Climate change exacts heavy toll on Africa

Chinese clean energy expertise seen as helping mitigate damage

The China-aided Sakai photovoltaic power plant in Bimbo, near Bangui, Central African Republic, helps to ease Bangui's lack of electricity. (TIANJIN ELECTRIC POWER CONSTRUCTION / HANDOUT VIA XINHUA)

Seraphine Mutindi, a villager in Makueni county, southern Kenya, used to rely on farming to support her family of six. However, things began to change three years ago.

"There has been little rain due to changing weather patterns, and the land is so dry that I cannot even grow maize," Mutindi, 35, a mother of four, from the Kithina village, said.

Having to abandon her farmland, which is less than half a hectare, she has to do manual jobs such as cleaning the house, gathering firewood and washing clothes to earn about $2 a day to buy food to support her family.

To make ends meet, they only have one meal, primarily ugali, a locally popular staple made of corn flour, at noon every day.

Mutindi's situation is not the worst in the village of 35,000 people. About 200 people in the village, mostly elderly who have lost all or the partial ability to work, have starved to death over the past two years, she said.

Kenya is just one of the countries in the Horn of Africa experiencing the most severe drought in the past 40 years induced by climate change. Across the Horn of Africa, more than 36 million people will be affected by the prolonged drought by the end of this year, including 4.5 million in Kenya, as a result of a likely fifth consecutive failed rainy season, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said last month.

Worse, the region may face a sixth failed season between March and May next year, it warned. Already 9.5 million livestock have died across the region, it said.

During a visit to Garissa county in eastern Kenya last month the country's Deputy President Rigathi Gachagua appealed for international aid to help his country fight catastrophic drought.

"We are here today in Garissa to bring a spotlight to the suffering being endured by Kenyans as a result of the global climate crisis," he said. "Our resources cannot be sufficient to address the challenges of climate change."

With the increasing impact of climate change worldwide, the 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP27, held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, last month, gained global attention.

Following intense negotiations between different countries, a historic agreement to provide "loss and damage" funding to vulnerable countries most affected by global climate change was reached, which was applauded by developing countries.

"People who have done the least to cause the climate crisis are paying the highest price," said Mahmoud Mohieldin, the UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for Egypt. "Africa accounts for no more than 3 percent of global emissions, yet many of its people are suffering the most from climate change."

As the continent is most severely affected by the climate crisis, Africa has shown great determination to join other countries to fight climate change by developing renewable energy.

"Energy transition has become a global responsibility for us all, especially in view of the impact of climate change," Ghana's President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said during COP27, adding that his country is committed to increasing the ratio of renewable energy in its electricity mix, as well as exploring the potential of hydrogen and other clean energy sources.

Developing renewables

South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa said the country will give priority to investment in developing renewable energy sources to switch to a low-carbon economy, and Kenya's President William Ruto reiterated the country's commitment to making use of its rich green energy resources, such as hydro and solar power, to develop clean energy, and called for international collaboration to help Africa develop green industries.

Africa, with rich resources in clean energy, has great potential in developing renewable energy, which can bridge gaps between supply and demand in energy while reducing carbon emissions.

Africa's solar potential stands at 7,900 gigawatts, with South Africa and Egypt being the largest solar producers, the International Energy Agency says.

The agency estimates that the continent has wind generating potential of 461 gigawatts, with Algeria, Ethiopia, Namibia and Mauritania possessing the greatest potential.

With African countries now committed to developing clean energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, experts forecast increased Sino-Africa collaboration in the area.

"Green energy is now an important component of China-Africa cooperation," said Cavince Adhere, a scholar of international relations in Kenya with a focus on China-Africa relations, adding that China has shown a willingness to partner with African countries in terms of green energy transition.

"China has been very pragmatic and constructive in the implementation of different energy projects in Africa like wind, solar and hydropower, and we look forward to more partnerships in that area."

China is home to the most advanced technologies of green energy, and it is also the biggest supplier of green energy equipment to Africa and a big financier of green energy projects, he said.

Within the framework of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation, a major platform for bilateral collaboration, China has implemented about 100 clean energy and green development projects in recent years.

These include Garissa solar plant, the largest grid-connected solar power plant in East Africa. Since it was put into operation in 2019, the plant has generated enough electricity annually to meet the demands of more than 380,000 people.

In addition, Kafue Gorge hydroelectric station in Zambia, the Aysha wind power project in Ethiopia and Sakai solar power station in the Central African Republic are all providing clean energy to locals.

About 160 kilometers south of Kenya's capital Nairobi, Thwake dam, the biggest multipurpose dam being built in the country, is 80 percent complete.

The dam, being built by China Gezhouba Group, will have a storage capacity of 688 million cubic meters.

Wang Wen, a project manager for the project, said that once the project is completed next year it will supply water and generate electricity for millions of locals. In the future more similar hydropower projects may be built by the company through collaboration with African countries, he said.

Between 2010 and 2019 China provided $19 billion for renewable energy investments in Africa, mainly hydropower, the International Renewable Energy Agency says.

Africa needs a $190 billion annual investment between 2026 and 2030 to achieve its energy and climate goals, with two-thirds of the funds going to clean energy, the International Energy Agency says.

Unlike US-Africa collaboration, which is long on talk but short on deliveries, China's collaboration with the continent puts a premium on action, Adhere said.

"When African leaders think about the pragmatic outcomes in its cooperation with China, it makes China a more dependable partner in terms of implementing infrastructure projects."

To fully benefit from collaboration on renewable energy, Adhere said, African countries should realign their development priorities with the capabilities that China offers.

"Since China is the largest producer of solar panels, if any African country is interested in having solar energy, then the partner of choice should be China."

Adhere suggests that African countries should also be pragmatic in their approach, so that they take responsibility for planned projects and ensure they are sustainable and impactful.

Information exchange

In addition, beyond going to China for industrial products that are aimed at helping Africa tap into renewable energy, the continent should extend the partnership to information exchange and capacity building, he said.

Such a move would ensure that African personnel can build homegrown solutions and maintain facilities that are implemented through the partnership with China.

Mithika Mwenda, executive director at the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance, said China is a good partner for Africa in developing the continent's clean energy.

"For us in the climate change space, we have always seen China as a big voice in international dialogue," he said, adding that there is more room for private-sector collaboration.

Adhere also called for more public-private partnerships between Chinese and African agencies, noting that the use of people-based projects would ensure sustainability.

Mohieldin, the UN Climate Change High-Level Champion for Egypt, said China has made huge progress in the green transition, and that it can play a bigger role in helping other developing countries respond to climate change.

"Chinese businesses and investors have the power to turbocharge the global race to zero emissions and greater resilience by the middle of the century."