BY HASNAINE YAVARHOUSSEN
Each year, humanity continues to push our planet past the point of no return. Earth Overshoot Day represents the date when humanity has consumed all the biological resources that Earth is able to regenerate during the calendar year.
In 1980, Earth Overshoot Day was 8 November. This year we reached that day on 28 July, marking a colossal shift in the quantity of resources we are now using, which, according to scientists, now amount to nearly 1.75 times more per year than what our planet is able to produce.
This year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) will be held in Egypt. It will be the second time it has been held in Africa since the ambitious environmental conferences began and nations across the continent have already begun seeking financial support for environmentally friendly projects and climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
COP27 represents a poignant opportunity for global leaders to recognise that addressing climate change is not simply good politics or needed for the environment, it’s also good for the economy worldwide. According to the African Development Bank’s acting chief economist and vice-president Kevin Urama, Africa alone is losing 5% to 15% of its GDP per capita because of climate change.
Creating a healthier, more sustainable and richer future for all is not unrealistic in Africa. It just needs foreign investors and for African governments to implement sensible, realistic and affordable climate policies. Just last month, the International Renewable Energy Agency released a report citing the tumbling price of renewable energy.
Prices of newly commissioned utility-scale solar projects fell by 88% between 2010 and 2021. The lifetime cost per kilowatt-hour of new solar and wind capacity added in Europe in 2021 will be at least four to six times less than the marginal generating cost of using fossil fuels during 2022. This means that once all costs, such as fuel, maintenance and general operations, are included, renewable energy production is significantly cheaper than fossil fuels.
Renewable energy has been competing with fossil fuels over the last 20 years but has only recently become the obvious and economic choice for developed and developing nations alike. Global energy shocks, such as the one precipitated by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, highlight the importance of diversified renewable energy generation. Powered by infinite and free resources, renewable energy benefits from not being limited by highly cyclical energy prices. Due to our natural endowment of sun, water, wind and land, renewables are the natural choice for Africa’s future.
Africa’s needs and how to achieve them
With its vast surface area and excellent clean natural resources, Africa’s potential to help avert a global climate collapse is immense. All the continent needs is the correct financial tools to expand its energy capacity, and this is where COP27 can play a pivotal role.
Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president of the European Union, agrees that we do not need to emit huge quantities of carbon to get the development we want. Put simply: going forward there are better ways to do it than developed countries have done it in the past.
Now, with COP27 as a lever, African countries must develop a plan and the capacity to fuel sustainable development, and thus a green future. For new projects, ideally, nations can turn directly to renewable energy – growing development needs should be met with an environmentally conscious long-term plan.
But how do we “leapfrog” into renewable energy?
Renewed focus, smart planning, and bold investment are key to making the most of the resources that Africa has been blessed with to foster sustainable growth, from Namibia becoming a green hydrogen powerhouse to Egypt building the fourth-largest solar power plant in the world. So large is the capacity of renewable energy at times it can be seen from space.
Unblocking more finance is key. In 2009, the developed world pledged $100-billion a year to help developing countries deal with climate change. Falling short of the target, in 2019, the developing world received only $82-billion of what had been promised.
Africa needs more attention, and foreign investors need ideas.
Egypt, the host of this year’s COP, has already begun preparations to draw attention to the plight of Africa. Responsible for less than 2% of all historical carbon emissions yet expected to suffer the most, the price our continent will pay because of carbon emissions is unfair, tragic, but reversible.
Across the globe, we’ve all seen rising temperatures, raging wildfires and extreme weather devastating whole communities. The host of COP27, President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, summarised it well in a nutshell: the conference is “an opportunity to showcase unity against an existential threat”.
COP27 must educate global leaders to recognise how the whole world will benefit if Africa is helped to achieve its green development goals – bypassing fossil fuels wherever possible and moving straight to renewables.
All eyes will be on Sharm el-Sheikh from 6 to 18 November. Let’s not waste it.
Yavarhoussen is the chief executive of Groupe Filatex, a green energy supplier based in Antananarivo, Madagascar.