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Even with drastic emissions reductions, the world will need to be removing between 5 and 16 billion tons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere every single year by 2050.There are many approaches to carbon removal – from so-called nature-based solutions to so-called engineered removal. Africa is very well positioned to remove carbon at globally relevant scale

The most recent IPCC reports are clear - humanity has left cutting emissions too late. Any realistic path to avoiding unacceptable levels of warming now requires us to not only drastically cut emissions (at least halving them by 2030) but also undertake an equally massive effort to remove greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.

Africa’s Potential

Africa’s vast forests, mangroves and peatlands currently store years of global emissions. The peatlands of the Congo Basin, for example, store nearly 30 Gt of CO2e – as much as the amount emitted globally through the burning of fossil fuels for 3 years. (Vera Songwe’s TED talk about Congo River Basin peatlands), and can continue to store CO2 every year.

They need to be protected so what they currently store, does not get released. They need to be managed so that they keep adding to that storage as much as possible every year. And they need to be expanded, restoring the vast degraded landscapes.

New business and finance models are needed to make this work and to create inclusive benefits for African communities – and carbon markets play an important role in that. Two examples of models that use carbon markets to protect and restore Africa’s natural treasures, are KOKO Networks and Ngorongosa National Parks. Farmers can play an active role in carbon removal through land management practices like on-farm tree planting, biochar and soil carbon management. These mechanisms are extremely labour-intensive, and in Africa, where many youths are looking for meaningful employment, this opportunity is a win-win.

These natural treasures are not only key in controlling our planet’s temperature, but also hold unique and important biodiversity, and provide essential so-called ecosystem services – for example, they play a vital role in the water cycle across Africa, driving rain patterns that are key to humanity.

Africa’s potential is meaningful on a global scale – and can be economically significant for the continent. Many climate-action activities are labour intensive and thus most efficiently executed where labour is abundant. Reforestation, creating biochar and managing mangroves are some examples.

CAP-A has developed a data tool to estimate the number of jobs that climate action could create across the continent. The tool uses globally leading scientific insights to show, for Africa as a whole and for individual countries, Africa’s potential to remove CO2 with nature-based approaches. It shows this potential in tonnes of CO2, but it also shows the number of jobs created and the expected related revenue at different carbon prices – and thus quickly shows the potential for inclusive economic growth from this type of climate action.

According to that tool, nature based solutions alone have the potential to create more than 86 million jobs and improved livelihoods when receiving $ 50 per tonne of carbon. This would be equivalent to almost 10% of Africa’s labour force in 2050, a huge boost for the economy of the youth.

  • Africa can remove 680 MT CO2e annually using nature-based removal approaches. Using the sale of carbon credits as the only revenue to pay for this, 308 Mt CO2e per year is viable when receiving $ 50 per tonne of carbon. This can drive $ 15 billion in revenue and support 35 – 86 million Africans by generating up to 67 million new jobs and improving livelihood for an additional 19 million people.
  • In addition, Africa can avoid 835 Mt of additional emissions annually by properly protection natural resources and avoiding deforestation, mangrove and peatland loss and landscape degradation. This is not removal and thus does not help us to get to the 5 – 16 Gt CO2e removal needed according to the IPCC – but these emissions do need to be avoided! Again, using the sale of carbon credits as the only revenue to pay for this, over 450 Mt CO2e per year is viable at a carbon price of just $ 10/ tonne (as these activities typically attract lower prices than removal)

Hybrid and engineered removal solutions such as enhanced weathering, biochar, and Direct Air Capture and mineralised storage, are rapidly evolving – and attract a lot of funder and investor attention. Different thought they are, they all need a lot of energy – which needs to be renewable to avoid generating emissions in order to capture them, going 2 steps forward and 1.5 step backwards.

And ideally, they are deployed in locations where there are no sizeable fossil fuel emissions to be displaced. As you can see in the section on Africa’s assets (hyperlink), Africa has just that and could be an excellent location to rapidly scale these solutions. CAP-A founder James Mwangi recently gave a TED talk about the potential of Africa for the future of engineered removal – and vice versa, about how engineered removal can help resolve Africa’s energy poverty.

Africa's great carbon valley -- and how to end energy poverty

Our lives depend on curbing climate change, but so many priorities seem to be in competition. What’s the most urgent thing humanity can do right now? Social entrepreneur James Irungu Mwangi tells us why Africa could be the ideal home for scaling the latest and most ambitious climate technologies — including in places like Kenya’s Hell’s Gate National Park, which could become part of what he calls the “Great Carbon Valley.”