Cop 21: An Opportunity For Africa

December 1, 2015

Makhtar Diop, World Bank's Vice President for Africa Revue Géoéconomie de l'institut Choiseul

As the world’s leaders flock to Paris for COP21 to negotiate an agreement to fast-track the transition to low-carbon economies, we should bear in mind how crucial these talks are for Africa.

The reason for this is simple. Although Africa is responsible for just 3.8 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, African countries are feeling the brunt of the devastating effects of increasingly extreme weather events. The upsurge in droughts, floods and hurricanes could totally wipe out the development gains made by African countries in recent decades.

The Mauritanian Environment Minister has hammered out his stark message that Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott will soon be underwater if nothing is done. In Togo, to the east of the capital Lomé, erosion eats away seven meters of coastline a year. Coastal erosion, a partly anthropogenic phenomenon exacerbated by extreme weather conditions, is a particularly worrying threat as the West African coastline accounts for 56 percent of the West African coastal nations’ GDP.

Throughout Africa, the livelihoods and health of people living in coastal cities and rural regions are endangered by climate change. Although no country, rich or poor, is safe from the effects of climate disasters, climate change has a disproportionate impact on the poor. It is behind most of the shocks that keep African people in poverty or precipitate them into poverty: crop failures due to low rainfall, soaring food prices driven by uncontrollable weather events, the spread of disease caused by heatwaves and floods, etc.

A watchword: adaptation

African leaders are aware that if Africa wants to win its struggle against poverty, adaptation to climate change will have to become a priority.

We know that global warming in the order of 1.5°C to 1.75°C is practically unavoidable owing to the build-up of greenhouse gas emissions (GGEs) already in the atmosphere. This warming will cause the loss of cropland, a decline in crop production, worsening undernourishment, higher drought risks and a decline in fish catches.

Yet a rise in warming to some 3°C to 4°C above pre-industrial temperatures would have even more disastrous consequences in the form of a surge in heatwaves across the vast majority of the continent, increased risk of severe drought (especially in southern Africa), crop failures every two years, a 20 percent reduction in major staple food crop yields, and up to 18 million people affected by floods every year by the end of the century.

To tackle the climate challenge, Africa needs to take urgent steps to scale up action on adaptation regardless of the climate scenario.

The price tag will be high. Needs amount to about $5-10 billion per year at present (in order to adapt to 2°C warming), but could be as high as $20-50 billion around mid-century, and close to $100 billion in the case of 4°C warming. Unfortunately, the climate finance flowing to Africa pales in comparison with actual needs. Current levels of funding for adaptation in Africa amount to at most $3 billion per year, a fraction of the needs, and are not rising at the necessary rate.

The World Bank has devised a plan of action to help the continent rise to the challenge of adaptation to climate change. The Africa Climate Business Plan identifies concrete measures to boost the region’s resilience to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The plan will be launched at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference, as the event provides a unique opportunity to rally the different players to take action in this area. The action plan aims to further raise public awareness of the repercussions of climate change and most importantly find the resources to finance a series of priority climate-resilient development actions.

The plan focuses on a dozen priority areas, grouped in three clusters, where the World Bank, in collaboration with African governments and regional and international partners, expects to help achieve results in the near to medium term.

  1. Boost resilience” by developing climate-smart agriculture and an environment that adapts better to climate change, improving forest and coastal management, promoting maritime economies, and fostering the emergence of climate-smart cities;
  2. Power resilience” with solar panels, geothermal energy and hydropower;
  3. Enable resilience” by collecting statistical data and capacity building to plan and design climate-resilient investments.

We estimate that this plan will cost about $16 billion for the 2015-2018 period, of which about $5.6 billion could come from the International Development Association (IDA), the World Bank’s fund for the poorest countries. The action plan also defines further results that could be achieved in the longer term (up to 2025), for an estimated cost in the order of $21 billion.

Develop renewable energies: an opportunity for Africa

One thing is certain: Africa will never manage to roll back poverty if it does not tackle the continent’s energy deficit, given that only one in three Africans today has access to electricity. Africa may well have among the greatest hydroelectric and geothermal potential in the world (the Great Rift Valley in Ethiopia alone has the potential to generate 10 to 15 gigawatts), considerable natural gas reserves and abundant solar and wind power resources, yet its total generation capacity (including South Africa) is no more than 80,000 megawatts (MW). This is about the same as the power generated by Spain and South Korea!

Yet hydropower has energized the economies of many European countries, raising their living standards, boosting growth and promoting development in their region. Like Europe and the rest of the world, Africa deserves the same opportunity to develop its renewable energies to improve Africans’ quality of life and fairly share the continent’s wealth. South Africa stands out for having tapped into its photovoltaic potential with some 800 MW of installed capacity in 2014, supported mainly by calls for tender and by successfully standardizing procedures. There is also huge potential for major concentrated solar power plants such as those built in Morocco.

Although the cost of renewable energies has dropped sharply over the last ten years, they are still far too expensive. Africa’s green energy revolution will not happen without the international community’s financial support (to reduce the cost of using clean technologies), the governments’ political will and investment by the private sector.

Institutions like the World Bank Group can help prepare the financial packages required with tools such as project preparation assistance, guarantees and insurance. Guarantees are especially important since investors are still exceedingly cautious about investing in the energy sector in Africa considering the amount of time it takes to complete a large-scale energy project and make returns on it. For example, the World Bank recently granted a record $700 million in guarantees expected to raise nearly $8 billion in private investment for the Sankofa offshore gas project in Ghana.

The countries will also need to work together at the regional level to build transmission networks. Countries with an energy surplus could supply less well-endowed countries. National electricity boards will also need to conduct the necessary reforms and prove their financial viability if they want to attract investors. In East Africa, for example, the World Bank has mobilized $684 million to link Ethiopia and Kenya’s electricity grids, paving the way for closer regional cooperation.

Whatever the outcome of the COP21 talks, it is clearly time we rallied our energies to place Africa at the center of the global climate strategy. The World Bank will play a full part in this in coordination with the African governments, the development partners and the private sector. Because Africa can and wants to contribute to the public good that is climate change action.

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