Africa shrugs off net-zero emissions push

Laurie Goering
As more countries, cities, investors and businesses set net-zero emissions goals, they now cover about half of the world’s economy — but Africa is largely left out of the picture so far. Of its 54 countries, only South Africa has set a net-zero aim — and failure to revamp policies to benefit from a global low-carbon shift may mean Africa misses out on investment, said Wendy Hughes, a carbon markets manager at the World Bank Group.
But officials from the continent noted that with sub-Saharan Africa currently producing less than 4 per cent of global emissions, “carbon-cutting” goals have limited relevance, with most African nations focused instead on creating jobs and economic growth. With international investment already lacking in Africa – and some countries burned by disappointing promises of cash from sluggish carbon markets – many African countries are struggling to see net-zero policy as a priority, they added.
“Without the financing, it’s hard to have that incentive,” said Damilola Ogunbiyi, special representative of the UN secretary-general for Sustainable Energy for All, noting investment in low-carbon energy systems in Africa had lagged.
“The funding is just not there,” she said. Globally, a growing flood of countries, cities and regions from China to the European Union have set zero-carbon emissions targets over the last year or two, said Helen Mountford, vice president for climate and economics at the Washington-based World Resources Institute.
More than 1,000 major companies also have committed to emissions cuts in line with the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change, as have over 30 large investment groups managing $5 trillion, she said. As those governments and companies put their plans in place, Africa could see both risks and benefits — from being shut out of tightening supply chains to winning a big share of carbon offset cash, African analysts told an online event during London Climate Action Week.
Gabon officials said Africa, with its key Congo Basin forests, is well-positioned to tap into new, fast-growing markets for carbon credits, which are sold to compensate for emissions elsewhere.
Lee White, Gabon’s environment minister, said his Central African nation, which has protected its forests carefully, was already absorbing 1 million more tonnes of carbon dioxide a year than it emitted.
“We don’t think about net zero. We think about how we maintain our net-positive contribution to climate change,” he said. But having financial incentives for safeguarding forests is crucial, he added – from ensuring what timber is cut is processed at home, creating jobs and income, to tapping into carbon markets as companies globally seek to offset emissions they cannot manage to eliminate.
“That’s how we’re going to get the Gabonese people and therefore Gabonese politicians thinking about how you maintain these forests. The forests have to become a valuable resource for us,” White said. Without a clear financial incentive to keep forests standing and “make the Congo Basin forests work for the Congo Basin people and countries”, no amount of aid or conservation grants will protect them, he said.
— Thomson Reuters Foundation