Climate Change: Bring Africa in from the cold

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of PLC.

The climate regime adopted at Kyoto have hindered sustainable development in Africa, argues Araya Asfaw, director of the Horn of Africa Regional Environment Centre at Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia in a March opinion paper for 
the Science and Development Network (SDN), arguing that the rules of the game must change in Copenhagen.

Despite being the continent most affected by climate change, Africa has gained least from the Kyoto negotiations, Asfaw argues. 

The paper alleges that the Kyoto Protocol’s financial incentives were designed without a sufficient understanding of Africa, and singles out the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) in particular for being inappropriate in an African context. 

Asfaw believes the CDM could potentially trigger dramatic and unintended negative consequences in Africa. For example, he argues that CDM rules on forestry “do not support primary forest protection, only reforestation,” leading to the “absurdity” that “you have to clear the forests and replant them to benefit from the CDM”. 

For Asfaw, the “tragic irony” is that energy requirements in Africa are relatively cheap. He calculates that “Africa’s energy requirements for meeting basic human needs are just one tenth of the per capita requirements in the developed world”. However, badly-designed financial incentives have not delivered the necessary investment to encourage a transition to sustainable sources of energy, his paper argues. 

Not only does the rewriting of these rules at Copenhagen provide an opportunity to promote investment in clean fuels in Africa, but it can also boost the continent’s economic development, he believes.

The funding available for mitigation and adaptation projects “is likely to be four times higher than that set out in Kyoto,” claims Asfaw. “If properly invested, it could help Africa develop rapidly with minimum human impact on the environment,” he argues. 

There is significant potential for Africa to develop a low-emission energy market, according to the SDN paper, because Africa is not short of energy options: it has an abundance of sunshine, meaning solar power has great potential on the continent. 

However, despite the fact that “Europeans are considering generating electricity with solar thermal technology in North Africa, importing it and connecting it to the grid,” Africa itself cannot follow suit “because the CDM does not support technology,” the university official aments. 

A rule change at Copenhagen is a prerequisite for sustainable development in Africa, argues Asfaw, concluding that “unless the rules change, Africa will once more be left out in the cold”.