‘Africa loses 5-15% in GDP each year due to climate change’ – UNEP

The best strategy to adapt to a climate emergency is to empower people through investing in simple clean energy solutions, says UNEP's deputy regional director for Africa.

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As the 2022 UN Climate Change Conference (Cop27) in Sharm El-Sheikh approaches, the environmental situation across the continent grows more perilous each day.

A ravaging drought in the Horn of Africa has put more than 22m people at risk of starvation and unprecedented floods in Nigeria have uprooted 1.4m people – just two of the latest ways in which climate change is contributing to national disasters across the continent.

Richard Munang, deputy regional director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Africa Office, says that Africa is at a critical juncture and solutions must be found.

“As we speak today the globe is warming by 1.1 degrees, but Africa is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world,” he tells African Business.

“It means we are going to see more droughts, floods and other extreme weather events ahead. And although these challenges are manifesting now as emergencies, we need to look at long-term solutions to ensure that we can address climate change, pollution, waste and biodiversity loss in a synergistic way.”

Building resilience

Munang says that the best way to build resilience against climate shocks is through “social economic empowerment”.

Previously a research fellow at Trinity College, University of Dublin, and a lecturer at Nottingham University in the UK, he believes that when people who are living in climate-risk areas are wealthier, they are much better placed to respond to extreme weather patterns.

“It is hard to stop disasters from happening, but you can definitely manage disasters,” he said. “The destruction that happens is when people can’t afford insurance because they don’t have money in their pockets. The best strategy to adapt to an emergency is to empower them – and you empower them through investing in simple solutions in clean energy that make their lives better.”

In areas of drought, Munang says that capital should be funnelled into solutions such as solar-powered dryers to stop meat from going rotten.

While it is hard to gauge the true scale of the economic impact, Munang estimates that African economies are losing 5-15% of per capita GDP growth every year due to climate change.

One of the UNEP’s key focuses in Africa is helping countries unlock finance for national climate plans. “What we are doing is supporting African countries to turn climate action plans into investment plans because 72% of African nations lack investment plans when it comes to climate,” says Munang.

More than $3 trillion will be needed by 2030 to finance these climate action plans across Africa. One way to increase finance is by creating risk-sharing facilities to incentivise commercial banks to lend to climate-friendly companies at very low rates.

Priorities at Cop27

Another way to boost climate finance is by Western nations making good on pledges to commit billions of dollars in climate mitigation and adaptation funds at Cop27 in November.

Although the event has been billed as “Africa’s Cop”, many African presidents have voiced concerns that the developed world will fail to commit the necessary capital while it is distracted with the Ukraine war and the global cost-of-living crisis.

Richer nations promised in 2009 to commit $100bn annually to lower income countries to help them fight climate change, but at last year’s Cop26 in Glasgow, the target had still not been reached.

A report by the Global Center on Adaptation, a Netherlands-based climate organisation, found that in 2019 and 2020 only $11.4bn was committed to climate adaptation finance in Africa. This is significantly less than the $52.7bn annually to 2030 it is estimated African countries will need.

“Receiving financial support from richer nations is not a support, it’s not a luxury,” says Munang. “It’s a must, if the continent is to survive the avalanche of changing climate impacts.”

He says that there must be greater “accountability” and “transparency” mechanisms in place during Cop meetings to ensure that countries follow pledges with action.

“Of particular importance is the Cop26 agreement, which was to double adaptation finance by 2025. That’s just three years from today. That commitment needs to be actualised.”

Another key priority will be making sure that countries manage to reduce emissions to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

Gas will serve only a few’ 

Yet in this respect, Africa comes to the Egypt climate meeting in a difficult position as several countries forge ahead with plans to develop recent gas finds.

Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change in the world and it will be the hardest hit by rising temperatures caused by burning fossil fuels. But the argument is that Africa – currently responsible for less than 4% of global greenhouse emissions – should be allowed to exploit its hydrocarbon reserves to turbocharge its own development, just as Western countries did before it.

Munang says that the debate should not be around whether Africa should exploit its gas reserves but what is the easiest way to boost power across the continent.

“It’s not about gas or no gas,” he says. “It’s about how we can provide clean energy solutions to the 600m Africans without access to electricity. The question is whether exploring gas is cost beneficial to driving continental development in the long run.”

The deputy regional director argues that gas plants are expensive and take many years to build. He points to research from the International Energy Authority (IEA) which shows that the cost of building a single liquefied gas terminal is $25bn, equivalent to the annual amount needed on the path to providing all Africans access to modern energy.

What is more, he argues, not all African countries have gas, while solar is an “untapped and universal resource”. According to the IEA, Africa has 60% of the world’s best solar resources, but only 1% of installed solar generation capacity.

“Focusing on gas will only serve a few,” he says. “The way forward is leveraging renewable energy”.

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