In one week, leaders from around the globe will gather for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26. The global summit, taking place in Glasgow, is the most significant climate event globally. This year marks one of its most meaningful landmarks since it began in 1995, with climate change being the most discussed, most controversial it has ever been.
2020 has been a rough year for the planet. Massive wildfires scorched Australia, Siberia, and the United States’ west coast – and many of the fires were still burning during the busiest Atlantic hurricane season on record.
According to The World Meteorological Organization (WMO), 2020 was one of the three warmest years on record. The global average temperature was about 1.2° Celsius above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level. The six years since 2015 have been the warmest on record. 2011-2020 was the warmest decade on record. The report documents indicators of the climate system, including greenhouse gas concentrations, increasing land and ocean temperatures, sea-level rise, melting ice and glacier retreats, and extreme weather events.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates that sub-Saharan Africa loses over US$520 million in direct economic damages annually as a result of climate change. The cost of implementing the continent’s response to the challenges posed by climate change is estimated at US$15 billion annually. This is projected to shoot to US$35 billion per year by 2050. Consider this, by 2050, climate change is projected to cost Africa 4.7% of its GDP, while North America will lose only 1.1% of its GDP.
As leaders from all around the world will come together to discuss net zero obligations and natural habitat restoration, African delegates will have to work harder than others to receive some well-earned guarantees.
18% of the global population, 2% of emissions
Africa is the second-largest continent with lands bigger than the U.S., China, India, Japan, Mexico, France, and Germany combined. Its ever-growing population, encompassing 1.2 billion people, amounts to almost a fifth of global humanity, is expected to double by 2050. But albeit the impressive statistics, African communities are responsible for only 2 percent of global GHG emissions. The bad thing about this fact is that although they have a minor role in humanity’s devastating climate actions, Africa’s citizens will be the ones who will suffer the most.
Across the continent, a combination of human, financial, and climate factors make it highly vulnerable to climate change and extreme weather conditions that are becoming increasingly prominent.
For a continent heavily reliant on agriculture for income and food security, with over 66 percent of the population working in the sector, droughts, floods, and crop-destroying storms are much more devastating than in developed countries. According to the UN, climate change contributes to decreases in food production, the spread of waterborne diseases and risk of malaria, changes in natural ecosystems, and loss of biodiversity.
The poor populations are those most affected by extreme weather and climate events and are often overrepresented in the number of individuals displaced by these events. Today, 490 million people in Africa live in extreme poverty, 36 per cent of the total population. The numbers are growing due to the combination of extreme weather events, political instability, and Covid-19.
“Climate change is having a growing impact on the African continent, hitting the most vulnerable hardest, and contributing to food insecurity, population displacement, and stress on water resources. In recent months we have seen devastating floods, an invasion of desert locusts and now face the looming specter of drought because of a La Niña event. The human and economic toll has been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.
Well, how can that be mitigated?
100 billion promises
With a mutual understanding of who is the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, developed countries have committed to mobilize at least $100bn in climate finance per year to the developing world. That pledge was taken during the renowned COP21, which fostered the Paris Agreement back in 2015, but it has not been kept.
Now, African representatives come to COP26 with ambitious goals, with financing at the top of their international requests.
Earlier this month, Reuters reported that African climate negotiators arriving at the summit will be requesting that fund mobilization be scaled up to $1.3 trillion per year by 2030. This will be a dramatic, more than X10 increase from the current goal of $100 billion annually – a target that was not met.
“The point we are trying to make is that we need a climate finance figure that is ambitious, that is based on science and based on needs,” said Zaheer Fakir, a lead coordinator for finance for the African Group of Negotiators. He also added that fund allocation should be balanced between mitigating climate change and adapting to it.
One of the most crucial mitigating actions is the electrification of more than 600 million people currently living without access, and in this specific sector, every dollar counts. With as little as $100, an entire African family (an average of 7 people per household across the continent) could enjoy electricity in their home for the first time through a sustainable solar home system (SHS). How does that mitigate climate change effects?
Electricity access is known and recognized to be an essential catalizator for financial inclusivity. With electricity at home, children can study after dark, get a better education, and have more possibilities for future jobs. Women and girls currently spending over 8 hours a day procuring wood for lighting and heating purposes can study and open new businesses. Farmers can spend more time sorting their crops, losing fewer yields, making more money, and raising food security. Families would also be spending less money on their SHS than today on combustible fuels that heat and light their homes. And the open fires used today for cooking and heating – which cause 4 million deaths a year globally, contribute to respiratory diseases, and pose a fire hazard, will be replaced by sustainable solar options.
Many things need to be done to mitigate Africa’s vulnerability to climate change, and reaching 100 per cent electrification is only one of them. But it is a viable cause that could be much more cost-effective than others, with significant replications for the long haul.
Good luck to all climate negotiators next week. An entire continent is looking up at you.
The writer is an entrepreneur and investor,leading sustainability-driven companies in Africa and the Middle East.