Africa needs what’s left of the world’s carbon budget

Thomas Barton, Junior Consultant, discusses why a standardised global approach to fighting climate change will not work.

Africa doesn’t have the electricity needed to reduce poverty and adapt to extreme weather.

With income growth being held back by its lack of reliable and affordable electricity, insufficient energy supply contributes to roughly 40% of Africans living on below US$1.90 a day. Energy supply is also a problem that limits the continent’s ability to fuel energy intensive responses to emerging extreme weather patterns. For example, building seawalls, installing air-conditioning in millions of buildings and developing robust crop irrigation systems.

It is too difficult to accurately estimate how much energy production Africa needs to meet demands. Any estimates require big assumptions about baseline data. Perhaps the most critical assumption concerns the definition of what is an acceptable per person energy access. Does it mean being able to turn on two lightbulbs? A television? A fridge? Is the goal to reach the International Energy Agency’s minimum “energy for all” threshold of 250 kWh/year per person? Or is it the 13,395 kWh/year the average American enjoys?

Africa must be allowed to extensively use fossil-based and renewable energy sources.

There is a need for an increase in electricity supply on the continent to which, if short term needs are to be met, all forms of energy must contribute. Africa is rich in fossil-based and renewable energy sources. It must be allowed to use both extensively to secure the rapid poverty reduction, economic competitiveness and climate adaptation required.

The carbon budget is an estimation of the total emissions that our planet’s atmosphere can safely absorb. Africa must be prioritised when it comes to what’s left in the carbon budget. In other words, Africa must be allowed to produce more carbon in the short term.

The world is looking at Africa in a completely contradictory way. On one side, it wants the continent to grow economically and to emerge from abject poverty whilst on the other side, to push action on climate change, funding is restricted to renewable energy sources, effectively telling Africa to either develop with no carbon or to limit short-term development.

Global climate change polices need to change to allow Africa a larger slice of the carbon quota.

TOM'S HOT TAKE: Africa needs what’s left of the world’s carbon budget.

Thomas Barton

Researcher & Strategic Planner


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