What’s the difference between the climate and tech sectors?
Not much these days, especially in Africa. As we explain below, the green economy includes an ever growing number of startups
1.🚁 Heli view: Did you know… climate summit = tech summit?
The largest African tech conference is coming to Nairobi in early September. Really? As a delegate at the Africa Climate Summit (Sep 4-8), you thought you were going to a climate event? Well, you are. But not only.
Thousands of startup operators are joining the climate summit to meet investors, competitors and potential partners.
Summit sign-ups surpassed 15,000 a month before the event. This week, they reached 28,000.
No other tech conference in Africa draws such crowds. The Africa Tech Summit in Nairobi in February had 1,350 delegates (up from 736 last year).
What’s the story: The tech ecosystem is becoming part of the green economy. And the startup sector is central to the climate space.
Behind the story: Conventional funding for start-ups has dried up. Some tech darlings such as Sendy have died. Without green credentials, they struggle to access capital.
VC investments in Africa fell by 43% in the first half of the year compared to H1 2022 (AVCA).
Global context: This is hardly unique to Africa.
It’s global, with the Financial Times reporting venture capital funding has halved.
Yet, there’s a global rush into green startups: “Climate tech is one of the hottest categories for European and US startups and scale-ups, with more than $111 billion raised globally last year. Hundreds of companies are developing innovative ways to slash emissions and remove carbon from the atmosphere, accelerating rich nations towards net zero.”
2. The Great Carbon Valley
Source: IEA, August 2022
Few climate solutions will step out into the summit spotlight more emphatically than Direct Air Capture (DAC).
The event host Kenya is positioning itself as a new global hub for the technology that could be game-changing for the planet – but has also drawn critics in the run-up to the summit.
Why it matters: DAC uses a chemical process for extracting carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and storing it. DAC offers a solution to the pressing challenge of global warming, as well as creating jobs and growth.
The (really) big picture: East Africa’s Rift Valley has a unique advantage to attract DAC investment:
The valley has both an abundance of geothermal energy as well as the right kind of rock to store carbon.
African Climate Ventures founder James Irungu Mwangi envisions harnessing this unique combination to establish a significant series of DAC stations through the valley.
Reality Check: The technology requires substantial energy inputs, which will need to come from renewable sources to achieve a net CO2 removal.
The use of captured CO2 for enhanced oil recovery has been criticised and DAC has been accused of being another greenwashing tool for oil & gas companies.
Transporting and injecting CO2 into geological reservoirs raises concerns about pipelines, leakage, seismic activity and water pollution.
27 DAC plants have been commissioned to date worldwide, capturing not quite 0.01 Mt CO2/year, far from the levels needed to achieve the Net Zero Emissions scenario by 2050 (see graphic above).
DAC carbon prices remain the most expensive per ton of CO2 equivalent to date.
What they’re saying: Martin Freimüller, CEO of Octavia Carbon, a Kenya-based DAC company, acknowledges concerns but aims to overcome them. Not least, he stresses, he will not work with oil and gas companies.
Octavia is seeking $6 million in funding, having raised $500,000 so far.
Three major investors have shown a keen interest in the venture, according to Mr Freimüller. “The point is that there are investors who want to see this happen in Kenya,” he told Green Rising.
The metrics: What venture funds want to know before writing a cheque:
Octavia Carbon has so far earned revenues of $1 million
A Canadian peer, Carbon Engineering, was acquired for $1.1 billion by Occidental Petroleum in the past month
Octavia intends to build 100,000 DAC machines by 2030. A single machine is said to capture as much carbon as 1,000 trees.
Bottom line: DAC may be a chance for Africa to position itself as a global leader in carbon removal.
3. Q&A: Climate leaders with answers
David Obura | Photo: Keith Ellenbogen
David Obura is an expert on coral reefs and founding director of CORDIO, a centre for coastal marine and ocean science and conservation in East Africa.
Q: Which book about climate change would you most recommend? A: Parts of the IPCC assessment cycle and special reports, particularly on 1.5C warming and the oceans… I just don’t have time or interest to read more popular books!
Q: Which African country has the most impressive green agenda? A: None yet. But two that have pieces of the solution would include Botswana, because they really use their national wealth to support the minimum standards for the population at the same time as maintaining ecosystems and keeping development out of sensitive places. And Rwanda, which has a very new green agenda and an environmental timeliness which is really important.
Q: What’s your earliest memory of the climate crisis? A: Driving down from Nairobi into the Rift Valley and seeing what was once quite an empty area filling up with smallholdings as Kenya’s population expanded.
Q: What have you done personally, or changed in your life, to help address the climate crisis? A: It’s got to be shifting my career entirely to working on climate and biodiversity pricing.
4. Media monitoring
Old politics intrude: A coup in Gabon may stymie leaders and pioneers in Africa’s green economy. Trailblazing work may now be in question or at least need new political supporters in the oil-rich nation. Ali Bongo, the deposed president, seemed to support efforts to conserve forests, wildlife and marine areas. He had steered Gabon towards finalising an unprecedented “debt-for-nature” swap in which the country would nominally buy back $500m of its international debt with “an equal size eco-friendly blue amortising bond”. Will the new military rulers go ahead with it?
Investment around COP28: Nigeria wants to shift its focus from oil to more gas in the face of changing world demand and public opinion.
Green steel: A new study highlights the potential for growth and profit in a less-carbon-intensive “billion-dollar” steel industry in East Africa.
COP27 follow-up: Last year, Egypt announced plans to launch a voluntary carbon market. Now, the government has started addressing regulations for credit verification and certification.
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