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We recently witnessed the end of COP26 in Glasgow, a symbolic event that signaled yet again the seriousness given to the climate change discourse across the world. With so many commitments secured in prior events however, global warming in the past few years has been on the rise raising genuine concerns about the sincerity and urgency that goes into ensuring that countries can achieve their Nationally Determined Contributions. Beyond these commitments that we are not achieving, it is important to focus on what governments and private sector can do to easily achieve the much talked about 1.5°C temperature increase above pre-industrial levels.
According to statistics, energy production and usage account for about two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions which lead to global warming and subsequently, climate change. Transportation, electricity production, industrial processes and almost all human activity are supported by some form of energy mostly generated by burning fossil fuels. This puts the energy sector at the center of any breakthrough against climate change while also presenting new opportunities for innovation, enterprise development and job creation. Accelerating energy transitions to renewable sources is key to achieving this mission.
In Africa, prioritizing clean energy access means majority of those who are not connected to the grid can be connected to clean sources at their first time. However, generating decarbonized power in Africa can only be attained by aggressive efficiency measures and ambitious deployment of renewable technologies and related infrastructure. This is possible but not necessarily straightforward. Concentrating on developing new and improving the capacity of existing renewable utility-scale plants will drastically improve renewable power generation, stimulate related supply industries, spur electrification of end-users and enhance resilience to the impacts of climate change.
Energy transition means we also need to significantly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels. That necessitates the need for structural changes related fossil fuel production and consumption. Policymakers and governments have an important role to play in this area by creating policy restrictions limiting continuous exploitation of coal and implementing more stringent carbon pricing. We now need to see deliberate efforts to phase out coal with governments committing to make that happen by 2030. In Africa, a couple of countries like Tanzania are still trying to set up coal-powered electricity generation facilities oblivious that setting up these structures still require significant capital investment. It is important for experts to let such governments know that investing in distributed renewable energy generation will surely provide the fastest and most efficient path to increased electricity access in the immediate term while putting them in sync with the need for sustainable energy generation.
Besides coal, transitioning from oil and gas provides yet the greatest challenge. Oil and gas are widely used across power, transport and industry sectors and their use must be carefully phased out. More innovation in the near-term is necessary to help reduce methane leaks and generally lowering methane emissions significantly in the next decade.
As new COVID19 variants continue to bring fear and uncertainty around the world, it is easy to shift the focus away from our climate goals and concentrate on the overall health resilience and recovery. That mistake is already happening with several governments responding to the Omicron variant by imposing travel restrictions. These measures will certainly derail climate focused objectives, limit the ability of critical skills in climate innovation, cause massive international economic upheavals and decisively make our energy transitions more difficult. At the moment, governments, policymakers and other stakeholders must fully understand that climate change priorities are just as important as keeping the world safe from COVID19. The message with the climate crisis is that it is urgent.