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Africa, Rich in Resources, Can Become a Climate Champion

The images of Africans facing drought, floods, or climate-triggered hunger always hit hard. But that is not the full picture.

Africa should be viewed as a potential climate champion, not a climate victim. Shifting this narrative is a key part of The Rockefeller Foundation’s Global Economic Recovery work.

Certainly, climate change pummels the African continent in many ways.

It creates a hunger crisis: farming on the African continent is almost entirely rainfed, so drought devastates our food production and leaves many susceptible to food insecurity.

  • Group of young African kids on a water-collecting mission.

An estimated 140 million people in Africa face severe food insecurity, according to the 2022 Global Report on Food Crises.

It fuels a health crisis: floods lead to increased cholera, dengue fever, malaria, and other diseases, and the impact is felt most in countries that are already vulnerable, such as Malawi, one of the world’s poorest countries that is now battling the deadliest cholera outbreak in its history.

Power remains an issue: almost 600 million Africans still live without electricity. Africa accounts for less than 3 percent of the world’s energy-related carbon dioxide emissions to date and has the lowest emissions per capita of any region. But that is largely because we are underinvested in energy.

African governments also face fiscal pressure: they are squeezed by the costs of the Covid-19 pandemic, the impacts of climate change, inflation, and supply chain issues resulting from the Russian war against Ukraine. As of December 2022, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund considered 22 low-income countries in Africa to be in debt distress or high risk of debt distress.

A Potential Carbon Credit and Green Manufacturing Leader

The Rockefeller Foundation’s Global Economic Recovery work is a potential bright spot. It covers a broad range of activities aimed at providing countries with access to capital they would not have otherwise and reimagining the role of Africa in fighting climate change.

How do we support Africa as a champion of climate action for the world?

First, we embrace its vast natural resources: abundant sunshine, wind for turbines, water for hydroelectricity, and the second largest tropical rainforest in the world, found in the Congo Basin.

With these resources, Africa can be a leader in carbon credit production, providing the Global North with mitigation while providing much needed capital for African government and employment for African people.

Secondly, we  embrace Africa as a champion in green manufacturing. Many industries will have to retool their processes to meet net zero goals, and that could be expensive. Moving those facilities to Africa, where they can make use of our green energy, could be the most cost-effective decision. We also have a young, educated, and innovative population to help fill out workforces.

  • Morning image of an adult African woman, in traditional clothing, smiling at a young African male while they are in their garden.

Restructuring Banks, Backing Intra-African Trade and Community Healthcare Workers

To accomplish this, we need to reshape the global financial architecture—this is the very core of our Global Economic Recovery work.

Our multilateral national  banks should not operate like commercial banks. They need to allow low-and-medium-income-countries access to more capital at favorable interest rates. And they need to facilitate the restructuring of debt.

We also need to support intra-African trade. We know Africa can produce its own food, fertilizer, and many other goods. But we haven’t had a good track record of trading with one another.

We need to help operationalize and facilitate the work of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area, which supports borderless trading between 54 African countries. We can help countries prepare and build infrastructural links, which are currently suboptimal.

We can support Africa’s investment in its public health systems, particularly as climate change impacts health. The African Union has already committed to hiring 2 million healthcare workers by 2030.

At The Rockefeller Foundation, we can bring together partners to support this work and help governments expand their professional healthcare cadres. Those community health workers can collect and share data speedily and efficiently so that it can be analyzed, and trends and solutions can be identified.

With these steps, Africa can become more prosperous and more climate resilient. And a healthier and more affluent Africa creates a more secure globe.

Let’s shift our mindsets now, in how we behave and how we talk. Let’s look to the African continent as a key partner in solving our climate crisis.

  • William Asiko (center right) during a recent visit with the Murang'a County Governor. (Photo courtesy of the Murang'a County Governor's Office)