Climate Change in Africa: Challenges and Opportunities

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Although climate change continues to gain global attention, little has been done to mitigate its risks and adverse effects.

According to NOAA's National Centers for Environmental Information, the first quarter of 2020 was the second-hottest ever recorded since 1880.

Furthermore, while the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic are unparalleled, analysts at the Brookings Institution opine that the risks associated with climate change may be as adverse as those of the current global pandemic.

As a result of excess carbon dioxide emissions, causing what is well-known as the greenhouse effect, bold climate action is necessary to turn the challenges of climate change into sustainable economic benefits for Africa.

The question, however, is whether African governments and investors will allow climate change to devastate the continent, or actively seek opportunities to drive the new climate economy that Sub-Saharan Africa needs.

Moreover, aside from having cleaner air to breathe, a new climate economy poses several benefits. These include generating low-carbon jobs and government revenues, which are needed to boost economic development in Africa.

Africa's Vulnerability

Perhaps the most unfortunate part of climate change is that Africa stands to be the most hard-hit by the global climate crisis, despite the continent being the lowest contributor to greenhouse emissions.

Sub-Saharan Africa has been deemed to be one of the most vulnerable to climate change-induced poverty, according to a report by World Bank in 2016. Due to Africa's already weak economic systems and the highest number of people in poverty, climate change's impact stands to cause more damage to the continent than other world economies.

Several other challenges have surfaced as a result of climate change, such as unemployment. More often than not, these challenges have clouded the opportunities that exist to transform the fast-growing negative impact on climate-informed development in Africa.

Another report by the World Bank in 2018 stated that the number of migrants within Sub-Saharan Africa could reach 86 million in a worst-case scenario. Other than that, climate change can devastate Africa's agricultural sector, which accounts for nearly 55% of the population's employment.

Agriculture is not the only sector that stands to be affected, as damages to health, water-supply, and forestry further add to the continent's immense challenges.

However, the main challenge lies in the high adaptation costs to be incurred against a backdrop of climate change. The UNEP-commisioned research predicted that if the planet warms by an additional 2°C, Africa's climate adaptation costs could reach $50 billion per year by 2050.

Challenges Birth Opportunities

Interestingly, the effects of global climate change serve as opportunities for Africa to make the most of its high resource potential. More attention needs to be paid to African resources, which must be harnessed to close the climate adaptation gap.

With Africa being the most resource-rich continent, these problems can be mitigated with the efficient use and allocation of resources Africa already possesses. This is what gives the continent a comparative advantage over other continents also affected by global climate change.

While the looming climate crisis in Africa is evident; what is not so clear is how quickly African nations will acquire the investment and funding needed to mitigate these risks.

Nonetheless, some African countries have begun to implement Going Green initiatives, and show commitment to taking sustainable action to ensure Africa emerges victorious in the fight against climate change.

For instance, South Africa's Carbon Tax Act, which came into effect in June 2019, places specific levies on greenhouse gases from fuel combustion and industrial processes and emissions.

The introduction of the Paris Agreement plays a crucial role in contributing to curbing climate change. Under the agreement, the 49 African countries that have signed and ratified the terms are obliged to live up to their National Determined Contributions (NDCs), which outlines their contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

As is often the case with opportunities that can boost economic growth in Africa, investment is mostly lacking. To implement its NDCs, Africa will need investments of over $3 trillion.

Thus, because Africa is home to several untapped resources, sectors such as Energy and Agriculture pose sufficient opportunities to mitigate climate change and create economic reforms.

Considering that Sub-Saharan Africa has 95% of rain-fed agriculture globally, the need to protect Africa from these adverse effects is urgent now more than ever. The need for greater food security in Africa cannot be overemphasized. In order to regenerate natural capital and boost food security, new business opportunities in sustainable food and land use systems need investment.

Similarly, African nations should be looking to transition to clean energy and reduce spending on polluting energy sources.

African countries such as Morocco have begun to lead the way to clean energy. Morocco has built the world's largest concentrated solar facility to help achieve its goal of 52% renewable energy mix by 2030.

Such actions by more African countries will go a long way in driving resilient economic development and encouraging further investment in renewable energy.

The Africa we know today is subject to drastic economic change, in either direction. Climate change is often an underrated factor in the continent, with more attention being paid to Agriculture, Mining, and Energy.

However, it is clear that such sectors are even more likely to suffer if climate change is not given the attention it needs in Africa. Thus, tackling the climate crisis is primarily a means to an end. Seeing that these challenges are not without solutions, investment opportunities exist for businesses and industries to eradicate the adverse effects of climate change, not add to it.