Fearful Sights

CLIMATE CHANGED in Africa. Fearful sights and perilous times in Africa.

CLIMATE CHANGED in Africa.

Over the last two months we’ve seen a major city and other parts of Mozambique devastated by Cyclone Idai in mid-March and then hit again by Cyclone Kenneth late April. They’ve impacted nearly 2 million people in Mozambique alone with over 600 lives lost.

The economic cost of the destruction to Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi by Idai alone has been estimated at $2 billion. It’s notable as more global policymakers and leaders start to consider climate change as a core economic issue of our age.

It’s why, this week, IMF managing director Christine Lagarde described the consequences of climate change as “unequivocally macro-critical in many countries.” Lagarde was discussing a new IMF report on fiscal policies in the climate change age during an event at the Center for Global Development in Washington DC.

The report focuses on how carbon taxes or equivalent pricing for fossil fuels can help mitigate carbon dioxide emissions on fiscal, domestic environmental and economic grounds.

But for African policymakers and leaders the bugbear remains the same: we (all 54 countries) produce 6 million tons of carbon, but China alone produces over 9 billion tons, so why do we have to make sacrifices? And yet African countries do, if for nothing else but prepare for the predicted rise in the frequency of extreme weather as seen in Mozambique over the last two months or the droughts across southern Africa over the past three years. In fact, Africa is expected to bear the brunt of the negative impact of global warming.

One lever to pull in the battle with climate change, which IMF highlights in another working paper, would be to remove expensive fossil fuel subsidies around the world valued at 6.5% of global GDP or $2 trillion in 2017.

But it won’t be easy, as noted by former Nigerian finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was speaking on the same panel. She recalled her time battling political and labor forces in trying to remove the oil producer nation’s fuel subsidy in 2012. “The subsidy was unsustainable at around $11 billion to $13 billion, or 5% to 7% of GDP.” But the plan created uproar and major “Occupy Nigeria” protests in several cities. “The lesson we learned is to think about how we communicate that people at the bottom won’t get hurt and the funds will be used for their benefit.” In the end the Nigerian government did cut about 50% of subsidies but in many ways that was just the start.

Okonjo-Iweala, who is co-chair of the Global Commission for the Economy and Climate, later told Quartz her priorities for African countries in tackling climate change: “African governments need clean energy access, to focus on building infrastructure with low carbon emissions and to look at our policy environment and incentives to take advantage of renewable sources which we have with wind, solar and geothermal.”

— Yinka Adegoke, Quartz Africa editor

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