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- Can Africa’s fast-growing cities manage climate change?
Can Africa’s fast-growing cities manage climate change?
Dubai is not a role model when it comes to overcrowding and pollution, even if that’s where African climate leaders are heading
1. Everything is bigger in the city – the problems and the potential
Everyone who lives in one – from Algeria to Zimbabwe – knows this. Still, it helps to have it spelled out.
The news: African cities require an urgent and expensive transformation in view of climate change, says the African Development Bank (AfDB) in a new report.
Current investment in city infrastructure should double to at least $130 billion annually to meet Africa’s urbanisation and climate needs by 2050, the bank suggests.
No country on the planet can achieve middle-income status or net-zero status without a well-managed urban transition.
Dynamic dependence: The continent’s cities show the close link between well-being and climate. Each impacts the other.
Africa’s well-known population explosion happens in cities. Their inhabitants will more than double by 2050, and with rising prosperity each city dweller requires more power, transport, housing and factories to work in.
The climate footprint of cities is well-known too. At least 90% of emissions worldwide come from urban centres (power, transport, construction and industry). Agriculture is less than 10%.
The result: Calls for urban renewal in Africa – familiar for decades – are becoming more pressing. African climate action is meaningless without addressing city living.
In South Africa, emissions from the top 10% of earners (mostly in cities) match those of the bottom 90%.
The connection between income and emissions is especially stark in Africa.
The future: African capitals are not yet major emitters on the scale of Asian & American mega-cities (with a few exceptions).
But explosive growth in people, transport and consumption will change that.
By the numbers: Africa (which has 78 cities with more than 1m residents) is destined to overtake China (which has 113).
The urban population rate will go from 43% to 60%
Creating 1.5 billion African city dwellers by 2050
The challenge: African city living is where extreme poverty meets severe climate turmoil.
About 70% of Africa's urban population lives in substandard conditions.
Climate change impacts their food security, water supply, construction methods, transport links, power supply, health care and waste management.
The solutions: Some cities are already taking action.
Kampala converts urban organic waste into briquettes for clean fuel.
This not only aids hygiene and air quality but also provides livelihoods and reduces deforestation.
Low hanging fruit: Public transport is often a good start as it has revenue streams attached.
Cape Town’s MyCiTi rapid transit system reduced both emissions and travel time.
Addis Ababa’s modern light rail system reduced travel time by as much as 60%.
Reality check: Not all actions are scalable.
Lagos’s Eko Atlantic district (see image at the top) was built on reclaimed land. It is said to be self-sufficient and sustainable. It’s also unaffordable for most Lagosians.
Zoom out: Balancing climate and urbanisation requires good governance.
Specific needs may differ from city to city.
But constant is the need for good planning, execution and expenditure.
2. What Africa can expect at COP28
The UN opened last year’s COP in Cairo by piously declaring that “Africa’s COP should not neglect Africa’s concerns”. Action? Not so much.
The news: At this year’s iteration of the global climate shindig, opening in Dubai on November 30, attention to African concerns seems diminished, if anything.
Customary pre-arrival debates are focused on oil companies and superpowers.
That heat stress last year reduced Africa’s GDP by 4% has remained unlamented.
Big picture: What has changed dramatically though is attention devoted to climate matters on the continent itself.
The inaugural Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi in September, attended by 20 heads of state, created a vocal African lobby.
The resulting green agenda is ambitious, concrete and widely endorsed.
COP is the first major test of the agenda’s chances of success.
The goals: Of the main subjects discussed in Dubai, climate finance stands out. And Africa has a keen interest.
Last year at COP, nations agreed to create a “Loss and Damage Fund” to compensate those suffering under extreme weather and the like, many in Africa.
Questions around eligibility and allocation followed. But agreement is now near, though giving leadership to the World Bank is unpopular in the Global South.
Promises made: Another leftover climate finance issue is a $100 billion pledge from rich countries – made in 2009 at yet another COP – to fund adaptation to climate change and mitigation of rising temperatures in developing nations.
They’re still waiting; a plurality is in Africa. But hopes have risen that this year might see progress.
Africa is pushing especially for extra emphasis on funding for adaptation. A doubling by 2025 was already pledged two years ago.
Fossil futility: Africa will be affected by COP decisions even when they are not aimed at the continent. Long-term plans to phase out (or phase down?) fossil fuels is one of them.
This is expensive, and Africa gets only 2% of global investment in renewable energy. Levers are sought to increase that. Achieving universal access to electricity is tricky otherwise.
Africa’s climate negotiators want developed countries to stop oil & gas exploration well before 2030.
At the same time, they suggest giving “developing countries the opportunity to close the global supply gap in the short term”.
Long list: There are more issues that may be cheered or dreaded in Africa.
One is the further implementation of Article 6 of the Paris Agreement (2015) to help carbon credits generate financing for developing countries.
It follows actions in the past two years to pave the way for international carbon markets.
United front: How Africa acts in the bright Dubai spotlight will impact outcomes.
Nigeria, South Africa and Angola, three of the four largest African economies, were muted in their engagement at the Africa Climate Summit in September.
Physical presence in Dubai by statesmen from all major African powers and a unity of voice among them are key.
3. Profile: Climate leader with answers
BEN OKRI, 64, is a Nigerian-born poet, novelist, essayist, short-story writer, aphorist and playwright. He also writes film scripts. What that tells you is he is a phenomenal producer of words. Okri came to Britain as a young man filled with the spirit and history and intellectual and imaginative force that is Nigeria. It’s been a wellspring that has brought forth five volumes of poetry, countless essays, well over a dozen novels and short-story collections, including “The Famished Road”, which won him the Booker Prize in 1991.
His latest book, “Tiger Work”, which has just come out in America and Britain, is made up of stories, essays and poems about climate change. There’s a lot to take in. Drawing inspiration from environmental activists, Okri imagines messages from an unlivable future, from the people who saw it coming. Opposite the dedication – “For those who love the world enough to fight for it” - the book offers some advice: “Read slowly”. With good reason.
Like many, Okri had been aware of the effects of climate change for a long time, but only in an indirect way. From his very earliest writing about Nigeria, the destruction of the forests, the devastation of the Niger Delta, the effects of petrol fumes on the health and mood of Nigerian children have all been part of the ecology of his work. But he only became consciously engaged with the climate crisis with the birth of his daughter, his only child, when he was in his late 50s. “That really changed it. And in a way that I hadn't expected at all.
4. Media monitoring
DIY: Tired of waiting for climate finance, a few Africa countries set up green banks under the guidance of the AfDB.
Renewables: Fund manager Camco seeks $1.6bn to accelerate electrification in Africa via debt fund.
Partners: Germany pledges to invest €4 billion in green energy projects in Africa.
To watch: UAE company Blue Carbon keeps raising eyebrows with controversial forest carbon deals in Africa.
Oil change: Republic of Congo secures a €92 million loan from the African Development Bank to support economic diversification.
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Thanks to the Green Rising team for putting this together.