Picture Credit: REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger – A participant in Vienna, Austria holds a banner as youth demonstrate calling for action on climate change
By Judy Scott-Goldman and Thando Lukuko
THE climate and ecological arguments for moving away from fossil fuels are now overwhelming – we have to wean our economies off this dependency to ensure the continuation of life. The planet has now warmed by 1.1°C and is on track for an average increase of 3°C. Despite pledges to halve emissions by 50% by 2030, we are heading for a 14% increase.
Irreversible tipping points loom over our decisions. Natural systems are the basis of life on Earth, but one million species are threatened with imminent extinction, and the extinction rate is accelerating. Africa has retained its wilderness areas and diverse wildlife more than most places. These resources are of immense value and should not be given away to fossil fuel companies to destroy. Africa has the potential to become a leader and exporter in the renewable energy sector.
The International Renewable Energy Agency (Irena) has reported that Africa’s resource potential in wind, solar, hydro and geothermal energy is 1000 times larger than its projected demand for electricity in 2040. The Irena also reports that central and southern Africa have abundant mineral resources essential to producing electric batteries, wind turbines, and other low-carbon technologies. And renewable energy costs are reduced. Africa can harness this vast potential. If Africa goes down the fossil fuel path now, it will be creating sunset industries with stranded assets and stranded jobs. The big emitters are responsible for enabling Africa to leap-frog fossil fuel technology and build renewable energy.
The climate crisis is the incentive to do this, and Africa can leverage it. However, the global North pushing Africa to invest in renewable energy but continuing to invest in new sources of fossil fuels is in bad faith and causing confusion and loss of trust. It leads to conspiracy theories that rich countries want to deprive Africa of the benefits of fossil fuels while they carry on benefiting. COP27 must address this mistrust. Governments can address energy demand through instruments such as subsidies and carbon taxes. The fossil fuel industry attracts significant investments from grants that lower the fuel price. These subsidies also make it difficult for renewable energy to compete with fossil fuels. Making a portion of these subsidies available for renewables will enable a wider roll-out of the technology and make it more accessible. Similarly, the carbon tax has got to dis-incentivise present and future emissions.
South Africa’s current carbon price is insufficient to attract significant carbon reduction investments, representing a lost opportunity to generate climate finance through the fiscus. Rejecting fossil fuels is not turning away from development imperatives. It is turning towards development within planetary boundaries. Scientists have warned that 3°C of warming will take us into ecological collapse and the breakdown of society. Movement-of-movements is a civil society coalition across the African continent calling for climate justice at COP27.
It released an open letter calling on parties at COP27 not to rescind their pledges for climate finance and support. We need a just transition, informed by the Paris Agreement’s climate target of 1.5°C and the African Common Position on Climate Change to address Africa’s broader development objectives.
Africa must drive this agenda at COP27 and not let fossil fuel companies create diversions that serve their interests.
Judy Scott-Goldman is an academic editor and an activist with Extinction Rebellion Cape Town and Thando Lukuko is the co-ordinator of Climate Action Network South Africa.