Green industrial growth an opportunity for Africa?

by Soumya Karlamangla | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 21 July 2011 11:02 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

For a continent in need of jobs, low-carbon growth could be a good answer

By Soumya Karlamangla

Although Africa may suffer disproportionately from climate impacts, the emerging global green economy could be an opportunity for the continent to get ahead as it looks to increase industrialization, according to a new report.

The report, from the U.N. Industrial Development Organization and the U.N. Conference on Trade and Development, which deals with trade, investment and development issues, outlines strategies to help the continent move forward with economic development in order create jobs and cut poverty.

“African countries have been buffeted by three very serious and inter-related external shocks, namely hikes in food prices, increases in energy prices and the global financial and economic crisis,” according to the report.

“The triple crises have refocused attention on Africa’s high vulnerability to external shocks and the need for policymakers to take urgent action to diversify their production and export structure to build resilience to shocks,” the paper states.

Of developing regions, Africa currently has the world’s highest extreme poverty rate. As such, it poses the biggest challenge for the United Nations, which promised in 2000 to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger around the world by 2015 as part of eight pledges called the Millenium Development Goals.

Although extreme poverty levels in Africa have been dropping since 1990, the U.N. estimates that little progress was made in 2009, due in part to the worldwide economic crisis. In fact, the World Bank predicts that the recession will push an addition 64 million people into extreme poverty.

MORE JOBS NEEDED

And with between 7 million and 10 million workers entering the labour force in Africa each year, creating more jobs could not be more necessary. The analysis points to the manufacturing sector as the answer for many of the 54-nation continent’s woes - but only if it takes into consideration what the report refers to as the “new global environment,” including the challenges and potential benefits posed by climate change.

Africa has been rattled by extreme weather events linked to climate change, including the ongoing drought in East Africa. How can the continent take advantage of the changes?

“As a latecomer in the industrial game, Africa has indeed an opportunity to be at the forefront of the green industrial revolution by implementing green industrial development based on low energy-intensity, low-carbon emissions and clean technologies,” the report says.

“While industrially advanced economies will have to bear the costs of transiting towards a low-carbon economy in the medium to long run, Africa has an opportunity to avoid such adjustment costs by leapfrogging directly into clean industrial development right from the start.”

The report suggests that if African countries from the get-go use renewable energy - for example, solar power derived from the abundant sunlight - Africa would be one step ahead of other nations that may now have to switch their industries from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

If Africa opts instead to develop traditional high-carbon industry, it – like other parts of the world - will eventually have to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions to reach mitigation targets. The report warns that emerging African industries must count on environmental regulations tightening in the future.

“As the momentum to transit to low-carbon economies gathers pace, African industries may have no choice but to ‘go green’ in the future in order to be competitive on world markets,” the report says.

Soumya Karlamangla is an AlertNet Climate intern.

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