Activists from more than 20 African countries were on Saturday expected to march in their thousands against fossil fuels, a major driver of climate change, while advocating climate justice.
Organised by pressure group 350Africa.org, the marches were designed, in their own unique way, to coincide with and celebrate Africa Day, held every May 25.
Since its origins, Africa Day has been a symbol of aspiration for self-determination against the exploitation of natural resources, something that has brought the continent to a state of perpetual conflict, teetering on the brink of a devastating climate crisis.
While Africa accounts for just five percent of the global greenhouse gases emissions total, it faces the greatest risks from climate change and global warming.
Extraction and consumption of fossil fuels like oil and coal are the biggest drivers of the change in climates, a change which has spawned frequent and extreme events like drought, floods and tropical cyclones.
Landry Ninteretse, Africa head for 350Africa.org, highlighted the impact of climate change as manifested by the deadly cyclone Idai and Kenneth in Mozambique, Malawi, Tanzania and Zimbabwe, droughts and floods in parts of South Africa.
“With the exception of South Africa, African countries have done relatively little to contribute to climate change, yet are being severely impacted and have little to no resources to cope with the aftermath,”Ninteretse said in a statement shared with The Herald Business.
“Less developed African countries are a natural disaster away from sinking into a negative loop of poverty and lack of access to social and economic opportunities, exacerbated by climate change,” he said.
Nearly 60 events were due to take place throughout the continent on Africa Day, with participants drawn from oil and coal affected communities including fishing and farming communities.
Women and youth renewable energy clubs, civil society, community, religious and government leaders “have all taken part in various activities to send a strong message that Africa doesn’t have to rely on fossil fuels to satisfy its energy demand,” Ninteretse explained.
Rather, the Burundian opined, the continent should “lead the world in the just energy transition powered by low-cost renewable resources.”
Zimbabwe leads drive towards renewables
In Zimbabwe, energy is one of the major sectors, including agriculture and transport, where Government has targeted to cut emissions by 33 percent between now and 2030. This will be achieved by increased investment in hydropower and solar.
The country last year turned on 300 megawatts of additional hydro electricity at Kariba, built by the Chinese at a cost of over $500 million, while plans are afoot to build a 300MW solar power plant near Gwanda.
Zimbabwe is not angling for net zero carbon emissions, at least until economic growth comes full circle, or somewhere close.
Regardless, it already is a net absorber, in every sense. The country accounts for under one percent of the global emissions total and its 15,6 million hectares of forest cover take care of a lot of the emissions.
But we can expect to see more solar power, large and small-scale hydro-electric power plants and more efficient transport systems, particularly rail, as part of its contribution to the global goal of cutting emissions that fuel climate change.
Until only a few weeks back when the water level in Kariba dam dropped to critical lows, electricity generated from hydro accounted for over 60 percent of all power generated locally.
This is significantly more than what some industrialised nations are generating as a share of renewable energy in their respective national energy mixes.
In the US, for example, fossil fuels – the number one emitter of greenhouse gases emissions – account for over 62 percent of electricity generation, according to that country’s Energy Information Administration, a government body.
Renewables make up just 17 percent of total generation, with hydropower accounting for just 7,5 percent of that, it says.
Here, some of the less obvious but effective interventions will include the outlawing of inefficient light bulbs in homes, schools and businesses, as well as the enactment of laws to improve energy efficiency across industries.
Phasing out fossil fuels
In the past, one of major issues that hindered the uptake of renewable energy like solar was the high cost of installation compared to other energy sources like coal-fired power plants. However, that has started to change as the cost of solar has dropped significantly since the early 2000s with the coming in of new technologies.
There’s thus no credible reason for governments to continue to invest in polluting energies, environmental campaigners say.“Fossil fuels have been identified as one of the primary drivers of climate change.” said Michael David Terungwa from GISEP, in Nigeria, which is participating in the Africa Day marches.
“(People) are demanding a rapid phase-out of fossil fuel energy. Despite overwhelming evidence that continued fossil fuel use is killing the planet and many of us with it, ?investors appear dead set on enriching themselves at the expenses of billions of people,” he added.
Terungwa accused governments of not doing enough to prevent new investments of fossil energy, “and are instead adding to it, claiming that more coal-fired power stations in Lamu, an official UNESCO Heritage site, and oil exploration in the DRC’s Virunga National Park, a biodiversity hotspot, are going to be good for development. We ask them ‘Whose development, exactly?’.”
The world has the technical and financial means to invert the trend in rising carbon emissions and temperatures.
It is a critical time to re-think many of our systems, see the dawn of a new way of working, travelling, growing our food and producing our energy, say campaigners.
God is faithful.