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Africa needs its very own Marshall Plan to tackle the climate crisis

Health & Science
 A dozen of livestock carcasses lie at Marsabit Airstrip, following adverse effects of climate change. [Francis Kariuki, Standard]

When the world went to war in 1939, Europe was left in shambles. The havoc caused by World War II left European countries in dire need of help to rebuild their economies, hence the birth of the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan, a program sponsored by the US, helped European economies get back on their feet.

Such a recovery plan is what Africa now needs in the face of the climate crisis. As the world drags its feet in dealing with the crisis, loss of life, livelihoods and culture have become the norm in Africa. Worsening poverty and inequality, food insecurity, fragile ecosystems, and water scarcity have created a sense of urgency in dealing with this 'polycrisis'.

Unfortunately, Africa's leadership has dropped the ball. Recently, a few African political leaders from countries such as Mozambique and Senegal made a case for continued investments in gas in the continent. Expansion of gas in Africa will increase the frequency and severity of droughts and floods.

Africa finds itself in a hole, but, unfortunately, we keep digging ourselves deeper into it. Although the exploitation of oil and gas is always accompanied by promises of prosperity, the 'dream' is never achieved. For instance, Angola has been producing oil for over 60 years, yet over 50 per cent of its population still lacks electricity.

The convergence of the climate crisis and poor governance is a recipe for catastrophe in Africa. To overcome these challenges, we need an African Climate Marshall Plan.

Such a masterplan must help Africa restore lost livelihoods, rebuild communities and safeguard lives. Climate issues must be at the centre of Africa's economic development agenda and investment plans. The solution to the current challenges lies within a system of climate resilience, which is the gateway to economic resilience.

Nationally Determined Contributions, the domestic climate plans required by the internationally agreed Paris Agreement, should help Africa to attract investments in key sectors that have the potential to transform African economies: energy, agriculture and trade. Conversations about Africa's climate ambitions have to offer an alternative future development pathway for the continent. This new vision should be built on promoting and financing renewables, fostering resilience, food sovereignty, a pan-African industrial approach and a united Africa working together for a common vision.

Africa needs a just transition. A transition from agricultural systems that are market-oriented and have left many Africans facing hunger and starvation. A transition away from an energy system that services the needs of those in power, high-income countries and these countries' need for cheap commodities. A transition from an economic system that is dependent on debt. A transition from trading in low-value goods and services.

Africa needs a just transition to an agricultural system that ensures its people have abundant, affordable, nutritious, and culturally appropriate food. This system must be built on agroecological practices that shun expensive and energy-intensive input of chemical fertilizers, pesticides and patented seeds and machinery.

The result of these agroecological practices would be food sovereignty, a proper ecosystem, and enhanced biodiversity. Africa would be able to protect local varieties and knowledge, provide nutritious food, sustain yields and secure livelihoods, protect smallholder farming communities and build more climate-resilient societies.

Our continent must fight the temptation to expand oil and gas production and transition to a just and equitable clean, efficient, renewable energy system in line with the internationally agreed Sustainable Development Goal 7 to eradicate energy poverty by 2030.

The African Climate Marshall Plan would need to promote distributed, decentralized renewable energy-based systems. Communities can use roof-based solar systems, community-owned solar plans and other democratic energy systems and mini-grids, where appropriate, to build climate resilience and lower the cost of energy.

Africa's rebirth will have to guarantee a circular economy and responsible extraction of renewable energy minerals that uphold human and indigenous rights, and avoid negative ecological and social impacts on ecosystems.

Such a climate plan will help Africa move away from consumptive economies that promote huge debt burdens. Instead, Africa can move to productive economies that support investment in local production activities and generate high-value goods and services needed to pay off existing debt and grow economies.

All these will require clear planning, collaboration and investment. We have the resources, but we need visionaries to achieve our climate, energy and development goals. An ambitious African Climate Marshall Plan will unlock the continent's potential.

The author is Power Shift Africa's Senior Advisor, Renewable Energy & Just Transitions

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