Despite climate stress, Africa is in 'unique' position to fight global warming

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With six months to go before Egypt hosts the Cop27 climate conference, campaigners in Africa and elsewhere are looking to put the continent that is most vulnerable to climate change at the heart of global debate.

Despite registering the lowest emissions per capita of any region in the world since 1960, Africa is enduring temperature rises faster than the global average – with dozens of countries devastated each year by severe flooding and drought.

“Climate change is like covid: it knows no borders,” said Nathalie Delapalme, executive director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, which this week published new research to shine a light on climate stress in Africa and the role it must play in being a part of the solution.

The foundation's report, The Road to Cop27 Making Africa’s Case in the Climate Debate, will guide a three-day forum starting Wednesday to help Africa “get ahead of the game” before Cop27 rolls around in November.

Climate-related risks and opportunities will be explored by speakers including African Union chief and Senegalese President Macky Sall, World Bank president David Malpass and International Monetary Fund managing director Kristalina Georgieva as they weigh up what global pledges made so far mean for Africa, and how those promises might be refined in the coming months.

Extreme weather

Yearly temperatures across the continent could rise as much as 6°C before the end of the century, the report warns, with 33 African countries projected to experience more than 100 days a year above 35°C under a “high emissions scenario”.

Because of their “lower internal climate variability” – or seasons – many African nations are becoming the first to be exposed to extreme climates.

Already Africa is the world’s region worst hit by drought. There have been “81 events and at least 172 million people affected over 2010-2022”, the report says, adding that impacts across the continent are not equally spread among its countries.

Bearing the brunt of hot, dry weather extremes are Kenya, Somalia, Mauritania, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Madagascar, Niger, South Africa and Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile the frequency and intensity of heavy rain is projected to increase across most of the continent – in particular in the eastern Sahel, East Africa and Central Africa – places that already have a history of unpredictable rainfall patterns.

The people most vulnerable to volatile weather are those who rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.

‘Energy apartheid’

In what it calls the “energy apartheid”, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation says 900 million Africans lack access to electricity – twice the population of the United States – while more than 930 million are forced to use dirty cooking fuels such as kerosene and charcoal, which pose health risks.

The trade off between energy access and climate mitigation is crucial, the report says, given that “Africa accounts for 17 percent of the world’s population, but only 5.9 percent of the world’s energy supply”.

With Africa’s population set to double by 2050, the report emphasises the importance of helping the continent to improve its own capacity to respond to climate threats.

Solutions mean shoring up financial resources and infrastructure, striking the right balance between energy and climate protection, and – not least – making the best use of assets on African soil.

“Through its ecological and mineral resources, Africa has the potential to be a unique player in the fight against climate change,” the report says.

Global demand for lithium, graphite and cobalt in particular can be turned into a boon.

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