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As the world’s most energy-insecure continent, Africa is in perfect position to lead a revolution

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Sasha Planting is a seasoned financial journalist and Associate Business Editor at Daily Maverick Business.

South Africa lodged an update to its 'nationally determined contributions' with the United Nations last month.

These are the voluntary commitments that lie at the heart of the Paris Agreement and capture each country’s effort to reduce emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change.

SA’s updated figures significantly ratchet up our commitments as it brings forward by a decade the date at which it will begin to reduce emissions: they will start to fall from 2025 rather than 2035, with the new target for 2030 set 32% lower than previously.

Cabinet has approved the Climate Change Bill, which will facilitate the transition to a greener economy and compel businesses to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

This is promising. Aside from the crushing imperative to wean global economies off fossil fuels, it is becoming evident that growth and climate action don’t have to be trade-offs. And clearly, some in our government (but more in business) have recognised this.

Rather than being a cost, taking climate action can unlock powerful socioeconomic benefits. Research from the New Climate Economy shows that bold climate action could distribute at least $26-trillion in global economic benefits between now and 2030.

It could also generate more than 65 million new low-carbon jobs by 2030, a number equivalent to the combined workforces of the UK and Egypt today; avoid more than 700,000 premature deaths from air pollution compared with business-as-usual; and generate an estimated $2.8-trillion in government revenues in 2030 through subsidy reform and carbon pricing alone.

But not everyone is on the same page. Just last week, SA’s famed Independent Power Producer Office (IPPO) approached the Independent Power Producers Association (SAIPPA) for support and assistance in their quest to bring a series of independent coal-fired power stations on stream. The answer was a resounding no.

This is the same office that is renowned for its role in procuring 6,422MW of renewable electricity from 112 independent power producers (IPPs) and securing equity and debt investment to the value of R201.8-billion, of which 25% was foreign investment. The IPPO must be under pressure to deliver new coal projects – perhaps from the minister of mineral resources and energy? But Gwede Mantashe is not alone in wanting to capitalise on Africa’s abundance of fossil fuels.

The fossil fuel industry plans to sink $230-billion into the development of new oil and gas production in Africa in the next decade, rising to $1.4-trillion by 2050. This is according to a new report, The Sky’s Limit Africa, which makes one wonder whose interests are being served by the fossil fuel industry. It was researched by Oil Change International and released in partnership with Oilwatch Africa, Africa Coal Network, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, 350Africa, WoMin African Alliance, and the Center for International Environmental Law.

The analysis reveals 71% of the new oil and gas production planned in Africa in the next 30 years would come from relatively costly modes of production or countries without an established industry. These factors increase the risk that new projects will become stranded, creating shortfalls of funding for cleaning up environmental damages, overnight job losses and gaps in state revenues.

But this does raise a controversial subject. Africa is the most energy-insecure continent in the world. More than 600 million people don’t have access to electricity and in 24 countries less than half of the population has no access to power. It’s Africa’s biggest limitation. Why should an entire continent be penalised for a problem it did not create in the first place?

This debate became fiery last week as members of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), the UN’s flagship climate fund, discussed what decarbonisation conditions should be imposed on developing nation organisations seeking funding.

Some board members, from developed countries, had proposed that the fund sever its partnership with the Development Bank of Southern Africa (DBSA). Alternatively, if DBSA were to be reaccredited, the bank would have to adopt a 2050 net-zero emission target across its portfolio, and an intermediate 2030 target, within one year of the accreditation being approved. DBSA has no fossil fuel exclusion policy and would have to demonstrate how it is shifting its loans and investments away from carbon-intensive activities.

This smacks of paternalism. The GCF was created to help less-developed countries curb emissions and cope with climate impacts. It depends on agencies like DBSA to deliver projects in poorer countries. It is with support – not threats – that instruments such as the GCF can be used to enable an equitable, managed phase-out of fossil fuel production.

Jean-Paul Adam, director for technology, climate change and natural resources management in the UN Economic Commission for Africa, told me that, in some instances, a case could be made for fossil-fuel investments, such as in natural gas, which could lead to the crowding-in of renewables.

What is clear to me is that Africa needs to lead the energy revolution, leapfrogging fossil fuels – and stands to benefit if it does so. But Africa cannot do it alone. And nor should it. Just in SA, the cost is estimated at R4-trillion. Developed countries have a responsibility to provide funding and support – and the world will be watching as leaders gather in Glasgow at the end of the month. DM168

Sasha Planting is an associate editor at Business Maverick.

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores. For your nearest stockist, please click here.

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  • Climate change is a reality the world seems to cringe at and hopes the problem will go away miraculously without fundamentally changing the business as usual approach to killing the planet by governments and conglomerates around the world. The environment is already in dire straights. Rainfall is out of kilter, either places have none or others have way too much. El Niño and El Ninya. The heating of sea water along the Peru coastline the barometer for this rainfall fallout. Fires burn across Europe, South Africa, America, Australia and God knows where else, with human endeavours at controlling the infernos but a drop in the ocean as far as extinguishing those fires is concerned. Ice caps are melting, glaciers are retreating due to ozone layer depletion, making for rays that bake is into oblivion. Permafrost is melting releasing methane gas into the atmosphere that even the cows shit and fart won’t match in the greenhouse effect on mother earth, all on the back of human desires for rump and sirloin steaks. Elon Musk is hard pressed to secure humans a place in space where there won’t be any oxygen to breath. We as a collective are fast depleting our natural oxygen we need just to live by burning every type of oil to generate heat to produce food, cars, trucks, trains, ships, boats aeroplanes and motor bike. Factories and power stations bollow plumes of harmful emissions into the atmosphere, killing us off like sitting ducks, all done on the back of making dollars, pounds & rand

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