant and canal northwestern Rwanda; climate adaptation and mitigation.

Support for renewable energy projects like this hydro plant in Rwanda should form part of Africa's climate adaptation and mitigation plan. Image: Getty Images/iStockphoto/Robert_Ford

Adeola Akinremi
Executive Director and Chief Strategy Officer, Kubadily Consulting
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This article is part of: Centre for Nature and Climate
  • Africa's leaders must take ambitious action on climate adaptation and mitigation to prevent further loss of life and livelihoods, particularly among higher risk communities.
  • Government leaders should empower agencies with funding for preparedness and disaster recovery to help communities across the continent.
  • International collaboration should also be key to Africa's climate adaptation and mitigation solutions, particularly when it comes to closing the continent's climate finance gap.

Climate change is a problem we all live with but communities bear this burden differently, with poorer places often suffering the most. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, many of the things people depend upon and value — water, energy, transportation, wildlife, agriculture, ecosystems and human health — are at risk from the effects of a changing climate.

The people of Malawi, for example, are still reeling from the devastating impact of Tropical Cyclone Freddie, which hit the country in March 2023. The resulting floods meant nearly 923,000 people had to leave their homes or lost possessions. By April 2023, government figures showed there had been 679 deaths and 659,278 people displaced following the cyclone.

It has created many other issues too. As well as destroying property and crops, the flooding caused by the cyclone saw roads and bridges washed away, cutting off access to some areas. The heavy rains also affected electricity generation, causing blackouts and water contamination. World Health Organization data from December 2023 showed 1,771 people in Malawi lost their lives to cholera during the year.

This is not the only recent climate-related disaster to cause death and destruction in Africa. The State of the Climate in Africa 2022, a joint report from the UN and the African Union published in September 2023, says disasters such as the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in 40 years and Algerian wildfires, resulted in 5,000 deaths and over $8.5 billion in economic damage.

The compounding impacts of climate change, as well as the multifaceted consequences for children and other vulnerable populations on a continent already struggling with access to vaccines and persistent poverty, should encourage African leaders to take ambitious action to combat the climate crisis.

Ambitious action to fight climate change

In Africa, ambitious climate action must involve comprehensive strategies encompassing renewable energy adoption, sustainable land use practices, resilient infrastructure development, and effective climate mitigation and adaptation measures. That is, reducing and stabilizing the levels of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (mitigation), while also adapting to the climate change already in the pipeline (adaptation).

For Africa, this should apply to everything from nature conservation to green buildings. Robust international collaborations, technological advancements and policy frameworks are also needed to address the unique challenges posed by climate change in the African context.

Government leaders at the federal, state and local levels must empower agencies with funding for preparedness and disaster recovery to help communities that are most at risk from the effects of the climate crisis. Policy makers should direct investments in transportation, energy, health and shelter to meet the needs of these populations at heightened risk. But where could this money come from?

Wealthy countries have traditionally been the main emitters of the greenhouse gases that are responsible for the climate emergency in Africa. At The United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in December 2023, these countries pledged a small but useful $700 million to the global loss and damage fund. African leaders must keep up the pressure on high-emitting countries to deliver on their pledges.

Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), a climate action plan to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts, offers African leaders another opportunity. A well-thought out NDC could offer any country a better and more secure future in the face of climate change. The wholesale development opportunities NDCs offer to economies could be a catalyst for great development.

This means Africa’s leaders and policy makers must aim high with their NDCs. By applying sound analysis and data, the transition to a more sustainable, greener economy can begin on the continent. This shift will help Africa create more jobs and support greater social inclusion, with specific benefits for women, young people and local communities – especially those most at risk from climate change.

Finding finance for climate solutions

Since finance is key to implementing climate adaptation and mitigation plans, NDCs by African governments should ideally also include financing strategies. One of the world's largest instruments for financing climate action, the Green Climate Fund, is currently ramping up support for developing countries. African leaders should position their countries to receive this support to help with climate adaptation and mitigation.

Development Action and Campaign for Africa (DACA) is focusing on this quest by helping African leaders to prioritize their climate adaptation and mitigation efforts. A continent with a surging population, expected to be close to 2.5 billion by 2050, can’t afford to delay when it comes to climate action.

Africa is already home to many disadvantaged populations facing deep-rooted challenges exacerbated by rising poverty, therefore climate equity is important. African governments must foster NDCs that simultaneously address climate action and the development needs and priorities of these countries, their communities and people.

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The business of climate change

Africa needs $2.8 trillion by 2030 to implement its NDCs and really tackle climate change, according to data submitted by 51 out of 53 African countries. The scale of the climate change adaptation and mitigation financing gap is substantial and pledges aren’t money. So, Africa must also find multiple innovative ways of addressing climate change.

Right now, there is an opportunity to capitalize on making businesses work to address climate change by challenging companies to integrate climate adaptation into their processes. That could mean green loans from banks, reducing the amount of cement used by the construction industry or installing a new generation of home comfort systems such as air conditioning with low energy consumption.

The impacts of climate change will worsen without timely intervention. Africa cannot wait so its leaders must not delay in creating innovative strategies to help all communities with climate adaptation and mitigation.

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Related topics:
AfricaClimate ChangeDevelopment Finance
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