Accelerating climate resilient economies in Africa is crucial for development

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Accelerating climate resilient economies in Africa is crucial for development

Climate and Development Knowledge Network

08 Jul 2021

4min min read
  • Climate

For Africa to adapt to the impacts of climate change, the continent needs to forge a new path towards climate-resilient development, seizing the opportunities of green technologies and jobs.


frica’s climate is already changing: average land temperatures have increased by more than 1°C since pre-industrial times, sea levels are rising and extreme events, such as storms and droughts are more frequent. Further climate change is inevitable and thus, adapting to its impacts is essential for African societies to develop sustainably.

New pathways to growth

There is unanimous agreement among African leaders and development partners that climate change – and now the additional stress of the COVID-19 pandemic – is a momentous threat to Africa’s economic growth and development prospects. As remarked by President Ali Bongo Ondimba of Gabon at the Climate Adaptation Summit earlier this year, “today the COVID crisis is eroding our development gains and adding fuel to our climate crisis. Still, Africa has no choice but to adapt.”

While the threats of multiple climate and Covid-19 shocks are significant, there are also opportunities for Africa to develop along a greener, more resilient, path. Dr Hafez Ghanem, Vice President Eastern and Southern Africa for the World Bank, notes that “Africa does not need to follow the old models of industrialisation. Africa can chart a new course”. Overall, green economy and climate change initiatives like the African Green Stimulus Plan provide a bold plan for an economic transition in our new COVID-19 reality.

Job creation also remains a key priority for Africa, particularly given Africa’s increasingly youthful population. The public and private sectors need to join forces to find ways of absorbing more and more young people into the predominantly informal job market every year. Furthermore, the world of work is also rapidly changing, making investing in innovation, research and development, and entrepreneurship ever more critical in this rapidly-evolving global context.

Still, there are promising signs that the private sector is starting to embrace green technologies: from solar-powered irrigation systems for small holder farmers to clean cooking fuel for Nairobi residents. Other breathtakingly large projects being implemented across the continent also show some promise for creating green jobs and enterprises. The Great Green Wall land restoration project in the Sahel for example aims to create 10 million productive jobs. And the new joint African Development Bank (AfDB) and Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA) Adaptation Acceleration programme aims to support 10 000 youth-led Small, Medium and Micro-enterprises (SMMEs).

Adaptation makes economic sense

Adaptation is not only vital, but it makes economic sense. The Global Centre on Adaptation (GCA) calculated that adaptation actions, such as an early warning system or climate-proofed infrastructure, can have a cost-benefit ratio of one to five or even as much as one to ten (i.e. every one dollar spent saves five to 10 dollars).

It seems that global financial actors also agree that investing in adaptation is the smart thing to do. Kristalina Georgieva from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said earlier this year that: “Our research shows that if we combine rising carbon prices with green infrastructure to bring emissions down, and adapt, we can boost GDP by 0.7% higher growth and we will create millions of green jobs.” In short, making this “business case” to the private sector not only makes sense, but is also central to unlocking private sector investment in adaptation at scale.

“Business-unusual” planning approach and long-term view is needed

A number of African countries are showing that pursuing a climate-resilient development pathway requires an alternative planning approach; it is simply not enough to implement isolated adaptation projects, or involve a few climate-related sectors and ministries.

Ethiopia, for one, is integrating climate change adaptation into its national development plans. In sharing Ethiopia’s planning towards a more holistic “sector-wide” process, at the Climate Adaptation Summit earlier this year, Gebru Jember Endalew, LDC Elder, noted that “We started with a projectised approach and realised it was not sustainable, so mainstreamed climate into our development plans… You need to have a business-unusual planning approach.”

Planning for climate change has also meant that Ethiopia is slowly shifting its planning to become more long term: “We used to plan one to two years ahead and now we are really able to plan for the medium and long term.” Ethiopia is also now moving towards reflecting on their planning experiences: “We realised we were good at doing, but not good in documenting – and we now focus, too, on learning.”

Mainstreaming climate into macroeconomic data is also crucial. In 2021 the IMF launched a climate change dashboard to track the economic impact of climate risks and mitigation measures. Furthermore, stakeholders agree that robust partnerships across government and society are a key enabler in the shift towards more cross-sector approaches, where adaptation is everyone’s business. Fortunately, there are a number of other new or existing global initiatives specifically supporting climate-resilient investment. This includes the newly-created, private sector‐led Coalition for Climate Resilient Investment (CCRI), and the Adaptation Finance Mainstreaming Program to support the work on macro, fiscal, budget, and procurement policies required to manage climate risk.

We cannot afford to fail

This growing momentum for the adaptation agenda is a step in the right direction. There is a palpable sense of optimism about the possibility of a greener and more prosperous Africa. There is also a deep sense of the urgency given the potentially catastrophic impacts for millions of African people should we fail. As stated by Dr Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, at the Climate Adaptation Summit: “Let’s turn words into action, hope into reality, promises into financing for Africa”.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAIIA.

(Main image: A worker at 160 Hydroponics farm waters butter lettuce, bok choy, green lettuce and fancy red lettuce on 30 April 2021 in Harare, Zimbabwe. - Tafadzwa Ufumeli/Getty Images)