Much of today’s global discourse on climate change doesn’t adequately address the specific—and urgent—needs of countries in Africa. It’s time for African leaders to have a greater voice in the discussion.
The focus on mitigation is a good example. African nations are being required to make commitments on emissions reduction, which is of course necessary. The reality, however, is that while the 54 African countries together contribute less than 5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, they will suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change. The current climate conversations must not ignore Africa’s need to adapt to the actual impacts of climate change and build resilience; in fact, adaptation and resilience may be the most urgent priority across the continent.
African countries are already confronting three major climate challenges that will only become more severe in the years ahead:
- Arid regions will face an increasing risk of drought. Here the most urgent priorities may involve irrigation and drought-resistant agriculture.
- All countries will likely have to deal with extreme heat in some way. They will need large-scale projects aimed at cooling—changing building designs and materials to reduce trapped heat, for example—and infrastructure upgrades to maintain critical services.
- Coastal cities will face rising sea levels and catastrophic storms. They will need to consider infrastructure to reduce flooding, salt-water intrusion, and erosion, including dikes and seawalls as well as nature-based methods.
These aren’t isolated challenges—many regions will face all three.
African leaders must also press for a louder voice in another part of the climate change conversation: energy transition and security.
Remember, Africa hasn’t yet fully built out the energy infrastructure required to industrialize and develop its economies—or even meet basic living needs. As a result, access to energy continues to be extremely important and will grow increasingly so in the face of climate change.
Without energy, Africa cannot develop or adapt. Extreme heat will require additional energy for cooling, for example. As droughts and flooding increase, more energy will be needed to keep food systems resilient. Yet many funding conversations today focus on the transition to greener energy rather than adaptation and resilience. African leaders must ensure that their countries’ energy and adaptation needs are central to these funding discussions.
To strengthen the case for funding, African leaders should do some housecleaning. Many African governments lack adequate adaptation and resilience planning. To win financial backing, they must invest in robust, data-driven plans. Such plans must be based on a deep understanding of the impacts of climate change and the cost of inaction from a social, economic, and environmental perspective; the plans should outline projects to address those impacts, specify the funding required, and highlight the potential return on investment.
African leaders are taking on the fight against climate change and seeking to adapt and build resilience. Because the continent is so diverse, it is sometimes hard to speak as a region, even though the challenges are similar. African leaders must find opportunities to bring a common agenda to the global stage through initiatives such as the recently formed Africa Business Leaders’ Coalition (ABLC).
The key question then becomes: Will other countries create a tailwind or a headwind for Africa? It is imperative that the global community recognizes the importance of African countries in the global climate dialogue—and that it provides the technical and financial help that will bring adaptation and resilience within reach. Without this, the climate impact on Africa will be devastating. The time is now for African leaders to speak up—and for other global leaders to listen.