Although the health repercussions of the Covid epidemic were less severe in Africa than in other parts of the world, the economic and social consequences were nonetheless felt — none more so than in efforts to combat climate change.
Construction on critical greening projects fell behind schedule, while companies supplying solar panels and clean cooking equipment fought to stay afloat in the face of interrupted supply chains, movement restrictions, and a decline in financial support from the international donor community. At the same time, low-income Africans who wanted to acquire sustainable energy goods like household solar panels postponed their purchases due to the uncertain future.
However, there are signs of life in the renewable energy sector as Covid limitations are lifted and business and daily life return to a more regular state. However, it remains to be seen whether the UN climate change process, which is most likely to enhance climate outcomes on the continent, can be turned up to full speed.
Despite accounting for only about 4% of global carbon emissions, Africa continues to bear the brunt of severe global warming impacts in terms of harsh weather conditions. Droughts are increasing longer and hotter, while flooding is becoming more widespread and intense, causing some vulnerable ecosystems to become uninhabitable. There are also broader repercussions, such as the effects of increased demand for energy on the energy sector.
According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, children born in Africa in 2020 will be exposed to 5-10 times more heatwaves than children born in 1960, despite current efforts to mitigate climate change (IPCC).
Through aid, technology, and dealing with the impact of migration, the continent continues to rely heavily on financing from wealthy nations to support the measures required to reverse this movement or cope with the consequences.
Because the UN process is so important in dealing with all of these repercussions of climate change, the fact that the COP26 summit in Glasgow was first postponed by a year due to the pandemic was a setback. Then, when it finally happened in November 2021, it fell short of expectations.
The conference was supposed to be a benchmark climate change meeting, with a new raft of meaningful climate change measures implemented in a manner similar to the Paris COP21 meeting in 2015, building on years of hard work to reach broader agreements in the interim. Instead, the outcome was closer to that of the previous meetings, laying the groundwork for greater things to come.
According to James Reeler, a senior climate specialist at WWF South Africa, COP26 was “a bit of a mixed bag” for Africa, even if the outcomes were more positive than at previous conferences.
A potentially highly impactful strategy on methane emissions was agreed upon at the Glasgow meeting. This strategy will require a 30% reduction of methane levels by 2030, a goal that could slow global warming and improve conditions for Africa.
But all in all, international support for climate change measures in Africa has fallen short of expectations. Developed countries still haven’t met a target set in 2009 to invest $100 billion a year to help meet developing countries’ climate adaptation and mitigation needs—and many believe that even that amount is not enough.