Sponsored Article

Africa pays a premium for global climate change sluggishness

This article is promoted by Stellenbosch University.

• Africa produces only 2% of the world’s carbon emissions, yet it faces an acute climate change risk and already suffers from the adverse effects.

• Only a small portion of global climate-related research funding is funnelled to African scientists and institutions.

• Africa is thus forced to invest a higher than global average proportion of its meagre research funding resources in climate change.

• Carbon taxation is one of the most effective interventions to help mitigate climate change.

Is Africa in the throes of a climate crisis?

Professor Guy Midgley, interim director of the School for Climate Studies at Stellenbosch University (SU), South Africa, asks if this is a way to frame debate on the global suppression and misrepresentation of data by vested interests on projected warming trends and their potentially devasting impacts.

Speaking at the recent Sustainability Expo on “How to avoid climate disaster: an African viewing”, Midgley said: “We had unequivocal confirmation in 2007 from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that anthropogenic greenhouse gases have been causing global warming since the 1950s. There is no longer a defensible ‘other side’ alternative to this conclusion.”

A target of net zero emissions by 2050 also now looks simply not enough to achieve a safe climate this century. “We need to get to net negative emissions, where we draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere [to mitigate warming].”

Africa is unfairly paying the price for the rest of the world’s recalcitrance to act fast enough in response to these conclusions that climate change is real and that the impact of global warming could be devasting, said Midgley.

“Africa contributes very little to the causes of climate change, yet it experiences the most adverse impacts.” The continent produces only 2% of the world’s emissions, yet it is facing imminent risks. This includes a decline in food and water security, biodiversity loss (as high as 60% of indigenous African species) and increased human morbidity and mortality from heat and infectious diseases.

Furthermore, the burden on the fiscus of African countries is significant. “We are one of the fastest urbanising continents, and the way we develop needs to be informed by climate change.” Failure to heed the risks of climate change could eventually undermine infrastructure due to inadequate planning, said Midgley.

The disparities between Africa’s contribution to emissions and the socio-economic effects climate change will have on its people are exacerbated by the disparate allocation of funding for climate change research. Only a small portion of global climate-related research funding is funnelled to African scientists and institutions, he explained. “International funders have apparently abandoned this kind of investment in the region.”

The way the world responds to climate change is a risk for Africa, Midgley added. “If we all continue as normal, and the world warms by up to 3°C or more by the end of the century, the effects will be devastating.”

Using a dashboard developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) to test the impact of possible interventions, Midgley demonstrated how various actions and scenarios would affect global warming. MIT is one of SU’s partners in the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate, of which SU is one of 15 members from around the world.

During the demonstration, a global carbon tax proved to be one of the most effective interventions to mitigate global warming, sending a strong and almost immediate market signal, while driving innovation and investment in new technology.

Shifting towards more sustainable cities and transport also had an impact on global warming. Achieving a target below 2°C appears to require significant development in negative emissions technologies and enhancement of carbon dioxide removal.

An important focus for Africa should be the introduction of incentives for renewable energy. Not only would the world benefit from avoiding the extended destructive impact of coal and oil, but African communities would enjoy a more sustainable and healthier lifestyle and sustainable economic development, said Midgley.

“It’s obvious what we need to do to avoid dangerous climate change. We need to incentivise renewables, increase the demand for energy efficiency and find new ways of drawing carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere to keep the global temperature increase below 2°C. Now we just need to roll these plans out. This is the challenge of our time.”

For more about the innovative work that our scientists pursue, visit Stellenbosch University’s digital magazine, Research for Impact. For more about Sustainable Development at Stellenbosch University, click here.

*Midgley was recently awarded an A-rating from South Africa’s National Research Foundation.

This article is promoted by Stellenbosch University.