By Jack A. Goldstone on March 24, 2021
In 2019, for the first time, CO2 emissions in both the European Union and the United States declined. Much of the planet’s hope for maintaining a livable climate depends on that trend continuing, and the focus of emissions reductions skews heavily towards the actions of the world’s largest emitters, which are largely concentrated in North America and Asia. The actions of countries in these regions—especially the United States, China, and India—are key to global success on climate. But on their own, they will not be enough.
In discussions of climate change, African countries are usually portrayed as victims of climate impacts, rather than as contributors to the crisis. Historically, the continent has contributed the least of any global region to fossil fuel emissions, yet it is already experiencing some of the world’s most dramatic changes in terms of drought, flooding, heat waves, and viable land use. Often missing from these conversations is the recognition that African countries are in fact critical partners for global climate change response.
Under President Biden’s leadership, the United States is working to reestablish its leadership on international climate action, and is taking steps to break with the previous administration’s foreign policy. As African countries take steps to grow their economies, ensuring that climate dialogues and decision-making are inclusive of the continent’s needs and priorities will be key to ensuring that future emissions from the region do not eclipse progress made elsewhere. It will take a global effort, enlisting the energy and contributions of Africa’s own youthful activists, skilled engineers, and patient leaders, spurred by investments and encouragement from abroad, to build a low-carbon future that nonetheless supports and propels Africa’s rapid economic growth.