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Climate change,
the challenge of the century

By Zyad Limam - Published on June 2024

In less than two decades, climate change and its consequences have become a matter of the utmost urgency for Africa. We are the poorest, the most fragile, the least developed, and yet we are heavily impacted.

We have contributed very little to this change. The figures vary, but let's just say that the continent generates between 3% and 9% of greenhouse gases. Mirroring our poverty, a billion or so Africans 'pollute' less than 200 million Americans (11%), and almost three times less than China and its 1.5 billion people. Yet the continent is warming faster than the global average (+1.4°C since the pre-industrial era compared with +1.1°C), importing other continents' warming. Heatwaves, heavy rain, floods, tropical cyclones and persistent drought are already having devastating effects. Rising oceans and seas are threatening major conurbations like Tunis, Casablanca, Dakar, Abidjan-Lagos, Luanda and Maputo. The cost of loss and damage due to climate change in Africa is estimated at between 290 and 440 billion dollars over the 2020-2030 period.

The support Africa is getting is far from commensurate with the damage. It is the victim of a major climate injustice. It contributes little to climate change, uses little carbon-based energy, and is already paying a disproportionately high economic, social and human price. Yet it still receives very little help in terms of risk management and economic transition. Funding for climate adaptation is just a drop in the ocean of the continent's needs. More than 50 African countries have submitted their national contributions. To implement these contributions, nearly $2,800 billion  would be needed before 2030. We are a long, long way from that... This should be one of the main topics at COP 29 in Baku in November this year.

The main impact has been on agriculture ( which includes livestock farming and fishing), a sector that is key to the continent's social stability and economy, and which provides a livelihood for six out of ten Africans. Because of climate change, growth in agricultural productivity has fallen by more than a third since 1961, according to the United Nations (UN). Food imports are rising steadily, and the bill could exceed €110 billion by 2025. Cash crops, such as cocoa, have been affected as much as food crops, which are the mainstay of Africa's food sovereignty.

Under these circumstances, we are being asked to miraculously solve an impossible equation. We must reconcile economic and demographic growth with climate change adaptation. We are expected to decarbonise, even though our energy needs are crucial to our emergence from obscurity and underdevelopment. We must become a major player in renewable energies, without benefiting, for the moment, from massive financial and technical support from rich countries while, at the same time, responding to a multitude of emergencies in terms of health, infrastructure, education, urbanisation, etc.

There will be no solution for humanity if there is no solution for Africa. If, tomorrow, the continent were to reach a level of development comparable to that of India or Vietnam, if we were to triple our per capita income and our standard of living, which would be a minimum, if we were to provide energy to the vast majority of Africans, to all businesses, and at a reasonable cost, and if this necessary and urgent effort were to be made without a transition to renewable and sustainable models, then Africa would become one of the main causes of global warming and planet wide catastrophy. This is one of the fundamental facts of the problem: climate change, by definition, has no borders.

A share of the future is in our hands. Through good governance, the mobilisation of our businesses, our entrepreneurs, our creative people, our engineers, the active support of public authorities, the implementation of realistic and bankable projects, the channelling of emergency aid through multilateral funding channels, funds and foundations... It can be done. It is certainly a factor in growth and development. And in any case, we have no choice.