Climate change and its consequences are not sparing any area of our world. And yet, the strongest impacts are experienced by the communities that have contributed least to the problem: 7 out of 10 countries most exposed to climate change are African, while not even a single state from the continent is ranked among the major global emitters.
Due to its already vulnerable environmental conditions, the consequences of global warming and climate change in Africa are potentially disastrous. Rainfalls could decrease of about 20% in southern areas, with a consequential increase of dry days and a shrink in the water volume of major basins. The lack of proper mitigation measures could also result in a 4°C temperature rise in Middle East and North African countries, whose cities could become uninhabitable by 2100.
But the potential effects are more than just environmental: up to 116 million individuals risk to be exposed to these severe meteorological phenomena by 2030, causing the probable displacement of 85 million of people. This form environmental defenselessness has the power of decreasing food security by 5–20% in regions of Sub-Saharan Africa, with 281 million people being malnourished. Additionally, water-related impacts on health and agriculture could lead to a significant drop in the GDP, up to 6% by the year 2050 in the MENA region, and up to 3% in Sub-Saharan Africa. Finally, the severe destabilisation of local markets in terms of investments and production and the related economic shocks have an impact on more complicated and layered macro-issues, like the increasing of unemployment rates, gender inequality, and inadequate access to quality education. It is hence necessary not only to contrast the rise of the average global temperature, but also to build resilience and adaptability to climate change and its aftermaths. In this sense, a strong ally for Africa is represented by renewable energy. The energy transition is one of the key processes in the global fight against climate change, as the power sector causes 73% of the global emissions; yet its transformation is not to be considered a purely environmental phenomenon. Clean energy can in fact boost access to reliable, safe and affordable energy sources, securing positive environmental benefits and, at the same time, addressing Africa’s socio-economic challenges.
As a matter of fact, green energy is deemed to be a highly work-intensive industry, considerably more than fossil fuels. As highlighted in RES4Africa Foundation's Flagship Publication, under a 1.5° scenario African GDP will witness an increase of up to 6.4% on average from 2021 to 2050, generating around 8 million jobs in the renewable energy industry.
And this is not all: a just energy transition has the power to kickstart a chain of positive effects, providing new opportunities for youth involvement, tackling gender inequality, and maximising its socio-economic benefits in an inclusive and just manner.
Renewables, if properly implemented, can really lead the continent towards a new and bright future, characterised by wider beneficial outcomes such as economic well-being, employment and social sustainability. A future to which there's no alternative, for us and our planet; let's work on it together, before it's too late.
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Roberto Vigotti is the Secretary General of RES4Africa Foundation, a European think tank gathering 34 stakeholders from the clean energy value chain to accelerate Africa’s RE transition. Previously, he spent 35 years in Enel Power R&D Division and served for 12 years as the chair of the Renewable Working Party of the IEA