Op-Ed: How African countries can 'leapfrog' the fossil-fuel based growth strategies of developed countries – CNBCAfrica.com

Carlos Lopes is a professor at the Mandela School of Public Governance at the University of Cape Town, High Representative of the African Union for partnerships with Europe post-2020, and a member of the Global Commission on the Economy & Climate

This week,
heads of African states are convening at the African
Union Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where they will discuss
the African Union’s strategy for socio-economic development, known
as Agenda 2063. This agenda casts a vision of inclusive growth
and sustainability, in the face of the growing risk of
climate change. It is true: rising global
temperatures pose a serious challenge to the lives and
livelihoods of Africans. But climate
change also offers an unprecedented opportunity
to steer our continent towards a more sustainable,
inclusive and prosperous future. 

The most
recent report of The New Climate Economy found that bold climate action could deliver US$26 trillion in global economic benefits through to 2030. It could also: generate 65 million new
low-carbon jobs in 2030; prevent 700,000 premature deaths from air
pollution in 2030, and lead to more women in the paid workforce. But
this opportunity is finite. 

the next 10-15 years we expect to invest about US$90 trillion in infrastructure (more than the total current
stock) and the global South will account for roughly two-thirds
of this. To add to the urgency, these investment decisions will be
taken in the next 2-3 years. Whether or not this infrastructure
is sustainable will be a critical determinant of future growth and
prosperity. We must act quickly and the following three pillars
for action can guide next steps in Africa: green industrialisation,
smart urban development and sustainable agriculture.

Green industrialisation is a
major opportunity
 for African
countries to ‘leapfrog’
the fossil-fuel based growth strategies of developed countries, instead
charting sustainable growth paths to a healthier, more prosperous
future. One winning strategy is
to create Special Economic Zones in
countries that concentrate investments in areas with
reliable and low-carbon infrastructure, high-quality institutions and
social services. In Ethiopia’s Hawassa
industrial park, one of 16
federally-operated sites, industry is powered mostly by
hydro-electricity. The park also features energy-saving innovations
in factory lighting and shared infrastructure. Hawassa has
attracted a number of domestic companies, as well
as companies from China, India, and the U.S.

In Africa’s rapidly
growing cities, economic
development depends on transport to connect residents
with good jobs. In 2008, Lagos became the first African city with a bus rapid transit system (BRT). The Lagos BRT today carries over 200,000 passengers daily, reducing travel times by an average of
30 percent, cutting transport costs for
low-income passengers by as much as 31 percent, and
reducing carbon emissions by 13 percent. Strong national urban policies can support city leaders in
developing sustainable transport by providing coordinated
planning and enabling larger-scale investment.

agriculture still plays a crucial role in Africa’s
economy, providing up to 60 percent of the region’s jobs. Yet farm yields and revenues are increasingly vulnerable to
climate impacts. In fact, by 2020 Africa will
spend US$7-15 billion annually to adapt to climate change. Even if global temperature increase is held below
2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F), the adaptation price tag
could balloon to US$50 billion by 2050. Now is the time
to make Africa’s agriculture resilient, and as a
result more productive. Young entrepreneurs across the
continent are already implementing solutions, evidenced at a
recent start-up accelerator in Nairobi. If these efforts scale up – with support
from investors and governments – the sustainable food
and agriculture industry could be worth US$2.3 trillion by 2030,
and provide 70 million jobs globally.

growth across all sectors requires finance and policy attention from both
domestic and international leaders. With limited
public resources and competing demands, much of the investment needed to
finance green growth will come from private sources. Greater use of
blended finance approaches – where public finance is used to
help attract and combine with private investment – could be key. There
is promising momentum. In 2017, the African Development Bank approved US$135 million in blended finance for renewable energy, and more
recently a US$25 million investment into
a renewable energy equity fund
. The
fund would add 533 MW of electricity across sub-Saharan
Africa with 10 or more projects, andthe Bank’s investment is expected to attract others to
commit a further US$60-75 million. 

The theme
of this African Union Summit is “Refugees, Returnees and
Internally Displaced Persons: Towards Durable Solutions to Forced Displacement
in Africa.” The World Bank estimates
that climate change could internally displace 86
million people in sub-Saharan Africa by 2050, largely due
to crop failure. But taking climate
action early can help avoid such displacement,
allowing people to prosper in their home communities and
countries. Timely climate action helps farmers adapt,
creates new jobs in low-carbon industries, and builds cities
that enable mobility while promoting human health
and development. 

Will the African Union let climate change
derail its development plans? Or will member states seize the
opportunities that the low-carbon, climate resilient revolution
offers for more inclusive and sustainable economies? African
countries are already helping to lead this revolution. In 2016,
Uganda published a comprehensive agenda for green growth, incorporating climate action into the country’s five-year
national development plan. To those heads of state seeking
strategies to ensure their countries’ growth
and sustainable development well into the future, I encourage you to act
on climate change today.

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