Climate Change Leadership

When one thinks about climate change and Africa, what springs to mind more often than not is that this is region where countries are at a greater risk both in terms of exposure to climatic changes and sensitivity to such changes. Also, countries here have a low capacity and means to govern a changing climate. The immediate concern for us then is to press for greater financial support and adaptation/mitigation technologies from first world countries. However, this is not good enough as developing nations must move fast on their part to create a better environment that supports carbon-neutral growth and development as they wait for increased support from developed nations to govern a changing climate. Most importantly, it is widely acknowledged that even if all developed countries met their green house gas emissions reduction targets by 2050, the global policy goal of limiting temperature rise to a 2⁰C trajectory so as to avoid irreversible climate impacts would still not be met unless developing nations also reduced their expected growth in green house gas emissions.

Low-Carbon Development (LCD)
There is little doubt that green growth is now not a major political and economic idea. It is also acknowledged that the normal development pathway for developing countries leads to a substantial growth in global greenhouse gas emissions driven by their expanding economic and population growth. The challenge therefore is to de-link future economic growth from equivalent growth in green house gas emissions. Hence, low-carbon growth is now a must for the earth to remain habitable. Here in Africa, there is real potential for countries in this sub-region to depart from the development path established by first world countries. While thus far developing nations have been shielded from obligations to lower their carbon emissions, this situation is not expected to last indefinitely and time is now to more aggressively follow a development path that is low energy, low carbon, and generally a resource efficient one.

After being mandated by the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the African Union to develop Agenda 2063, the continent’s long-term development vision, the African Union Commission has identified young African entrepreneurs to drive entrepreneurship on the continent through local hubs in their communities. To support this new initiative, I would actively promote a supportive environment for enterprises which have the potential to make real improvements in poverty eradication and environmental sustainability while contributing to a greener economy. Sectors that contribute to and are expected to experience rapid growth in emissions namely: industry, transport, energy use in institutional and commercial buildings, household electricity use, and power are especially significant areas.

Frequently, the argument put forward for climate action is that the costs of inaction are very high, and the longer the delay, the higher these costs become. At the heart of Low Carbon Development is the conviction that, as the World Bank Institute puts it, "climate action is pro-poor action, by nature". This belief underlines the fact that the most gravely at risk from climate change is the marginalized population segment in the poorest, vulnerable areas of the world; the women and youth who do not have the political or economic power to cope and are found in the most vulnerable areas. Such a momentous change in Africa however requires us to act differently together, and now, while raising the level of our population’s living standards and lifting our many millions from the poverty cycle.  

To limit Africa’s emissions in the next decades and using my position as a leader in the continent, other most effective ways I would use to drive low-emissions development in the continent are policy measures/instruments and implementation tools. I also hold the view that low-emissions development can assist African countries achieve sustainable economic growth and improve living standards while slowing the rise of greenhouse gas emissions. Such highly scalable tools that have been successfully employed in other regions of the world include:

  1. Price-based economic instruments such as carbon taxes which make emitting more expensive and subsidies (and subsidy reform) which make low emissions technologies less expensive.
  2. Information based instruments that allow consumers to make better informed choices. For instance conducting awareness campaigns on energy efficiency, how to do it, and the savings that can result to inform the public on the benefits of Low Emissions Development; enforcing products’ labeling by the manufacturing industry players to enable identification of products associated with low emissions so as to 1) increase consumer knowledge, and 2) increase market demand; and conducting training programs to increase the skills, knowledge and capacity of firms and government to make choices that reduce emissions. 
  3. Regulations and standards that mandate either the use of specific emission-reducing technologies or achievement of a minimum level of performance. Example measures are building codes that require use of energy-efficient building technologies, mandatory installation of solar water heating equipment on new buildings; and vehicle efficiency standards which stipulate minimum average fuel consumption requirement for vehicle importers and assemblers. 
  4. Quantity instruments which regulate the quantity of renewable energy generation/distribution or regulate the quantity of energy-efficiency savings leading to a compliance market and a market price (Emissions Trading Schemes development).
  5. Research and development and innovation support to enable private sector engagement in the research, development, deployment and diffusion of new green technologies. Measures would include government supported funding for research and development of green technologies; setting up funds and competitions that offer prize and resources for the development and deployment of green technologies; and enacting clean technology patent policies to facilitate the access and sharing of green technology patents.  
It is important to appreciate that the transition to a carbon-neutral growth will indeed take decades while working collaboratively with the diverse actors involved to identify which combinations of complementary policy instruments are best suited for use. Often, the relationships between those stakeholders will determine the success or failure of this transition across all sectors of the economy. 

While Africa is currently witnessing its economy grow at rates enviable to the rest of the world’s sub-regions, it is important to maintain this momentum by enhancing our competitiveness through gains made from being among the first movers in the green economy concept. The pursuit of carbon-neutral growth spurs numerous positive impacts to national development goals such as increasing energy security; improving the overall heath and economic output of the populace; increasing industrial efficiency and productivity; providing new economic opportunities and employment; and contributing to the overall green house gas emissions reduction targets. Green growth thus promotes wider sustainable development benefits helping address pressures related to economic growth, urbanization and resource use. This is the kind of inclusive and vibrant green economy I would seek to effect in Africa since most of the future growth in greenhouse gas emissions is expected to come from developing and emerging economies.
*This post was an essay submission into the 2014 Uongozi Institute Leadership Essay Contest open to all East African citizens (Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda) between the age of 18 – 25 years old, responding to the question “If you were a leader in Africa, which single change would you aim to bring about, and why? How would you do it?”*