Climate Change Environment Technology

Sustainable development: How Africa presents the biggest challenges and opportunities for climate change

Global greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) have been rising steadily since the 1950s. there is no question that this rise in global temperatures can be attributed to

Transport emissions which primarily involve road, rail, air, and marine transportation accounted for over 24% of global CO2 emissions in 2016. They’re also expected to grow at a faster rate than that from any other sector, posing a major challenge to efforts to reduce emissions in line with the Paris Agreement and other global goals. According to the World Research Institute (WRI)[1], at a time when global emissions need to be going down, transport emissions are on the rise, with improvements in vehicle efficiency more than offset by a greater overall volume of travel.

De-carbonization of the transport sector would create a cleaner, healthier and more affordable future for everyone. And it can be done without sacrificing the interconnectedness we’ve come to expect from modernity.

A lot of efforts have already been put into greening the transport sector; from a shift to electric cars, to ongoing encouraging use of biofuels. With the green innovations in the transport sector, it is important to note that the global transport emissions increased by less than 0.5% in 2019 (compared with 1.9% annually since 2000) owing to efficiency improvements, electrification and greater use of biofuels.

As Africa gears up for development, the biggest victim has been the environment as land is cleared for new highways. An image of Nairobi expressway under construction in Kenya. Image/courtesy

However, a lot still remains to be done in ensuring a globally efficient and green transport sector. And perhaps, there is a need to focus on the African continent if at all we are to achieve zero emissions in the transport sector.

Fueled by a young, educated and urbanizing population, Africa over the last decade has been the fastest growing continent on the planet. Africa over the last decade has been home to the 7 of the top 10 fastest growing economies in the worlds. This growth has been fueled by increased investments in Construction, transport and infrastructure as well as information communication technologies (ICT).

Africa faces the challenge of acquiring second hand vehicles which produce more emissions thus causing harm to the environment. Image/courtesy

According to[2], the construction sector alone contributes around 38% of the global CO2 emissions. With the transport sector contributing 24% of the global GHG emissions [3] and the ICT sector contributing 2 to 3% of the global carbon footprint annually [4]. It, therefore, means that these 3 sectors alone that have been the foundation of development in Africa contribute approximately 65% of the carbon footprint gradually. It is also important to note that as much as the carbon footprint of the African continent has been low over the past 70 years averaging around 4%, the continuing infrastructure investments in Africa could open the next phase of increased carbon emissions in the world unless greener alternatives are developed and implemented that would ensure a sustainable development approach for the emerging economies. Two scenarios can be used to effectively support this argument (i) statistical data has shown that a 2-degree increase in global average surface temperature that has occurred since the pre-industrial era (1880-1900) might seem small, but it means a significant increase in accumulated heat[5]. (2) China emits more greenhouse gas than the entire developed world combined, emitting 27% of the global GHG emissions followed by The United States at 11% and India at 6.6%[6].

history of global surface temparatures since 1880. image/courtesy

In the case of China, as a developing economy, demand for industrial goods, infrastructure, and emerging industries have been cited as the key drivers. This can be interpreted to mean that as African countries strive to industrialize, the GHG emissions from the key sectors of these economies will rise. But perhaps this may balance out in the sense that as these economies industrialize, their dependence on imports may be driven down and thus reduce the global emissions produced through marine transport as manufactured goods are shipped to these economies. However, according to the maritime executive, global shipping demands will continue to grow over the next 3 decades by 3.6% annually up to the year 2050.

As for the ICT sector, research has shown that today ICT contributes about 2-3% of the global GHG emissions, yet this should not be the case. This is because by leveraging on green Information systems, ICT can be used to reduce the global GHGs by up to 20%. This is through the application of green IT concepts in the critical sectors of the economy and business organizations from greening the supply chains, green transport solutions, green manufacturing and so many other areas.

coffe plants image/courtesy/not1bean

Image/courtesy www.not1bean.com

Organizations like “www.not1bean.com”, through their https://app.wedonthavetime.org/profile/NOT1BEAN, have taken great efforts in sensitizing people on the need for streamlining the value chain, especially in the coffee sector by ensuring that coffee is processed locally, close to where it is produced, thus eliminating the massive carbon that would otherwise have been emitted as the beans shipped back and forth around the world. The value of savings in terms of carbon emissions that would have been emitted in such cases goes to billions of dollars. It is such efforts that if extended to other sectors of the economy would go a long way in ensuring a cleaner environment and reduce the carbon footprint of the transport sector. It is not only coffee alone, but African economies have few manufacturing capabilities, such that most of the raw materials produced in African economies are shipped overseas for processing before the finished products are shipped back to Africa. This includes Agricultural products like tea, cotton, pyrethrum, and so many others, as well as Minerals like Manganese ore, copper, crude oil, and such. What this points to is that as much as the carbon footprint of Africa is estimated to be low, perhaps if a global algorithm that can be able to analyze the global value chain especially through the shipping sector would present a different picture and a more comprehensive understanding of how Africa has overtime contributed to carbon emissions.

And going forward, Africa presents the biggest challenge in taming the global environmental pollution. But with these challenges, a new opportunity for establishing a green system that does not necessarily cause harm to the environment even as economies strive to meet the needs of its people is presented.

Written by-:)

We don’t have time Kenya/Africa  Chapter


[1] https://www.wri.org/insights/everything-you-need-know-about-fastest-growing-source-global-emissions-transport

[2] https://environmentjournal.online/articles/emissions-from-the-construction-industry-reach-highest-levels/#:~:text=When%20adding%20emissions%20from%20the,fall%20by%2050%25%20by%202030.

[3] https://www.iea.org/reports/tracking-transport-2020

[4] https://unfccc.int/news/ict-sector-helping-to-tackle-climate-change#:~:text=Given%20its%20high%20energy%20demand,par%20with%20the%20aviation%20sector.

[5] https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-temperature

[6] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-57018837

[7] https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/climate-change-global-temperature

About the author

Patrick Kiarie

Passionate about environmental conservation. Working with www.wedonthavetime.org, the largest global social media platform on climate change that aims at making everybody in the universe a part of the conversation on climate crisis

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