China role crucial to curb climate change impact in Africa

Chinese President Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping. 

Photo credit: File | AFP

Beijing’s rising influence in Africa could help the continent turn around the danger of climate change, taking advantage of its connections with local economies.

Experts discussing the policy changes needed in China-Africa cooperation argued that both sides, by now, understand the danger of climate change especially following a series of natural disasters like landslides, droughts and floods.

The proposals emerged on Thursday at the 2022 China-Africa Think-tanks forum on climate change and energy transition, bringing together policy players from Africa and China.

Of concern to experts is the rising cost of energy for African people, including oil and electricity, which they say should influence subsequent focus on more green energy investments.

Prof Peter Kagwanja, CEO of the Africa Policy Institute (API), said the current energy challenges in Africa have seen both sides see the need to focus on mitigation, including in sourcing for cheaper, cleaner energy.

“It (climate change) is a threat to development,” he told the hybrid forum in Nairobi, and Beijing, which the API co-organised with the CNPC Economics and Technology Research Institute in Beijing (CNPC-ETRI). Among the audience were government officials and diplomats from Africa and China.

And while both sides have generally pledged to adjust, Prof Kagwanja told the forum other global crises such as the war in Ukraine and the Covid-19 pandemic have also forced African countries to think of local production of energy.

“It tells us of the need to harness, with our partners, the opportunities we have, the resource potential in oil and gas in Tanzania, Mozambique, Kenya and Somalia. We can save our economies from collapse of an energy crisis if we invest in this.”

Biggest Trading Partner

China is Africa’s biggest trading partner worth $254 billion in 2021, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce.

It is also the biggest infrastructure builder in Africa loaning the continent some $126 billion for the projects between 2001 and 2018 and investing $46 billion in foreign direct investments. On average, China has been investing some $3 billion per year in these projects.

But until last year, Beijing hadn’t been clear on climate change, in spite of contributing to nearly a third of all greenhouse gases in the world largely due to polluting industries.

President Xi Jinping declared last year that Beijing would no longer invest in coal plants abroad, suggesting a policy shift in dirty fossil energies.

In December, African Ministers meeting with Chinese counterparts under the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) issued a declaration to speed up projects on climate change with Beijing promising the “delivery of assistance supplies and equipment, and promote the building of low-carbon and low-greenhouse-gas demonstration zones.”

“China supports African initiatives related to climate change, such as the Initiative for the Adaptation of African Agriculture and the Initiative for the Adaptation of Africa,” the Dakar Declaration stated.

Some of the projects also included the Great Green Wall Initiative, strengthen technological cooperation with Africa in disaster prevention and mitigation, climate adaptation and enhance Africa’s resilience.

But the biggest elephant in the room is how Beijing will adapt the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to climate sensitive programmes. The BRI is a global initiative meant to connect trade routes to China through infrastructure building and some 43 countries in Africa have signed up to it, including most in the east African region.

Chinese expert Li Wentao from the Institute of African Studies suggested each country should be given certain targets based on its economies especially since Africa is the least contributor of climate change. In fact, this had been proposed before under the Paris Agreement on climate change.

Rich nations were to raise $100 billion for climate financing in poor countries. They have failed this pledge.

The Dakar Declaration admitted this when it said “developed countries should earnestly fulfill their funding obligations” and achieve this goal.

Stephen Kuria, chairman Mineral Rights Board in Kenya called for more adjustments to renewable energy.

Kenya is hurtling towards 100 percent green energy production based on the number of win and geothermal, and thermal power plants erected.

Beijing officially says it has been investing in energy infrastructure installation in Africa including building some 80 power plants in Africa, including dams and geothermal stations, donated disaster prediction equipment and installed more than 10,000 solar panels to tap the sun, including the 50MW station in Garissa.