Photo: AfDB

Recently we’ve seen unprecedented media focus on a resurgent Africa as a place for business and opportunity, an observation highlighted by the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) President Kaberuka and emphatically echoed by U.S. President Obama. According to AfDB’s recent economic reports, this resurgence is real. In the coming months 12 African countries will see growth above 7 percent and 27 will see growth above 5 percent. Increasingly, Africa is open for business.

But as Africa evolves and grows, so must the synergy between its economic development and climate action.  In the world’s most vulnerable continent to climate change, growth can no longer take place without investing in a climate-smart approach to energy use, agriculture, water and forest management, infrastructure, and resilience to increasingly extreme weather events and a deadly combination of floods and droughts.

Fortunately, we’re beginning to see an Africa which is evolving from the vicious cycle of climate change damage and poverty to a virtuous circle of development actions infused with climate solutions. Africa is rich in natural resources. Many of Africa’s countries are teeming with untapped resources from the sun, wind, steam fields, and forests, and Africa is waking up to the opportunity to tap into this wealth.

In 2012, with its finger on this pulse, the AfDB revitalized its commitment to sustainable development and green growth in Africa. Working hand in glove with its member countries, the Bank created an institution-wide approach to a complex convergence of issues leading to green growth. This approach focuses  on investing in transformed infrastructure; more affordable, accessible, and green energy; and transforming the rural landscape to open the continent to a potential for real green growth built on poverty reduction, increased private investment, and expanded trade opportunities.

With an active partnership with the Climate Investment Funds (CIF), the AfDB has joined with 18 African countries in pilot programs to raise the bar regionally, and globally, on climate-smart development through scaled-up renewable energy, climate resilience, and sustainable forest management.

Once the 18 pilots are under implementation, it is expected that 11 of the countries will increase green energy accessibility, transforming the renewables markets for solar, wind, and geothermal power. The projects already underway are expected to provide 2,000 MW of power, including to 1.3 million new African households and businesses. Two of these programs—in five North African and Middle Eastern countries and in South Africa—will alter the landscape of concentrated solar power globally, by supporting the generation of up to 700 MW of additional energy through CSP.

Three of the pilot countries, including Democratic Republic of Congo which is the world’s second-largest forested country, are committed to sustainably managing their forests to mitigate climate change and obtain significant development benefits by working through the international mechanism of REDD+ (Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation).  These countries will use AfDB and CIF support to build better forest governance systems and pilot innovative approaches to sustainable forest management. Important projected outcomes for the three countries include reducing poverty in the project zones by 10 percent in Ghana and 5 percent in Burkina Faso, and improving livelihoods for more than 2.5 million people.

Another three pilot countries—Mozambique, Niger, and Zambia—are among the world’s most vulnerable to climate impacts, although they hold little responsibility for creating the original problems. They are committed to transforming their environments to ensure a sustainable climate-resilient future, especially through investments in agriculture and water sectors.

At this early implementation stage, with nine CIF-backed projects underway in five of the pilot countries, project results are expected to produce both climate and economic impacts, with significant projected CO2 emissions savings and poverty reduced at the same time. For instance, in project areas in Mozambique, poverty is expected to be reduced by 12.7 percent and in Niger by 14 percent.

These 18 countries are boldly at the forefront of what amounts to a climate-development transformation. With this approach, Africa stands well placed to contribute to this evolving green growth and more broadly to an urgently needed global shift.

The AfDB and other international institutions, and climate finance instruments like the CIF, need to maintain their resolve to serve as lynchpins to help smooth the way for these countries to balance innovation with realism, engage all stakeholders, build capacity, strengthen private investment and policy and regulatory frameworks, and transform national, regional, and local markets by limiting risk and breaking down barriers to success. 

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