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Towards a Greener Africa

by Andrew Ngozo


Africa needs a transformative development model that will enable sustainable growth and create prosperity in the continent by taking a holistic approach to development. This will be a model which values human, social and natural capital, efficiently and sustainably uses ecosystem goods and services, and builds resilience in a changing and increasingly inter-connected world.


According to the African Development Bank (AfDB), in a report titled Facilitating Green Growth in Africa, on a global scale the rationale for green growth is clear. “Humanity has become the dominating force shaping the surface of the planet, altering major biophysical processes from local to global scales. Renewable resources are being utilised at faster rates than they can be replenished,” says the report.

There are multiple consequences for the continent due to these actions. To mention a few, they result in overexploitation of natural resources, loss of biodiversity, waste accumulation, pollution and climate change. In light of population growth, “there is a need to adjust the economic model in recognition of the physical boundaries of the planet and social justice,” the report states. Increasing Africa’s green footprint can be tackled from two fronts, according to the report. The first; from a development perspective, is that Africa, as a region that is bursting at the seams with potential, is a continent on the move. The onus is on increasing Foreign Direct Investment in the continent and growing entrepreneurship. The report, however, identifies several factors that work against development in increasing the African footprint. Although Africa is rapidly growing, largely due to its natural resources, it is characterised by low employment elasticity and widespread poverty with many among its populace still surviving on less than US$2 a day. The disparities among the continent’s rich and the poor still remain a poser, the report notes.


From an environmental perspective, Africa is a continent rich in natural resources with an abundance of renewable and non-renewable resources still within the bio capacity of its lands. Africa is a low carbon region with average per capita and low aggregate emissions. But, the report cites that, there are steep climatic and environmental gradients across the continent and progressive land degradation. As a result, Africa’s ecological footprint, the demand on natural resources increased by 240% between 1961 and 2008. All these factors working together make the continent prone to disaster risk and climate change.


The AfDB suggests that any green efforts need to be development centred, relating to following key development challenges:

  • Overcoming the infrastructure deficit

  • Efficient management of natural resources

  • Natural disasters and climate change

  • Food security and;

  • Addressing the energy challenges within the continent.


The report suggests that it is about adapting to changing realities for development, and also about seizing new opportunities. This can be done in the following ways: leap-frogging to efficient technologies when addressing Africa’s infrastructure deficit or managing Africa’s new asset – carbon, recognising the growing importance of Africa’s natural wealth to the world; harnessing the demographic dividend through education and skills development and leveraging the growing private-sector development through clear regulations and incentives.


The transition to a green economy, says the report, is a repetitive process. It is a about identifying options that enable the transition towards sustainable development pathways. There are certain focus areas in this regard. By providing sustainable infrastructure, Africa will have to have access to renewable low-carbon energy and energy efficiency in order to have a sustainable transport system and equally sustainable cities. Africa also has to build resilient livelihoods and economic sectors. Africans ought to have a vision and buy in on this through “strong political leadership at the highest level, cross-sectoral focus and early stakeholder engagement,” the report suggests. It elaborates and says, by valuing what matters; Africa will focus on the quality of growth, national accounting of economic, social and natural capital. In an ever-changing world, the continent also has to plan for the future by “avoiding a lock-in of unsustainable development pathways”.


In any developmental initiative, sending the right signals is of importance to all stakeholders involved. Thus engagement of the private sector is crucial and requires a clear regulatory environment and policy incentives. Many interventions result in cost savings over project life time thereby increasing efficiency and productivity. But upfront investment costs may present obstacles for transition. For green growth options with global benefits, appropriate (financial) contributions from the international community are needed. Thus, as far as this is concerned, global financial partners have to come to the fore and assist Africa.


Some African Cases towards Green GrowthIn the report, AfDB shares some attempts by African countries to increase the continent’s footprint.

  • In Kenya, where only five per cent of the rural population has access to electricity, the Menengai geothermal energy project will enable a 26% increase in production capacity by 2018. This additional reliable, clean and inexpensive electricity will meet the needs of 500 000 new households and 300 000 small businesses and will provide 1 000GWh to industries.

  • In South Africa, AfDB’s support for the country's national electricity utility, Eskom, in implementing a US$1.3-billion renewable energy project is introducing concentrated solar power to sub-Saharan Africa and the first utility-scale wind power plant to South Africa (at 100MW each).

  • Increasingly dry agro-ecological conditions in the Gambia have led to declining productivity in arable areas where major food crops are grown. By investing in a system for improved soil and water management, the development bank has contributed to a six-fold increase in total crop production in the project area—from 4 000 to 25 000 metric tons a year between 2006-2010.


While not every puzzle piece in a country’s economic picture can be green, over time the pieces can come together to create a green picture. Green growth strategies need to be tailored to the development context of a country; a region and the continent. However, the process requires sustained political commitment, better valuation of natural and social assets in decision-making processes, and removing market distortions.


Source: The African Development Bank 



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