Saving our planet: Regional collaboration on effective climate change actions may provide answers

March 18, 2019
Cooperation among countries can be an effective tool to strengthen, share and accelerate development within countries and across regions. It involves creating, adapting, transferring and sharing knowledge and experiences. Regional integration is one of the ways countries cooperate to achieve public goods.

There has been a myriad of declarations in Africa for decades, and for good reason. It bears significant potential for Africa’s economic transformation through such outcomes as reduced trade costs, economies of scale and enhanced competitiveness. Africa has made some progress in this regard, including increasing intra-Africa trade, financial integration and infrastructure development. For instance, the share of intra-African trade has increased modestly over the last decade, from 11 percent in 2007 to about 13 percent in 2017, though it is still the lowest of all regions,  and Africa has witnessed the emergence of two regional stock exchanges: the Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières, BRVM, located in Abidjan, and the Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières d’Afrique Centrale, BVMAC, located in Libreville. However, Africa still has a long road to travel. Also, Africa is affected by the ‘tragedy of the commons’, highlighting the conflict between individual and collective rationality in efforts at improving the environment. Gains made at the level of an individual country are eroded by the inaction of other countries, bringing into question, Africa’s approach to addressing environmental externalities. A regional cooperative approach to addressing climate change should be on the table for African leaders.

It is now widely accepted that the earth’s climate is changing, and that Africa is the most negatively impacted continent, mainly due to its high levels of vulnerability, low adaptive capacities and widespread poverty. The Brookings Institution in 2016 reported that in spite of the negative effects of climate change on the continent, the entire African continent contributes least to greenhouse gas emissions globally, less than 4 percent, compared to 23 percent by China, 19 percent by the US and 13 percent in the European Union. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, between 75 and 250 million people in Africa are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change by 2020. In the same year, in some countries, yields from rain-fed agriculture could be reduced by up to 50 percent. Global warming of 2˚C would put over 50 percent of the continent’s population at risk of undernourishment. Projections estimate that climate change will lead to an equivalent of 2 percent to 4 percent annual loss in GDP in the region by 2040. Assuming international efforts keep global warming below 2°C, the continent could face climate change adaptation costs of US$ 50 billion per year, by 2050. These figures highlight the gravity of the climate variability problems facing Africa.

Regional cooperation is important for several reasons including infrastructure, communication and security. Cooperation between African countries happens in part through the eight Regional Economic Communities (RECs). There are also other regional organizations that deal with regional public goods. For instance, five of these organizations are concerned with energy, 15 with rivers and lakes, three with peace and security and one with the environment. The Djibouti Ethiopia railway, the East Africa One Area Network and the West Africa gas pipeline are examples. But little cooperation has been seen on the environment. In a 2017 paper, Faiyetole and Adesina report that regional efforts are at least eight times more effective than country approaches in developing responses to climate change, followed by continental efforts at 6.5 times more effective, and international cooperation at 3.9 times. Cooperation among African countries is increasing, and many indicators, especially in infrastructure, show improvements. For instance, the Africa Infrastructure Development Index 2018 scores ‘improved’ for virtually all countries.  The index  imputed  for  the entire continent rose from 27.12 in 2016 to 28.44 in 2018. But there is need for a much more concerted and holistic approach to addressing climate change on the continent. This should be at the forefront if leaders are concerned with food security, human security, protection of water resources and halting the growing illegal migration to Europe. Regional approaches to dealing with environmental externalities will be crucial for a continent with a high dependency on agriculture.

Climate change is here, and African leaders cannot bury their heads in the sand. David Attenborough did not mince words when he stated during his speech on climate change in Davos at the World Economic Forum 2019 that, “If people can truly understand what is at stake, I believe they will give permission to business and governments to get on with the practical solutions.” Collective action by governments on climate change will create more positive spillovers across the region than acting alone. Concerted efforts must be used to harness the benefits and opportunities and navigate the challenges climate change brings. No single African country can do it alone, but through collaborative means, with a clear pathway and an understanding of our environment, we can achieve regional public goods – a shared responsibility we owe to generations yet to come. Indeed, there is an old African adage affirming the notion that ‘together we can achieve more’. African leaders must heed this call.

George Boateng is a research analyst at the African Center for Economic Transformation.

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