- CLIMATE CHANGE MITIGATION IN SOUTHERN AFRICA
- Global climate change is high on the international agenda.
Emissions of, in particular, carbon dioxide and methane are increasing the concentration
of greenhouse gases in the global atmosphere. This, the worlds foremost scientists
believe, is having a discernible influence upon the global climate. The result will
continue to be not only higher average temperatures, but also rising sea levels and an
increased frequency in (and ferocity of) so-called "extreme events" (floods,
strong winds, droughts, tidal waves, etc.). Africa will be particularly hard-hit. A recent
report on the regional impacts of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC) concluded that, with its widespread poverty and heavy reliance upon
agriculture, the "African continent is particularly vulnerable to the impacts of
climate change" (Watson et al, 1997, 7).
- Given this, two responses are clearly needed. One is
adaptation. Not only is the world already experiencing some climate change, but given that
greenhouse gases emitted today will continue to generate temperature increases for years
to come, impacts will continue to be felt. Accordingly, we must prepare ourselves.
- The other necessary response is "mitigation"
that is, the reduction of emissions of greenhouse gases and/or the enhancement of
those sinks that absorb greenhouse gases. This article focuses upon climate change
mitigation as a response strategy, and explores it with reference to Southern Africa.
- Given that Southern Africa is responsible for less than 2
per cent of the worlds greenhouse gas emissions, and that its per capita emissions
are well below the global average, incredulity may be the readers initial reaction
to the title of this article. Economic growth and poverty alleviation are this
regions main priorities. Why should Southern Africa be considering limitations in
its greenhouse gas emissions? Northern countries have caused most of the problem, and they
should be working to address it.
- All of this is true, and these sentiments are widely
supported, in both South and North. In various international treaties, and at various
international conferences, the members of international society have recognised and
accepted that Northern countries "should take the lead in combating climate change
and the adverse effects thereof". The Kyoto Protocol, agreed in 1997 (though not
yet entered into force), makes this commitment tangible and legally-binding by
placing scheduled emission reduction obligations upon Northern countries. Efforts must be
made to ensure that all countries ratify the Protocol and that these initial targets are
- This, however, does not and must not preclude
the study of the potential for climate change mitigation in the South. Indeed, in terms of
thinking strategically about Southern countries participation in efforts to build an
international regime to meet the challenge of global climate change, such investigations
are critical for two reasons.
- The first reason has a short-term time-horizon.
It appears probable that Northern countries will use the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM)
to help them meet their own reduction targets. The CDM is a North-South partnership. A
Northern entity finances an activity in the South that leads to lower net greenhouse gas
emissions than would otherwise have occurred. For example, a Northern engineering firm may
pay for repairs to a natural gas pipeline in a Southern country, which means that less
methane escapes to the atmosphere. The Southern country not only has lower greenhouse gas
emissions, but also a more efficient and safer national infrastructure. The Northern
engineering firm, meanwhile, is able to use at least part of these reductions against its
own target back home.
- As outlined in the Kyoto Protocol, CDM projects are not only
meant to help Northern countries meet their emission reduction targets, they are also
designed to assist developing countries in achieving sustainable development. Therefore,
CDM (and the associated international investment) should also generate a variety of local
benefits. These conceivably include: technology transfer and co-operation, employment
opportunities, local environmental benefits (for example, reduced air and water
pollution), improved national infrastructure and capacity building in both the public and
- The details surrounding implementation of the CDM are still
being examined and negotiated, and many important decisions have yet to be made.
Nevertheless, given that a system will probably be in place by the end of the year 2000,
it makes sense for developing countries to be examining possible CDM projects now.
- The second reason for mitigation studies has a
long-term time-horizon. It is becoming increasingly accepted that Southern
countries will have to cap their emissions at some point in the future. To successfully
meet the challenge of global warming, we need "stabilization of greenhouse gas
concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic
interference with the climate system" (Article 2 of the UN Framework Convention
on Climate Change, 1992). Scientists believe that, to achieve this stabilization in
concentrations, we need a 60 per cent reduction in emissions.
- Of course, that does not mean that each country reduces by
60 per cent: that would be unfair, because it would entrench present inequalities between
North and South. But even if each country were given an equal per capita emission
entitlement (something which is favoured by many Southern representatives), every country
would reach its limit at some point. Indeed, in the case of Southern Africa as a whole,
emissions would have to fall by about 25 per cent from their present level.
- These two drivers mean that climate change mitigation in the
South will inevitably become an important issue, and probably sooner rather than later.
Given this, engagement with the issue is crucial: this will not only allow those in the
South to set their own priorities and seek opportunities within the emerging arrangements,
but it will also allow them to push the discussions towards outcomes that they deem to be
- In many parts of Southern Africa, examination of climate
change mitigation is well underway, particularly with respect to national
options. (The reader is referred to works such as Mackenzie et al, 1998 for further
information). While recognising the importance of such options, this article will briefly
highlight a few potential regional climate change mitigation options, an approach that has
not been emphasised as much in policy development.
- Southern Africa, however, would appear to be uniquely
situated to explore regional mitigation possibilities. The distribution of natural
resources and economic activity in the region not only lends itself to regional
approaches, but Southern Africa also has a well-developed regional institutional base upon
which successful implementation could be built. Let us consider each of these in turn
- It is broadly accepted that the power sector offers one of
the most-attractive mitigation options in Southern Africa. Presently, approximately
three-quarters of the regions electricity is generated by coal-fired power stations.
Coal is, of course, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel, and the power sector is the
main contributor to the regions total greenhouse gas emissions (about two-thirds of
total energy-related carbon dioxide emissions).
- The region, however, also has a range of lower-carbon and
no-carbon alternatives for electricity generation. Natural gas and hydropower are but two
examples. What makes replacement of coal by natural gas or hydropower a
regional mitigation option is that the locations of the potential
source and load are in different countries. In terms of supply,
the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Angola and Mozambique have significant
hydropower potential, while Angola, Namibia and Mozambique have substantial reserves of
natural gas. While on the demand side, South Africa presently uses approximately
three-quarters of all electricity generated in the region. It will continue to be Southern
Africas main demand centre for the foreseeable future.
- So regional co-operation on electricity supply issues
namely, meeting new demand in South Africa by building power stations in other countries
instead of new (or re-commissioned) coal-fired power stations in South Africa could
reduce the level of emissions from what they otherwise would have been. As with all
mitigation options, however, it is critical that the broader, non-climate implications
also be investigated. Increased development of the region's natural gas and hydropower
resources could bring a range of technical, economic and social benefits (e.g., lower
electricity reserve requirements, serve as a catalyst for regional economic development
and improve local air quality). If not properly managed, however, it could also bring
problems (e.g., dam construction and operation can cause various kinds of damage and the
social and economic effects upon, in particular, the coal industry would need to be
addressed). Nevertheless, the potential for the benefits to more than outweigh the
problems has encouraged, for one, the regions utilities: they are working together
to construct a Southern African Power Pool. Moreover, their efforts have been largely
motivated by non-climate factors. Introduction of concepts like CDM into the discussions
could give their initiative additional, tangible (e.g., monetary) support.
- The Southern African Power Pool is only one example of an
existing institution that may be able to facilitate the development and implementation of
regional mitigation options in Southern Africa. The Southern African Development Community
(SADC), the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), the Southern African
Customs Union (SACU) and the East African Co-operation (EAC) are other existing
institutions. The existence of formal structures lends encouragement to the consideration
of regional options.
- Other regional mitigation options also exist. Given that
vehicles represent another significant source of greenhouse gas emissions, transportation
should also be analysed. Regional mitigation options in this area include
further development of the regions corridors this may involve
something as modest as road repairs, or something as substantial as construction of new
electric rail lines.
- Proposals that have a greater policy-orientation might also
be considered. Efforts to harmonize procedures among the regions countries
something in which organisations like the SADC are interested anyway might receive
additional support if presented as climate change mitigation options. Examples
include the reduction of regional trade barriers, which could facilitate the development
of a regional market for renewable energy or energy efficiency technologies.
- The international regime to address the challenge of global
climate change is evolving. At this point, we are not certain how it will develop. The
CDM, for example, could end up doing little to further either its climate goals or its
development aspirations. For example, an inappropriate understanding of the term
sustainable development could mean that the CDM becomes a vehicle of
inappropriate technology transfer and a tool of economic control.
- Alternatively, however, the CDM could be a catalyst for
sustainable development in Southern Africa. For instance, international financial support
for regional infrastructure could encourage prosperity and peace. At this point, we do not
know which is more likely. Consequently, it is critical for representatives of Southern
Africa to be engaged in the debate. Indeed, strategic thinking about climate change
mitigation more broadly will increase the chances of ending up with outcomes that benefit
both people and the environment, both within Southern Africa and around the world.
- Ian H. Rowlands
- Associate Professor
- Department of Environment and
- Resource Studies at the University
- of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada).
- G.A. Mackenzie, J.K. Turkson and O.R. Davidson (eds) (1998),
Climate Change Mitigation in Africa: Proceedings of an International Conference
(Roskilde: Risų National Laboratory, UNEP Collaborating Centre on Energy and
- Ian H. Rowlands (ed) (1998), Climate Change Cooperation
in Southern Africa (London: Earthscan).
- Robert T. Watson, Marufu C. Zinyowera, Richard H. Moss
(1997), The Regional Impacts of Climate Change: An Assessment of Vulnerability; Summary
for Policymakers (Geneva: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, November).
|Climate Change and Oil Scarcity
- Figures released by the International Energy Agency last November
show that the world output of oil is likely to begin to decline in about twelve years'
time. Independent experts such as Colin Campbell, however, believe that the decline will
start earlier, perhaps around 2005, and that in fifty years' time, oil production will
have dropped back to 1950 levels but will have to be shared by a world population three or
four times larger.
- The situation is serious. Economic growth and most of the world's
systems of production and distribution are totally dependent on high levels of fossil
energy use and oil is the most convenient energy source for many purposes.
- Other energy sources are not likely to fill the gap. Renewable energy
experts accept that wind, solar, tidal and biomass energy will not be able to meet the
world's energy needs for the foreseeable future, and there are problems with other fossil
fuels. "It's difficult to estimate when gas output will start to decline" Colin
Campbell says, "but my best guess is about 2020. That will leave us with coal.
There's a lot of that but it's a very dirty, polluting fuel."
- The effects of increasing oil scarcity are already being felt in the
markets. According to a report by an investment bank, Goldman Sachs, scarcity is the
reason why the OPEC countries have been able to raise crude oil prices by 50% so far this
year and why their higher prices are likely to stick. By 2008, according to the
International Energy Agency data, over half of annual world oil production will be under
the control of the core of OPEC in the Middle East.
- One way of addressing oil scarcity is through Contraction and
Convergence, the most widely considered solution to the related problem of climate change.
Under this proposal, an international agency would allocate to each country the right to
burn a fixed amount of fossil fuel related to the size of its population. Low energy-using
countries would acquire the right to sell part of their allocation to more
energy-intensive ones. Overall, the allocations made would be reduced until the total
amount of greenhouse gases being released is so small that their concentration in the
atmosphere is no longer increasing, thus reducing the risk of a catastrophic climatic
- "If this system is fully adopted to control global warming,
it will ease energy scarcity problems too," says Aubrey Meyer, Director of the
Global Commons Institute in London and GLOBEs policy adviser on climate change. "Essentially
it will mean that the profits from oil scarcity will be shared with the poorer parts of
the world, where not much energy is used at present. They will also go to countries that
are the fastest in cutting their fossil energy use. In other words, the extra money that
people will have to pay for their fuel will go to help transform the world's energy
systems towards renewable rather than ending up in the Middle East as windfall
- Described by Tony Blair as, "an important contribution to the
debate" and in the words of UK Environment Minister, Michael Meacher, "the
attractions of equity and logic", the contraction and convergence approach has
been formally adopted by the European Parliament and the Africa Group of Nations at the
United Nations climate negotiations. Reflecting accurately the structure of the United
States Senates resolution on climate change (the Byrd Hagel Resolution), Contraction
and Convergence is also supported by the Heads of Government of the Non Aligned Movement