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In My View

November 11, 2014

Innovative financing for containing the threats of climate change in Africa: why the catalyst must come from within

I was recently invited to participate in an expert meeting on climate change organized by Africa Progress Panel (APP) in preparation for the 2015 edition of the Africa Progress Report. Chaired by Mr. Kofi Annan, the ten-member APP advocates at the highest levels for equitable and sustainable development in Africa. My colleague, Kevin Urama, Managing Director and Head of Research at Quantum Global Research Lab was also with me for the discussions that aimed to establish the impact of climate change on Africa and the continent’s anticipated role in reducing emissions.

Assessing Africa’s responsibilities is important, particularly given the escalation of its industrial output. However, this assessment must also acknowledge that Africa has been – and may continue to be – disproportionately hit by climate change (a phenomenon caused primarily by developed countries). Studies indicate that while China, United States of America and the European Union contribute 26%, 19% and 15% of global CO2 emissions respectively, Africa’s contributions remain below 2% of total global emissions. Yet the continent ranks amongst the most vulnerable to climate change impacts. This is largely because most African countries are still heavily reliant on natural resources for its economic growth. Majority of its population are still employed in agriculture and infrastructure remains poor.

What was clear to us during the discussions was that while there are several global climate finance mechanisms in existence, their effectiveness in addressing climate challenge in Africa remain bleak as the vast majority of funds are invested in nations such as China and India, which have built up their absorptive capabilities. This is not optimal for Africa, which is why both Kevin and I feel the solution has to come from within.

At present, Africa’s energy systems are inefficient and inequitable yet we have some of the world’s most conducive sites for transformative energy systems such as wind, solar, hydro and geothermal power. So what is stopping us from developing such transformative energy solutions? The time has come for African countries and African people to think innovatively and to take the opportunities presented by climate change to develop capabilities and relevant technologies for inclusive growth on the continent.

African certainly has the capacity to develop clean products and services that will categorize future markets…I see this in the innovative solutions that are presented annually at the Innovation Prize for Africa, which I founded through the African Innovation Foundation in 2011 to help unlock African potential and drive sustainable growth on the continent. For example, a team from Tunisia created a bladeless wind converter, called Zero-Blade Wind Convertor, which harnesses wind energy into electricity. The converter uses a hydraulic system, which allows the conversion of mechanical energy into hydraulic pressure, which can then either be directly converted to electricity or stored to provide power when there is no wind. This is a unique and cost-effective African energy solution, which other nations can also adopt in an effort to address the global issues of climate change.

Some African countries are also demonstrating the possibilities that can arise from local efforts. Ethiopia has set a course for decarbonizing energy and Ghana’s giant 155-megawatt Nzema solar project is one of the biggest in the world. Kenya is developing geothermal and wind power on a scale with the potential to transform energy provision.

Africa is truly in a unique position to skip the carbon-intensive energy pathway followed by wealthier, developed countries, and as Kevin aptly put it, reinvent a localized climate strategy that allows for radical local transformation – boosting economic growth, creating jobs and reducing social and economic inequalities. Supporting and encouraging African innovators and entrepreneurs in this direction is essential both in the medium to long terms. Investing in small and medium sized enterprises that are developing renewable technologies is necessary for Africa’s energy future.

It is crucial that the private sector also plays its part in reducing emissions and providing funding for the development of renewable technologies in Africa. International oil and gas companies in the region are making enormous profits from the continent’s resources. It is only right that they should be involved in financing and developing renewables. The combination of local innovation, private investment and government funding is the key to realizing Africa’s renewable technologies.

With regards to its role in reducing emissions, Africa has the right to pollute to a certain extent while it transitions from a developing economy to a developed one. What that level is, is arguable, but Africa’s impending industrial revolution is crucial nonetheless in order to achieve economic growth on the continent and to lift people out of poverty. That doesn’t mean that Africa does not have a responsibility to help avoid the harmful consequences associated with climate change, and so we do need to press ahead with our own renewables strategies and priorities.

It is also equally important for global leaders to ensure that Africa gets a fair deal from international climate financing, which needs to be less bureaucratic and more easily accessed. There also needs to be an allocated sum reserved specifically for Africa in anticipation of the vast economic growth that lies ahead.

Overall, both Kevin and I were honored to be a part of the Africa Progress Panel discussion. It was reassuring to note that world leaders are now committed to bringing Africa into the global dialogue on climate change. We should leverage this attention and start taking action at a local level as well.

Kevin Urama, Managing Director, QGRL and Kofi Annan at the recent APP expert session on climate change

Kevin Urama, Managing Director, QGRL and Kofi Annan at the recent APP expert session on climate change

Kofi Annan, Former Sec Gen of UN, Hon. Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Africulture, Nigeria, and Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, Founder African Innovation Foundation during the recent APP expert panel session on climate change

Kofi Annan, Former Sec Gen of UN, Hon. Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Africulture, Nigeria, and Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, Founder African Innovation Foundation during the recent APP expert panel session on climate change

Kofi Annan, Former Sec Gen of UN, Hon. Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Africulture, Nigeria, and Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, Founder African Innovation Foundation during the recent APP expert panel session on climate change

Kofi Annan, Former Sec Gen of UN, Hon. Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Africulture, Nigeria, and Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais, Founder African Innovation Foundation during the recent APP expert panel session on climate change

Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais shares a few words with APP, Chairman, Kofi Annan

Jean-Claude Bastos de Morais shares a few words with APP, Chairman, Kofi Annan