“It is precisely because neither individuals nor small groups can be fully self-sufficient that cooperation is necessary to human survival and flourishing...”
- Tom G. Palmer
“We are all living together on a single planet, which is threatened by our own actions. And if you don't have some kind of global cooperation, nationalism is just not on the right level to tackle the problems, whether it's climate change or whether it's technological disruption...”
- Yuval Noah Harari
The nexus of international cooperation and climate change mitigation is an overdue conversation as the symbiotic relationship between the two cannot be underestimated. The ravaging impact of climate change, whether from the lens or rhetoric of the vulnerable exposure of developing countries and small island states to the impact of climate change or from the seemingly adamant attitude of developed countries and high polluters to significantly reduce their contribution to the climate change pie, there is research and life-changing evidence of the imminent impact of climate change in the world today.
The narrative of the African continent and the impact of climate change seems interesting when examined from, for example, these three-fold perspectives. First, Africa has the youngest population globally with some 70% of sub-Saharan Africans below the age of 30 (He et al., 2020). One would think this figure would translate to an aggressive market and industrialisation drive which results in massive emissions and contribution to climate change for instance, but this is not the case. Second, in terms of CO2 emissions (billion tonnes), Africa does not only lag behind as the lowest emitter in comparison to other continents but countries such as China, India, Russia, the US, the UK and Japan emit greater volumes than the whole African continent (Ortega-Ruiz et al., 2022). Third, using per capita basis as the benchmark, Africa accounts as the lowest emitter out of all continents with an average of 1 tonne of CO2 emitted annually by each individual, followed by South America (2.5 tonnes), Asia (4.6 tonnes), Europe (7.1 tonnes), Oceania (10 tonnes) and North America (10.3 tonnes) (De Melo and Solleder, 2023; Al Jazeera, 2023). Conclusively, with the devastative climate-induced events on the continent, Africa suffers most from climate change although it contributes a mere 4% to global carbon emissions (De Melo and Solleder, 2023).
The need for international cooperation is a core embodiment of the fiber of the fight against climate change. Taking a cue from the above quotes, Tom G. Palmer reiterates cooperation as a necessity for ‘human survival’ while Yuval Noah Harari opines cooperation as a concerted effort against a canker created by ‘our own actions’. Owing to the global effect of climate change, the impact of cooperation at the international level on the African continent will be integral in delivering a well-informed strategy to mitigate the impact of climate change on a continent that emits the least comparatively. The question of ‘how’ this international cooperation will strengthen climate change efforts to positively impact a continent like Africa can be examined through a five-folder strategic focus;
First, harnessing knowledge and expertise exchange between developed economies and Africa targeted at local human capacity development will be a strategic intervention. Reimaging and localising best climate-driven adaptation and practices from a transdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach will not only broaden interventions but will respectfully consider a pool of ideas and expertise that can be harnessed to develop robust and resilient approaches to finding mitigating solutions to climate change issues. The local human capacity development approach will create a sense of ownership in dealing with climate-induced challenges from the lens of indigenes while fostering a ‘let's work together’ attitude to finding innovative and sustainable solutions to the imminent climate crisis from the international community.
Second, as topical during the COP28 convention, Climate Financing (CF), from framework development, quota allocation and contribution (developed economies focus), beneficiary mapping (in terms of equitable focus on most vulnerable cities and populations), financial transparency and accountability at the international level amongst countries, will be integral in providing the needed seed funding to finance for example carbon driven projects on the African continent that will accelerate climate mitigation efforts.
Third, the conversation of promoting responsible business around natural resource exploitation is a critical agenda that will not only contribute to climate change mitigation but also offer support to biodiversity. As the call to phase out fossil fuels was topical at COP28, some alternatives to fossil fuel such as lithium and cobalt exploitation which is majorly domiciled in Africa need a rethink. Thus, our quest for electric generation will not be at the expense of huge environmental degradation and loss which significantly contribute to the crisis caused by climate change. Such international cooperation will provide an equitable framework for resource exploitation and management.
Fourth, the pressing concern on climate migration and environmental justice on the African continent is an issue that international cooperation will significantly contribute to addressing. Displacement caused by climate-driven or induced impact has still received less attention on the African continent. Indigenes on coastal lines not only lose their sources of livelihood but their settlement as well. Thus, international cooperation will be integral in the relocation and reintegration process of such victims back into society.
Fifth, transparency in data management (monitoring and evaluation) through coordination amongst countries both at the country and international level (both developed and developing) will be important to climate change mitigation efforts on the African continent. If the world survived COVID-19, it was significantly due to transparency in data sharing especially during the peak of the crisis. Cooperation of this nature on climate issues concerning data will significantly reposition the African continent to attract more funding and build strategic partnerships to strengthen the fight against climate change.
To conclude in the words of Barack Obama, “Where the stakes are the highest, in the war on terror, we cannot possibly succeed without extraordinary international cooperation. Effective international police actions require the highest degree of intelligence sharing, planning and collaborative enforcement.” As Bertrand Russell also noted, “The only thing that will redeem mankind is cooperation.”
Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.
He, W., Aboderin, I., and Adjaye-Gbewonyo, D. (2020). Africa aging 2020. International Population Reports, https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2020/demo/p95_20-1.pdf.
Al Jazeera (2023) How much does Africa contribute to global carbon emissions? Available at: https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2023/9/4/how-much-does-africa-contribute-to-global-carbon-emissions [Accessed 15.01.2024]
De Melo, J. and Solleder, J.M., 2023. The landscape of CO2 emissions across Africa: A comparative perspective. The World Economy, 46(11), pp.3392-3418.
Ortega-Ruiz, G., Mena-Nieto, A., Golpe, A. A. and García-Ramos, J. E., (2022) CO2 emissions and causal relationships in the six largest world emitters. Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews, 162, p.112435.