HomeRegional NewsAfricaEd's note: Challenging COP26 to finance unlikely climate action

Ed’s note: Challenging COP26 to finance unlikely climate action

If you asked me to address COP26 and represent Africa, my presentation’s title would be: How the climate risk motivates innovative action in the most unlikely places.

My presentation would raise awareness that reducing emissions and keeping temperatures from rising is not the preserve of policymakers and financiers alone. Millions could make a difference, but only if given the finances and business knowledge. 

In the Pre-COP26 Chairs’ Summary last week, Ministers reaffirmed the critical importance of meeting the $100bn per year climate finance goal.

“They welcomed recent progress whilst noting that more remains to be done, particularly on the issues of access, quality and the balance of mitigation and adaptation finance. The COP26 President-Designate emphasised his commitment to working with Minister Wilkinson and State Secretary Flasbarth to ensure that the developed countries’ $100bn Delivery Plan gives clarity and confidence on these issues,” reads the summary.

The message is clear cut; for climate action to occur, countries that can support efforts financially must do so and deliver on previously committed monies. But what if some of the funding were much smaller amounts and channelled to concrete climate action projects?

These projects can support far-reaching communities such as remote sensing of carbon stocks of several Sub-Saharan African countries needing protection against deforestation. Or towards commercial bioenergy development in Africa, which is constrained with a low success rate to date. Sub-Saharan Africa has a huge variety of bioenergy feedstocks with an enormous potential to meet Africa’s burgeoning demand for modern energy services.

Projects like these support African lifestyles in remote communities while addressing carbon emissions. Africa’s energy transition and climate action are more about modernising the electricity supply industry than reducing carbon emissions. Through modernisation, we will reduce emissions. An example is to change cooking methods away from open fires. Simple yet effective on a large scale.

In sub-Saharan Africa, many start-up companies are innovating around energy supply, storage and even e-mobility. What would happen if developed countries mobilised the fight against climate change through dedicated funding and business support?

Considering that the World Bank recently reported the number of people connected to minigrids has more than doubled between 2010 and 2019 – growing from 5 to 11 million people—in my view, it is a fight worthy of attention.

Without attention on innovating around electrification rates, under current and planned policies and further affected by the COVID-19 crisis, an estimated 660 million people will still lack access in 2030, most of them in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Deprived of access to modern forms of power, these people must resort to carbon-emitting cooking, heating and lighting methods.

According to the IEA, Africa has made progress in energy access through grid connections. However, Kenya, Tanzania and Ethiopia accounted for around half of the 5 million people gaining access through new solar home systems in 2018 (up from only 2 million in 2016), as analysed in their 2019 Africa Energy Outlook.

Many more solar home systems, micro off-grid applications and minigrid development are needed. Ideally, the components will be manufactured locally using locally sourced materials, reducing these innovative solutions’ carbon footprint.

A specific COP26 goal could be the answer to finance

COP26 has outlined the following four goals.

1. Secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach

Countries are being asked to come forward with ambitious 2030 emissions reductions targets that align with reaching net zero by the middle of the century.

To deliver on these stretching targets, countries will need to:

  • accelerate the phase-out of coal,
  • curtail deforestation,
  • speed up the switch to electric vehicles, and
  • encourage investment in renewables.

2. Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats

The climate is already changing, and it will continue to change even as we reduce emissions, with devastating effects. Therefore, a goal at COP26 is to work together to enable and encourage countries affected by climate change to:

  • protect and restore ecosystems, and
  • build defences, warning systems and resilient infrastructure and agriculture to avoid loss of homes, livelihoods and even lives.

3. Mobilise finance

To deliver on the first two COP26 goals, developed countries must make good on their promise to mobilise at least $100bn in climate finance per year by 2020.

International financial institutions must play their part and we need work towards unleashing the trillions in private and public sector finance required to secure global net zero.

4. Work together to deliver

At COP26 we must:

  • finalise the Paris Rulebook (the detailed rules that make the Paris Agreement operational), and
  • accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.

That last goal is the foundation to success. We can only rise to the challenges of the climate crisis by working together. However, where is the voice of the millions of people living without any form of modern access to energy?

These are the people who will be denied a stable and affordable supply to fossil-fuel power plants as the world transitions away from coal and other forms of baseload power generation.

Take part in this conversation at the upcoming Enlit Africa digital event on 26-28 October. On The Road To COP26, the keynote address will unpack the finances and more in the African context.

The line-up of speakers includes the CEO of Eskom, Andre de Ruyter, who is joined on the virtual stage by Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale, the Chair of the African Group of Negotiators on Climate Change based in Gabon. 

Adding to the COP26 finance conversation are Haruperi Mumbengegwi, the legal counsel for the power sector for the African Legal Support Facility at the African Development Bank, and Faith Odongo, the senior deputy director of renewable energy at the Ministry of Energy in Keny.

I hope to see you in the virtual meeting room.

Until next week.
Editor, ESI Africa 

Nicolette Pombo-van Zyl
Nicolette is the Editor of ESI Africa print journal, ESI-Africa.com and the annual African Power & Energy Elites. She is passionate about placing African countries on the international stage and is driven by the motto "The only way to predict the future is to create it". Join her in creating a sustainable future through articles and multimedia content.