Eight years from now, the timeline for accomplishing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals will be over, and the elephant in the room remains as to whether the world will be on the right trajectory towards reducing global emissions and dependency on fossil fuels as recommended by the Paris Agreement that has a goal of limiting global warming to at least 1.5 Degrees Celsius by the end of the century.
Well, 70 percent of Sub-Saharan Africa uses either charcoal, kerosene, or firewood as the primary fuel to cook, which contributes to the death of at least 4 million people annually as a result of household pollution (more than the amalgamation of Tuberculosis, Malaria, and HIV). This reality poses a challenge to Africa’s energy sector to rethink the best model that can accelerate the process of achieving net to zero emissions by 2050.
Africa’s population growing at 2.7 percent annually -the fastest rate in the world– implies that more food will be cooked on the continent to feed the increasing mouths thereby increasing the urgency for alternative cooking fuels that are safer, affordable, and cleaner with zero carbon emissions to the environment to be introduced.
To attain better and more acceptable renewable cooking fuels, then the design thinking approach that encourages organizations to perceive people who are directly affected by a problem as partners in creating solutions needs to be embraced by accepting African communities that directly use fossil fuels as lead social innovators when testing cleaner and affordable green energies.
With climate change magnifying the already dilapidated livelihoods facing indigenous communities, The World Wide Fund (WWF) has taken a human-centered approach by tapping from indigenous communities’ ancient knowledge on sustentation of forest habitats towards conservation efforts of endangered species/forests.
Equally, at the peak of migrating towards greener fuels, users of charcoal, kerosene, wood, and other fossil fuels should be co-innovators within the design thinking process since they are the most affected by air pollution from fossil fuels through lived experiences and thus may have better programming ideas towards strengthening the process of green fuel production.
For instance, A youth group in Kibera ( Africa’s largest slum) that is recycling biodegradable food wastes to make alternative biogas as an alternative source for domestic cooking with no net carbon dioxide expresses concerns that biogas production produces a foul smell during fermentation and this may irritate residents who are congested in a slum area and they suggest that planting odor eliminators like vinegar around biogas fermentation areas may purify the air naturally.
Equally, small-scale farmers who access loans to start biogas production find it difficult to repay the same on time since they only use biogas for domestic cooking purposes which does not earn them an income. Therefore, development partners can utilize this gap by offering grants for poor smallholder farmers to set up biogas production initiatives.
Interestingly, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation projects that Africa’s youth population will double by 2050; implying that every year for the next decade, there will be up to 10-12 million young Africans who will transition into the employment sector that can only accommodate 3 million of them!
The disturbing news is that Green energy fuel production not only reduces carbon emission but also is a proven model for creating productive employment. However, recent research shows that even though in 2019, 11 million people got employment opportunities in renewable energy production, only 2 percent of them were from Africa.
In 2050 the world will witness Africa’s population doubling with 80 percent of Africans living in cities with the majority of them being hosted in crowded slums. As much as this is a distasteful reality , still the continent can make lemonade out of it by strategically recycling massive biodegradable wastes that will be available into renewable energy like biogas through a process that will not only reduce carbon emissions but also increase green energy employment opportunities for African youth living in slum areas.
As Wangari Maathai said, “The generation that destroys the environment is not the generation that pays the price. That is the problem”. It is therefore within our hands as Africans to conform to this wise saying by intentionally striving towards achieving a net carbon zero reality by 2050 so that her offspring don’t get exposed to unjustifiable extreme air pollution which is one of the leading causes of death on the continent.