Is Africa the elephant in the room at COP27?

Joel Popoola, the Chair, IoD Africa Group, the task force designed to improve trading ties between Africa and the United Kingdom looks ahead to November’s COP27, the UN Climate Change conference this year taking place in Egypt. 

When it comes to climate change, Africa is all too often an afterthought – that’s why having the continent host this month’s United Nations climate conference is such a huge deal.

But at the risk of resorting to tired tropes and culturally insensitive clichés about my continent, will Africa be the elephant in the room at COP27?

When we talk about climate change and Africa, all too often we focus – not unreasonably – on the physical impact on our most vulnerable nations of burning fossil fuels elsewhere on Earth. Drought. Coastal floods. Heavy rain. Famine. Displacement.

But there is a bigger issue to consider too.

For a land mass which is home to 17% of the world’s population the UN has calculated that Africa is responsible for less than 3% of global emissions. The World Bank had calculated that the average African is responsible for 0.7 tonnes of carbon emissions. For the average American, it’s almost 15 tonnes.

But that is going to change – and fast – as the population of Africa expands – and fast. The population of my own nation Nigeria has grown by 10 million in just two years. By 2050 it is predicted to practically double from 218m today to 400m.

Then there are the hundreds of millions of Africans who already exist and live without electricity.

How are we going to power our continent in a way which does not lead to ecological and economic collapse – collapse at which we are at the sharp end. And what happens to nations like my own that remain economically dependent on high emission exports such as crude oil? What about nations such as Mozambique, Tanzania and Senegal who have recently made major natural gas discoveries and surely intend to make use of them for the betterment of their people? What about the carbon intensive mining – and transport – of African minerals such as cobalt and lithium which are so essential for the production of electric vehicle batteries?

That’s where trade links come in – the kind that organisations like the Institute of Directors can foster.

My own business is based out of North East England – a region which is taking a national and international lead on delivering clean energy for example through Energy from Waste and hydrogen.

Hydrogen is the most abundant element on Earth and can be used to fuel homes, industry and vehicles – releasing three times as much power as gasoline but leaving behind only water.

While Africa’s major economies like South Africa, Kenya, Morocco and Nigeria are at various stages of developing plans to increase the amount of hydrogen in their energy mix, many other nations are not.

Addis Ababa in Ethiopia in 2018 became the first location in Africa to develop an Energy from Waste facility, turning the problem of what the expanding human race does with the amount of household waste it creates into a solution for meeting energy needs. Opportunities in this space exist across the continent

The businesses involved in these industries of tomorrow need to start thinking of Africa as their next big opportunity, and distance is no disadvantage to economic opportunity.

That means intelligence use of aid, perhaps linked to emissions trading schemes. It means development of green finance products. But most importantly of all, it means bringing nations together with businesses to the twin problems of population growth and climate change.

An international climate change conference on our continent is the ideal place to start.

Joel Popoola is the Chair of the Institute of Directors Special Interest Group for Africa which aims to stimulate business opportunities, increase networking, and grow awareness of British businesses in Africa – and African businesses in Britain.

He is also a software entrepreneur, and Chief Executive of political engagement app Rate Your Leader.

You can contact Joel at [email protected]

Join our Africa LinkedIn group here

Better directors for a better world

The IoD supports directors and business leaders across the UK and beyond to learn, network and build successful, responsible businesses.
Internet Explorer
Your web browser is out of date and is not supported by the IoD website. It is important to update your browser for increased security and a better web experience.