FOCUS AFRICA – Low emissions, high ambitions. A review of ten African countries’ pledges

The African continent contributes only marginally to climate change in terms of emissions, accounting for an overall 7 per cent share of global emissions. The main contributors are the most industrialized states of South Africa, Nigeria and Egypt. Nonetheless, the most ambitious contributions in terms of INDC-pledged emissions abatement came from less or almost non-polluting countries.

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According to their presented INDCs, all countries listed in Table 1 proposed an emissions reduction of more than 45 per cent with respect to their business-as-usual trajectory, with the exceptions of Liberia (which pledged a tiny reduction by 2030, but also to become carbon-neutral by 2050) and Cape Verde (which in turn presented its reduction goal in terms of share of electricity generated from renewable sources). The most ambitious reduction pledges came, as shown in Table 1, from countries that taken together emit less than 0.5 percent of global emissions.

Internal and socio-economic features vary greatly among the listed countries, although with some similarities. Except from Angola and Ethiopia, all countries had a low overall GDP values in 2015 – ranging from Comoros (0.565 billion USD) to Zambia (21. billion USD). Per capita GDP 2015 values showed a different situation: Gabon proved to have the highest per capita GDP values, almost doubling the ones of Namibia and Angola, and twenty times the values of Liberia and Ethiopia.

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These different shares of wealth, both in overall and per capita values, present great differences in terms of internal distribution, i.e. of equality. According to the World Bank, Namibia, Comoros and Zambia showed the highest levels of internal inequality (according to the GINI index data) among the selected countries until 2015, with Ethiopia and Liberia at the other end of the continuum, with better performances. From an energy perspective, those differences emerged also in terms of access to electricity: in 2015 only Gabon, Cape Verde and Comoros showed values higher than 50 per cent (89.3, 70.5 and 69.3 respectively).

Despite relatively underdeveloped electricity grids and a general reliance on traditional heating and lighting methods, as of 2012 six out of ten countries showed a high share of electricity produced from renewable sources (more than 40 per cent): Zambia, Ethiopia and Namibia dominated the chart with 99.6, 99.4 and 97.8 per cent respectively, according to the World Bank. 2014 IEA statistics reveal, however, that the high environmental performances of those countries rely mainly – if not only – on the use of hydroelectric power to generate electricity. The share of modern renewable energy generating systems (solar, wind) proved almost irrelevant also for those countries, with the exception of Ethiopia.

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Despite many among the selected countries belong to the so called Sun Belt, solar technologies still play a marginal role in  the national electricity production. The same, duly considering different geographical conditions, could be said for the impact of wind energy production technologies. IEA data prove incomplete, however, with respect to small states and the use of off-grid photovoltaic systems.

None of the top three countries in terms of electricity generation (Zambia, Ethiopia and Angola) proposed a detailed roadmap or implementation plan with respect to the development of renewable energy production methods in their INDCs, although all of them stressed  REs development as a key goal in tackling emissions and developing the national energy grid. According to the INDCs, the most far-reaching national plans aimed at developing green electricity are the ones of Cape Verde (100 per cent electricity generated by REs by 2025), Namibia (increasing the share of REs in electricity production from 33 to 70 per cent by 2030), and Liberia (raising the share of REs to at least 30 per cent in electricity generation by 2030). Namibia, in particular, suffers a net energy deficit concerning electricity. In 2014 the country imported 67 per cent of its electricity supply mainly from South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe – with increasing dependence: according to local sources, the imported electricity share accounted 53 per cent in 2006. Again in 2014, almost the entire national electricity production (with estimated 10 per cent losses) originated from hydroelectric power stations, with still no incidence of solar or wind power on the national grid although some projects have been promoted during the last years. These data slightly differ from the more promising situation outlined in the Namibian INDC.

The estimated costs of adaptation and mitigation actions also vary greatly across the continent. As shown in table 2, Ethiopia and Zambia estimated the higher costs of action up to 2030, followed by Namibia and Chad. Angola, the first emitter among selected countries and the richest in terms of GDP, declared the need for a climate change funding almost ten times lower than Ethiopia. Distortions could be partly explained by the aggregation of adaptation and mitigation measures, taking into account considerable differences in national and local conditions (water scarcity, land use, etc). The ten selected countries, accounting together for the 0.46 per cent of global emissions, will need more than 275 billion USD to meet their pledges for the period 2020-2030, which means an average 27 billions USD per year. All the selected INDCs rely on the “common but differentiated responsibilities” principle, asking for international climate funding from the historical emitters and thus setting targets which prove (partly) conditional on international transfers. The costs directly beared through the national budget usually amount, for developing countries, to an average 10-20 per cent of the needed overall amount.

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While all African actors pledged a reduction in emissions and investments in REs, Gabon re-joined OPEC in July, 2016 in order to enhance its production and secure its oil revenues from price fluctuations (Gabon has already been an OPEC member from 1975 to 1995). According to IEA statistics, almost 93 per cent of its national crude oil production was exported in 2014, with a domestic energy economy still heavily relying on biofuels.

On the other hand, the most ambitious African country (almost according to its INDC), Liberia, will need to  implement RE-based policies and to alter its energy mix in order to reach the full decarbonization goal by 2050. According to a 2013 study, the industry energy consumption mix in 2008 was composed approximately for the 90 per cent of oil, with increasing CO2 emissions from the consumption of petroleum during the period 1991-2010 and a growing economic dependence on the source at a national level. Despite Liberia contributes only marginally to climate change on a global scale, the country – as other developing nations – could be disproportionately affected by its impacts in the near future if both mitigation and adaptation measures are not implemented.


(Image: Liberia. Photo credit: Pekka Tamminen / Flickr)