COP27: The urgency and role of policy in Africa’s climate response and energy transition -

COP27: The urgency and role of policy in Africa’s climate response and energy transition

By Chizurum Michael Anabaraonye

As I start to write this, I am overcome with an intense feeling of loss and grief over the recent floods that occurred in Nigeria and took the lives of many people. As the climate catastrophe continues to worsen, it’s heart-rending to think that vulnerable populations who are the least guilty of causing it are being impacted the hardest, which exacerbates the marginalization that these people already endure.

The horrific natural disasters that have been triggered all around the globe as a direct result of climate change, notably in Africa, have brought about COP27. Since a few days ago, I have been very saddened by the number of people who perished, those who were forced out of their homes, and the things that were ruined, such as farmlands and crops, as a direct consequence of the disastrous flood that struck Nigeria this year. It’s the worst that we have ever recorded.

Farming is the primary occupation for the vast majority of people who make their homes in Nigeria’s more rural regions, which are located mostly in the country’s central belt. The food crisis is an impending catastrophe that is expected to occur in the year 2023 because of these floods. This is because their farmlands will be flooded, which will result in the catastrophic devastation of their crops. Their plight brings to mind the anguish that the residents of Langue de Barbarie have been going through. On the Senegalese peninsula known as the Langue de Barbarie, around 80,000 people are living in densely crowded fishing settlements. It is one of the sites on the African continent that is most susceptible to the effects of climate change because it is at risk of floods and storm surges and is exposed to rising sea levels.

Between 1970 and 1979 and 2010 and 2019, the number of droughts in sub-Saharan Africa increased by a factor of three. In 2018, severe cyclones struck Malawi, Mozambique, and Zimbabwe, affecting a combined total of 2.2 million people. Flooding of such severity in western and central Africa led to the loss of life and forced migration as a consequence of people’s inability to protect themselves, their crops, and their cattle. Changes in vector ecology brought about by floods and damage to environmental hygiene have led to increases in diseases across sub-Saharan Africa, including increases in malaria, dengue fever, Lassa fever, Rift Valley fever, Lyme disease, Ebola virus, West Nile virus, and other infections. These changes have led to an increase in the prevalence of diseases. Water quality declines as a result of rising sea levels, which increases the risk of waterborne infections such as diarrheal diseases, which are a primary cause of death in Africa.

Wind turbines produce renewable energy outside Caledon, South Africa, May 20, 2020. Image: REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

In Africa, 1.7 million fatalities a year are attributed to hunger and food insecurity, both of which are exacerbated by severe weather events that inflict damage to water and food supplies. As a result of the pivotal function that agriculture plays in African economies, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that the prevalence of undernourishment has risen by about fifty percent since the year 2012. Shocks to the environment and the impacts they have on subsequent systems may also have a serious negative impact on mental health. It is estimated that the climate catastrophe has resulted in a loss equal to one-fifth of the gross domestic product of the nations that are most susceptible to the effects of climate change.

The stories of those who have been affected by the climate catastrophe highlight how urgent it is for us to take action. All countries should have the utmost concern for the devastation that has been done to Africa. These communities have a low standard of living, and some of them are also the target of persistent and systematic discrimination; as a consequence, they are highly susceptible to the effects of climatic shocks.

The plight of the communities that have been severely afflicted by climate change highlights how important it is to include them in the decision-making process regarding how to respond to the climate emergency. At COP27, we need to see steps that will address both this injustice and the need for a significant change in the distribution of responsibilities. This indicates that governments of wealthier countries need to raise their pledges to climate financing to assist nations with lower incomes in weaning themselves off fossil fuels and ramping up adaptation measures. In addition to this, businesses are required to set up a loss and damage fund to provide prompt redress to people whose rights have been infringed as a result of the crisis that they contributed to cause.

Let’s talk about policy measures

The climate catastrophe is already here, but the majority of African countries have opted to keep the fossil fuels market booming, which makes it harder for us as a whole to find and implement a solution. Consequently, the issue will only become worse. These failures imply that we are now going in the direction of global warming that exceeds 2.5 degrees Celsius, which is a scenario that would see starvation, homelessness, illness, and displacement unfold on a nearly incomprehensible scale. If we are successful in making the switch to renewable energy, we can greatly avert the approaching environmental catastrophe.

The importance of having policies that can be implemented cannot be overstated. Although the use of clean energy has been recognized as a cost-effective method of electrifying Africa as a whole, the adoption of clean energy on a broad scale has been hampered by the absence of laws that enable its use. To provide better access to electricity for the millions of people who do not presently have it, governments on the continent will need to design and put into effect the appropriate legislation.

At the moment, only a handful of nations on the continent have developed an all-encompassing strategy for renewable energy. Not only are policies required to enhance access to energy, but they also contribute to determining which methods are the most optimal, sustainable, and cost-efficient in doing so. To provide just one example, the vast majority of nations have not yet formulated and implemented an integrated resource plan (I P). An integrated resource plan (IRP) is a method for planning electricity that combines supply-side and demand-side planning to determine the appropriate energy mix required for long-term power supply at the lowest possible cost and level of risk.

In the recent joint report between the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the Renewable Energy Solutions for Africa (RES4Africa), the policy stands as a major connecting rod between where Africa stands currently and where Africa could be.

According to the findings of the report, public and private players must be included in the policymaking process regarding Africa’s energy transformation. The formulation of policies should place a significant emphasis on funding and putting into action solutions that will serve as a method of ensuring that all Africans have access to energy on an equal basis.

In addition, policies should assist in the formation of a conducive environment for private partners, enabling these partners to recuperate their investments via cost-reflective tariffs. The process of putting policies into action is another difficulty that decision-makers need to carefully address. It’s just as crucial to make sure that policies are properly implemented as it is to develop the policies themselves. Unfortunately, owing to a lack of political will to implement and control them, a great number of effective policies are being allowed to go to waste.

However, to favorably shape the macroeconomic outlook of any society, policies are an absolute need. One of the anticipated results of a successful policy is that it would enable the continent of Africa to grow by encouraging broad investment in environmentally friendly energy projects. It is impossible to place enough emphasis on the positive impact that additional investment may have on the economies and societies of African governments. Therefore, to have a successful energy transition, it is necessary to pay the appropriate amount of attention to the development of infrastructure, the development of institutional capacity, the engagement of multi-sectoral stakeholders, the establishment of appropriate regulatory frameworks, and the provision of technical and vocational training (skills development).

Impact of policy-making on energy transition

The policies of the government will assist in both the actualization of these goals and the ongoing acceleration of those goals to the level required by the Paris agreement. Nationally determined contributions (NDCs) could drive decarbonization by ending fossil fuel subsidies and pricing carbon, shifting investments from fossil fuels to renewables, ending the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles, and ending deforestation – as the NDC Partnership recommends. And as the Coalition for Urban Transitions states, investing in cities – including low-carbon buildings and mobility, renewable power, and green spaces – would also enhance both national COVID-19 recoveries and Paris contributions.

The just transition and the regeneration of natural systems are the two pillars that all of these policies need to support to win the race toward a world that is healthy and robust and free of emissions.

We are aware that the energy transition will result in the creation of new employment; nevertheless, these opportunities must be made accessible in areas where workers and communities are dependent on fossil fuels. As a result, the just transition is a problem on the local level, and as such, political and economic leaders will need to particularly take that into consideration in enacting policies.

Clearing the finance and policy hurdles on the way to a clean energy future

The shift away from carbon-intensive forms of energy and toward renewable and environmentally friendly forms of energy is facilitated in large part by sustainable financial practices. Clean energy is becoming competitive, but funding requirements are huge, estimated at an annual spend of $1.6 trillion until 2050 to reach acceptable levels of carbon emissions.

There are three critical points that we have to take note of, which include:

  • Tackling climate change will require huge shifts in policy and finance.
  • Governments must set the agenda using targets and incentives.
  • Collaboration between the public and private sectors will be crucial.

The shift toward sustainable energy will bring about significant positive changes on both the health and economic fronts. This potential may be unlocked and the transition made easier if there is access to financing that is both creative and offered at reasonable prices. It is necessary to have funding to establish new projects and also to leave legacy projects, which are sometimes bound by long-term power purchase agreements (PPAs). These PPAs are inefficient and costly in certain nations, but it may be even costlier to get out of such contracts.

In addition to this, it’s of the utmost need to establish assurance mechanisms that will assist in the changeover. Guarantees are typically provided by governments in the majority of jurisdictions; but, given the limited budgetary space available, alternative guarantee frameworks that are driven by donors, big banks, or foreign investors may significantly scale and speed up the transformation in developing nations.

Long-term integrated and coherent planning among players from both the public and commercial sectors is required to achieve the objective of assisting the transition towards green energy while both fulfilling energy needs and lowering emissions. Both the public sector in terms of their plans and policies, as well as the private sector in terms of their inventive toolkits, are required to undergo continual improvement to achieve our energy targets.

There are about 197 nations that have signed the Paris Agreement, and many of them have also ratified it. Dozens have formulated policies to support the implementation of the Paris Agreement targets and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – see below.

 More than 80 countries now have feed-in tariffs for renewables and almost 50 have net metering policies.
More than 80 countries now have feed-in tariffs for renewables and almost 50 have net metering policies. Image: IRENA

And this is promising – because combating the threat of climate change and moving towards sustainable development will require huge policy support and investment. I hope the majority of African nations after COP27 will not only strengthen their institutions and infrastructure to support policies that will create an enabling environment for the energy transition to be actualized but also implement these policies effectively.

Policy as an accelerator

Accelerating the deployment of renewable energy requires policies that contribute to creating an enabling environment for attracting investments. Policies have a significant impact on how investors, industries, and other stakeholders reimagine their paths for the future of their organizations. For instance, the global shift toward clean energy sources, which is being encouraged and supported by policymakers, is now redefining the business models of large oil firms, which are typically dependent on fuels that are based on carbon. This is happening at a time when oil prices are at an all-time low. A recent study by Carbon Tracker found that large oil companies will have to reduce oil production by 35% to meet the target of a 1.5˚C rise in global temperatures.

Governments and policymakers must establish goals for energy efficiency and sustainability, as well as develop incentives and tools, to create an environment that is conducive for stakeholders to increase their commitments to and investments in renewable energy. Emerging economies are beginning to understand this concept and are shifting their focus toward renewable forms of energy.

A breakdown of climate finance flows over the past few years
A breakdown of climate finance flows over the past few years Image: Climate Policy Initiative.

It is necessary for players from the public sector as well as participants from the commercial sector to engage in long-term integrated and coherent planning to achieve the objective of assisting the transition towards green energy while both fulfilling energy needs and lowering emissions. Both governments and the financial sector are required to continually update their plans and strategies, and the former must do the latter by consistently developing creative instruments. Concerted local action and international cooperation are therefore essential for timely progress.

Enhancing the capabilities of the next generation of decision-makers

I expect to see more young people from across the globe participate in the forthcoming COP27 in Egypt, which has the potential to be a chance to expand youth networks and link them with international thought leaders, government officials, and specialists. Young people will have the chance to take part in the global initiative to accelerate the use of renewable energy sources to fulfill climate objectives and advance the sustainable development agenda.

Young people will have the opportunity to take part in discussions on the implementation of the promotion of an inclusive and equitable energy transition in Africa and worldwide via several interactive workshops at the event. With the most current knowledge from the renewable energy business, it will also reinforce the existing network of young energy leaders and equip them for upcoming difficulties. They will be well-informed and in a position to adopt sound judgments and policies that will speed up the energy transition as a result of this. Younger generations’ contributions to the discussion of the energy transition have proven to be quite useful.

The most practical route to halving emissions by 2030 involves a vigorous energy efficiency effort together with a rapid expansion of renewable energy sources to replace fossil fuels. For nations that primarily rely on coal, however, phasing out fossil fuels is a challenging challenge, particularly given the need for a meaningful and equitable transition for workers and communities. Here, it is crucial to include young people who will soon hold positions of responsibility and make choices and policies. Their continuing participation will provide an enabling policy environment for a future fair and inclusive energy transition.

I hope the conference is fantastic for everyone attending and the organizers.


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