Africa’s alternative route to climate adaptation

A recently launched World Bank plan sets out what is needed to boost both climate resilience and low-carbon development to protect growth and fight poverty in Africa. “The consequences of climate change for Africa are devastating and threaten to push millions of people into extreme poverty by 2030,” said the bank’s environment and natural resources practice manager Benoit Bosquet on the report’s launch back in May.

“This is largely due to lower crop yields, higher food prices and negative health impacts. In light of the huge financing gap and the need for urgent action, the World Bank prepared the Africa Climate Business Plan to fast-track Africa’s climate adaptation needs to meet development priorities.” The report, Accelerating Climate-Resilient and Low-Carbon Development: The Africa Climate Business Plan, aims to speed up initiatives to ease problems that are becoming catastrophic. Current levels of funding for climate adaptation in Africa – estimated at around $3 billion – fall well short of what is needed, up to $100 billion if warming increases by four degrees centigrade.

Allied to climate resilience is energy and last year former secretary-general of the United Nations Kofi Annan helped produce a report called Power, People, Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. This aims to assist African countries in ‘leapfrog’ into new technologies without the need to go through a high-carbon phase. Reports such as these may be new, but this is an old story. The Sahara, the Arabian peninsula and other parts of arid Africa haven’t been green for thousands of years. What has changed is global warming, which is making climates more extreme. Regional rainfall is difficult to predict, but most models agree on an overall pattern: wet areas will get wetter and dry drier. And it’s a story that is likely to be retold with a growing sense of urgency at COP22 this November. The 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) follows the 21st conference last December that resulted in the much talked about Paris Agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Next November thousands of delegates will converge on Marrakech in Morocco to share information on emissions, national policies and good practices, of which Africa has abundant examples but is also in abundant need.

The Sahara, the Arabian peninsula and other parts of arid Africa haven’t been green for thousands of years. What has changed is global warming, which is making climates more extreme. Regional rainfall is difficult to predict, but most models agree on an overall pattern: wet areas will get wetter and dry drier. And it’s a story that is likely to be retold with a growing sense of urgency at COP22 this November. The 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) follows the 21st conference last December that resulted in the much talked about Paris Agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Next November thousands of delegates will converge on Marrakech in Morocco to share information on emissions, national policies and good practices, of which Africa has abundant examples but is also in abundant need.

Desert is a good place for both visionaries and mirages and time will tell if initiatives such as the Africa Climate Business Plan will bear fruit or wither in the dust. Fast-tracking the Africa business plan will, according to the World Bank, need just over $16 billion in the next four years alone. And fast-tracking is crucial: where rain is scarce, the combined effects of the beating sun, hooves and seasonal farming can turn a green landscape to savage ochre in only a generation. “These are real deserts that are being born today, under our eyes,” the French botanist André Aubréville warned in 1949, coining the term ‘desertification.’ “The desert always menaces.” The World Bank has two goals, to end extreme poverty within a generation and boost shared prosperity, and is made up of five organisations. These include the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which

“The desert always menaces.” The World Bank has two goals, to end extreme poverty within a generation and boost shared prosperity, and is made up of five organisations. These include the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development, which lends to poorer governments, and the International Finance Corporation, the largest global development institution focused on the private sector. Ending extreme poverty in a generation is optimistic: droughts, floods and cyclones are destroying crops and communities and sinking millions of Africans into poverty. Meanwhile, data suggests the correlation between climate and poverty will grow only stronger in future years. The World Bank is not the first institution to try to slow down poverty and hit problems. According to reports in September President Barack Obama’s flagship initiative for Africa, a $9.7 billion plan to double electricity access fell well short of its goals. It has so far produced less than 5% of the new power generation it promised. Obama announced Power Africa three years ago, aiming to add 10,000 megawatts of power and to supply electricity to 20 million households within five years. But addressing

Obama announced Power Africa three years ago, aiming to add 10,000 megawatts of power and to supply electricity to 20 million households within five years. But addressing a US and African business forum in New York recently, delegates heard how political and economic difficulties had resulted in the project yielding less than 400 megawatts of new power. “If you look at the number of megawatts that are actually on the grid directly related to the Power Africa initiative, it is very little,” General Electric Co vice chairman John Rice told the World Economic Forum in Kigali, Rwanda, back in May. “Power Africa is a well-intentioned effort, with a lot of smart people, a lot of willing participants, financial institutions and yet, for some reason, it hasn’t come together.” The Obama administration insists Power Africa was never expected to change the continent’s energy landscape overnight. Results will take years, says one of the initiative’s coordinators Andrew Herscowitz: “You can’t just wave a magic wand and have all the infrastructure appear – it takes

The Obama administration insists Power Africa was never expected to change the continent’s energy landscape overnight. Results will take years, says one of the initiative’s coordinators Andrew Herscowitz: “You can’t just wave a magic wand and have all the infrastructure appear – it takes time to build things.’’ He says Power Africa is backing projects across the continent, showing the private sector is responding to US efforts. A growing market for solar panels, for example, is cropping up in places like Rwanda and Sierra Leone, and companies have committed more than $40 billion to dozens of Power Africa projects. Part of this growth in solar power is in response to plummeting cost of solar photovoltaic (PV) projects in Africa. Those costs have dropped by as much as over 60% in four years, leaving experts forecasting a boom in solar deployment over the coming decade.

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), for example, reckons installation costs for solar PV projects now average $1.30 per watt against a global average of $1.80 per watt. Solar systems can deliver power to off-grid households for as little as $56 a year. “In recent years, solar PV costs have dropped dramatically and will continue to do so with further declines of up to 59% possible in the next ten years,” says IRENA director-general Adnan Amin. “These cost reductions, coupled with vast solar potential on the continent, present a huge opportunity for Africa. Both grid-connected and off-grid solar PV now offer a cost-competitive means to meet rising energy needs and bring electricity to the 600 million Africans who currently lack access. “Africa’s solar potential is enormous, with solar irradiation levels up to 117% higher than in Germany – the country with the highest installed solar power capacity,” says Amin. “It has never been more possible, and less expensive for Africa to realise this potential.”

Amin spoke in the same week it emerged a proposed solar farm in Abu Dhabi was on track to claim the title of lowest cost energy project in the world, with a bid to deliver over 1.1 gigawatts of capacity at the cost of 2.30 cents per kilowatt hour. It also follows news that renewable energy developer Mainstream Renewable Power’s joint venture in Africa Lekela Power recently agreed with the US government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) a $250m package for a 158-megawatt wind farm in Taiba N’Diaye, Senegal. Meanwhile, Lekela Power recently started its Noupoort wind farm in South Africa, which is expected to generate around 304,800-megawatt hours clean renewable energy and eliminate approximately 300,000 tonnes of carbon emissions each year. Initiatives such as these suggest Africa is not only aware of the need for, but grasping the potential of, alternative energy sources in fighting climate change. Knowledge, after all, is power.

Jez Abbott

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    By: Jez Abbott

    Trained in forestry and gardening and has specialised in environmental journalism for several years. He is a freelance writer and editor who lives on the south coast of England and reports for several business-to-business magazines and websites on waste, minerals and renewable energy.

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