It’s time to create an ‘After Carbon’ agenda for Africa

A worker cleans solar cells on a rooftop of a hotel in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, the first to operate a solar-powered plant in a bid to turn to clean energy as the city prepares to host the upcoming COP27 summit in November, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, June 4, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

A worker cleans solar cells on a rooftop of a hotel in the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, the first to operate a solar-powered plant in a bid to turn to clean energy as the city prepares to host the upcoming COP27 summit in November, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, June 4, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany

Connecting African policymakers with the information they need could bootstrap renewable energy on the continent

Fatima Denton, is a member of the Climate Crisis Advisory Group and director of the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa.

Following a year of climate-related disasters and extreme weather, COP27 provided another opportunity for experts and leaders to agree on the collective climate action needed to limit further global temperature rises.

However, despite this being the 27th COP since the U.N. climate agreement in 1992, the world is still rapidly heading towards 1.5C warming, a number that should be considered an upper limit, not a target.

And of course, it is those in the Global South who continue to suffer most as we near that temperature.

For a COP termed the “first African COP” by many, has it really delivered for the continent?

It’s too early to be marking the homework just yet, and of course progress of any sort on “loss and damage” from climate change should be welcomed. Some of the language used by the United States should also certainly be commended.

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But in real terms, it’s hard to believe this COP will really move the needle - at least not in the short-term with delivery of finance to countries, projects, and communities who need it most.

Anybody who was on the ground at COP over the last fortnight will have heard talk of a needed “just and orderly transition” to a cleaner economy. But the more the conversation evolves, the more we need to focus on the opportunities that this will create, and less on it being orderly.

In fact, we need to create a policy, institutional, and financial framework that allows for the necessary risks to be taken quickly, or risk losing our chances of keeping warming below 1.5C.

As a continent, Africa has several advantages that can help in the acceleration of its own energy transition.

Its lack of existing infrastructure provides it with a significant leapfrog opportunity, allowing it to innovate freely and move ahead, unreliant on the actions of others, while new technologies and energy sources could see the continent shift from being a consumer to a producer of solutions in a post-carbon economy.

Africa doesn’t need to wait for political negotiations, nor the right ‘moment’ to arise during a global summit. The opportunity to forge ahead is already there for the taking – it simply needs the foresight and means to seize the opportunity.

However, as it currently stands, the continent is unprepared to take the necessary steps towards this energy transition, with too many questions and challenges standing in the way of an empowered Africa.

Is Africa technologically ready and skill-sufficient for emerging green energy technology?

How will the continent power its energy dependent food systems beyond fossil fuels? Will Africa be sufficient enough in green energy to power its cities and industries?

These concerns cannot be addressed without the right research and scientific knowledge. Yet research infrastructure in Africa is currently limited, and the knowledge that does exist is fragmented – unable to reach the people that need it the most, including policymakers.

This disconnect between best practice science and those able to influence policy means that vital creation of clean energy solutions are being delayed – preventing Africa’s transition and locking it out of new markets that are essential for it to compete on the global stage.

However, there are projects underway that seek to change the narrative around climate action on the continent, plotting a new trajectory for Africa by providing a critical bridge between science and policy to effect real and meaningful change.

This is precisely where new initiatives, such as AFTER Carbon, come in.

AFTER Carbon is a policy-to-research hub bringing together key players - including a range of scientists, private sector entrepreneurs, policy makers, and civil society groups - within a transdisciplinary research programme.

With a coalition of experts that have the right skills, experience, and attitude to help in the fight against climate change, the programme will analyse the most pressing problems in each of the continent’s priority sectors: energy, cities, and agriculture and land.

Via a combination of science, private sector innovation, and regulatory knowledge, these bespoke working groups will proactively arm African institutions with crucial knowledge of not only the problems facing the continent, but also the range of solutions required to overcome them in a post-carbon economy.

One thing that makes AFTER Carbon different is that it will truly be an African-led initiative. My experience over a fortnight at COP27 showed that still too many in the Global North treat Africa as a homogeneous group, when the reality couldn’t be more different.

To provide solutions for the continent we must understand the issues of its countries.

I left Sharm El-Sheikh  with a mix of feelings - but this time with renewed resolve to put Africa’s interests first, and renewed vigour to be a catalyst for the positive change this continent can lead the way with.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Context or the Thomson Reuters Foundation.


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