Countries living with extreme poverty are the most vulnerable to climate change because those two scourges overburden their population. This means that many challenges await Africa given that the African continent has 9 out of the top 10 countries with the highest poverty rate in the world, according to the World Population Review in 2022. With deep structural development roadblocks, it is hard for a country to meet the basic needs of its inhabitants. Apart from this pressure on these fragile economies, climate change weighs on any efforts to build resilience because the slightest effect of climate change can disproportionately affect the agricultural supply chain, water cycle, and energy consumption. We know that water, energy, and agriculture are the pillars of a country’s development. The FAO’s WaterEnergy-Food Nexus says that those three are essential for human well-being, poverty reduction, and sustainable development.
Another challenge Africa is about to face is the demographic growth effect. If climate change is straining the current African economic system, the demographic growth the continent predicts will bring additional layers. Africa is home to 1.4 billion people, which is equivalent to 16.7% of the world’s population1. If Africa continues to grow at its estimated 2.7% rate yearly, it means the continent will reach approximately a quarter of the globe’s population by 2050.
A proven and responsible way to achieve sustainable development is working through social enterprises. Indeed, the OECD identified social entrepreneurship as a contributor to addressing today’s key social challenges including poverty, social exclusion, and unemployment as well as overcoming gaps in service delivery. Social enterprises also promote sustainable development and new ways of doing business, drawing on local assets and supporting job creation while generating tax revenues and triggering more efficient government spending.
Agriculture contributes widely to Africa’s economy. Alone, the sector represents 14% of the GDP, with two-thirds of its active population contributing between 30% and 60% of the gross domestic product and 30% of the value of exports, according to an article from Britannica.
If we include the pillars that agricultural development relies on, we can propose that country policies established to govern the sector, the infrastructure built to support its sustainability, the ongoing research, and adaptive technologies developed all can power growth. Unfortunately, the African agriculture system is still marginalized.
On the other hand, how does agriculture development contribute to poverty reduction? From the OECD stating that 52% of poverty reduction comes from agricultural income growth related above. If we consider the high percentage rate, not only do agriculture activities contribute to the continent’s development, but they also help improve hunger, and self-subsistence.
Despite those potentials, climate change poses negative impacts to the land’s productivity. Although agriculture is critical to the continent’s economic growth, climate change destabilizes the land’s productivity potential. The UNDP review studies projected a yield reduction of 9% to 20% by 2100. This can dramatically compromise the sector governance. Importantly, the Global Climate risk index ranked the 10 countries with high levels in Climate Change, and three of those highest-risk countries are located in Africa.
The majority of Africa countries rely on non-renewable energy resources such as fossil fuels, natural gas, and firewood and coal to provide energy for their daily domestic and economic activities. In 2020, Statista performed data analysis on energy source distribution and found that 38.7% of the energy used by Africa for all purposes originated from oil; 29.7% relates to natural gas uses; coal represents 22.1% of resources; hydraulic 6.8%; and nuclear 0.7%. Green solar and wind energy constitute only 1.6 % of the resources.
if we consider how unstructured the energy ecosystem remains for the continent, relying on non-renewable energy sources and high GHG-emitting uses and coupled with the current demographic growth pace in Africa, the statistics can potentially be displayed to make Africa seem among the top of the GHG emitters’ list.
The continent is particularly vulnerable to the high impact of climate change, with the repercussions of global warming already being felt. In many climate impact models, the collateral damages are seen in the severe droughts, flooding, water-stress, desertification, and expansive soil erosion that disproportionately fail the fragile African system. These facts are undeniably posing systematic risks to large countries’ economies, as well as those with fragile and aging infrastructures and vital water and agricultural needs, which point to the extreme poverty metrics.
Those threats create a strong obstacle to Africa’s development. There is no necessity to prove how important access to reliable and affordable energy is. Meeting the growing demand for safe and clean energy bridges humankind to community prosperity. The way a country efficiently uses its cleanrenewable energy resources is one way to lower greenhouse gas and other air pollutants. It can also support the national economic growth by stabilizing the volatility of electricity prices, creating job and innovation opportunities, and above all providing a long-term advantage by offering reliable and affordable energy that satisfies people’s needs.
Considering water poverty in Africa, many people are vulnerable to water insecurity. In fact, one-third of African citizens experience water scarcity, with 400 million people in sub-Saharan Africa lacking access to basic drinking water. At least 14 countries in Africa are already experiencing water stress; another 11 countries are expected to join them by 2025—at which time nearly 50% of Africa’s predicted population of 1.45 billion people will face water stress or scarcity.
Sub-Saharan Africa is the most concerned with water poverty. The United Nations University (UNU) used 10 indicators—access to drinking water, access to sanitation, access to hygiene facilities and practices, per capita water availability, water use efficiency, water infrastructure, wastewater treatment, water governance, disaster risk, and water dependency—to conclude that Somalia, Chad, and Niger appear to be the least water-secure countries in Africa.
Because each country must live with the effects of climate change, the African continent faces a huge challenge in all those three sectors, especially when it comes to economic development. Indeed, if the current wealth creation relies on them, economic actors should adopt the most sustainable route to end poverty and live precarious life in the country. One way to make it happen is through business models that put social interest at their heart. Social entrepreneurs can forge new paths, create new ways to solve urgent environmental problems and engage communities in the process of climate resilience
Excerpt of: Fostering the Impact of Social Entrepreneurs Working on Climate Change in Africa, by: Mialy Rasoanarivony, Atlas Corps Fellow (Miller Center for Social Entrepreneurship, 2022)