Looking at climate's AI future

Today we investigate the role that technology will play in Africa's green economy and how innovation may be funded

Hello - and goodbye Africa Climate Week. The longest week for climate professionals on the continent has come to an end. Tens of thousands thronged the Kenyatta convention centre in Nairobi over the past five days, participated in panels, networked among fountains and logged in on Zoom. We’re grateful to everyone who offered feedback on the newsletter!

⏳ Today’s reading time: 4 mins

1. How AI accelerates the green economy

Artificial intelligence holds multiple keys to climate action in Africa and is attracting the attention of early-stage innovators.

  • Bill Wright, the chief architect at software provider Red Hat, told the Africa Climate Week today, “A lot of big companies and innovators are working hard to start an entire chain of carbon-free or carbon-neutral AI innovations.”

Use cases: Three major categories have emerged for where AI helps to address climate needs and can accelerate the implementation of solutions:

  • Early warning systems: AI models can predict climate change-induced extreme weather and provide more accurate warnings as well as managing relief around disasters. An example: Google Flood Hub.

  • Agriculture: AI can assist with crop management in precision farming, by assessing soil, monitoring pest outbreaks, tracking biodiversity loss and helping in the selection and timing of crops.

  • Energy: Efficiency and reliability of renewable energy sources can be optimised using AI.

Additional use cases: Climate and technology experts also see potential in at least three further areas:

  • Building & infrastructure

  • Sustainable mobility

  • Business & industry

More potential: Innovators are also exploring peripheral AI opportunities, including the creation of power-hungry data centres running AI models in Africa, using its plentiful clean energy.

  • Mutembei Kairuki, CEO of tech startup Fastagger, talks of building a path for the continent to become a Green AI Hub.

  • Fibre-optic sea cables provide fast global connectivity in coastal African countries.

  • Mutembei tells global tech firms, “looking to go green, come to Kenya and set up operations here”.

  • Fastagger is creating a Green AI consortium to utilise geothermal power in Kenya’s Rift Valley.

The background: A lot of the current AI work in Africa is aimed at creating foundational infrastructure. This has drawn the interest of global tech giants.

  • Victor Ohuruogu, Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data, says, “We are putting mobile workstations with [major American chip-maker] Nvidia in ten countries.”

On the ground: Efforts already extend to remote areas and include creating new source material, while remaining vigilant about data protection.

  • Leonida Mutuku of the Local Development Research Institute said, “We are training farmers to collect data in their fields.”

Open space: Emerging infrastructure is creating opportunities for startups.

  • Founded last year after COP 27, the African climate AI firm Amini collects and standardises data, then applies AI for analysis.

  • Clients include banks and insurance firms who build products for smallholder farmers.

Missing ingredients: AI models are only as good as the data they are fed.

  • “Africa is the most data scarce continent. Any major transformation starts with reliable data.” says Kate Kallot, the Amini CEO.

  • UNESCO is working with 193 countries to identify and address data gaps and introduce AI applications in water, waste and energy management.

Talent gap: Beyond data scarcity, technical capacity and advanced AI skills can also be in limited supply. This needs addressing via early education and lifelong learning.

The benefits: Amini claims that smallholder farmers in their network are already seeing yield increases of 90%.

2. Scrutinising billions of climate dollars

Announcements made at big conferences are not all created equal.

Beware of details: The Africa Climate Summit in Nairobi this week saw lots of big promises by governments, funders and operators. Here are the key findings from an analysis by Green Rising of the final commitments (based on African Union data):

The majority of commitments are fully new rather than merely reaffirmed by funders or shared among parties. However, the new commitments’ value (in US dollar terms) is a fraction of the reaffirmed commitments and those shared among multiple parties, see above.

The greatest number of commitments were made by private organisations and non-African governments. But the US dollar value of commitments made by African governments trumped everyone else.

The energy sector got the largest commitments, both in terms of the number of commitments and the US dollar value. The finance sector had the second-highest number of commitments, while the blue economy got the second-highest in dollar value.


The bankability of grid-connected power projects historically relied on sovereign guarantees. However with increasing debt burdens many countries are becoming reluctant to offer sovereign guarantees for power projects. So where to from here?

  • CrossBoundary's Kirtika Challa sees an opening for intermediaries to facilitate access to power pools and balance the supply and demand for energy

  • Challa says Development Finance Institutions are well positioned to increase their risk appetite and have the opportunity to enable private capital critical to closing a vast financing gap

Read more in Challa's Medium post, or for CrossBoundary click below.

3. Q&A: Climate leaders with answers

Madrin Maina is the East Africa director at Sistema.bio, which improves the livelihoods of small-holder farmers by reducing waste, providing clean cooking access and producing bio-fertiliser. She trained as a civil engineer and joined the impact sector five years ago.

Q: What’s the best book to understand Africa’s climate crisis? A: Wangari Maathai’s “Unbowed: A memoir”. I set myself a target to read it in two weeks and ended up finishing it in three days! What she was fighting for as an environmental activist is exactly what we’re striving to solve. She proved how serious the case of conserving the environment is.

Q: What country in Africa should outsiders visit to learn more? A: Malawi. Their whole food value chain has been turned completely upside down by the disappearance of indigenous crops replaced by foreign crops that farmers are still struggling to adapt to.

Q: What is your earliest conscious memory of the climate crisis in Africa? A: I grew up on a farm where a river used to skirt our land. By the time I was 12, the river had become a small stream. Today, it completely disappears during the dry season and only comes back with heavy rains.

Q: What have you done recently for climate action? A: I am also a farmer. Late last year, I had 300 trees surrounding my crops. Today I have 400!

4. Media monitoring

Topics from the Africa Climate Summit continue to dominate press coverage of Africa's green economy.

  • New taxes: That African leaders seek global taxation to fund climate action has caught attention in distant places.

  • Debt relief: The climate-minded AU call for a restructuring of the global financial architecture also continues to resonate.

  • Omissions noted: Critics claim that health has been shortchanged on the climate agenda.

Don’t have time to read 100+ media sources daily? We’ve done it for you ➡️ Check out our full media monitoring here

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