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Towards sustainable development in Africa

As we know, there is historically a direct correlation between the level of human development and the consumption of fossil energy (Edgar G. Hertwich and Glen P. Peters, Carbon Footprint of Nations: A Global, Trade-Linked Analysis, Environmental Science and Technology (2009). Thus, a 10% growth in GDP is almost invariably accompanied by an 8% increase in CO2 emissions. Long before GHG emissions became a major concern, Western countries fed their growth since the end of the 18th century by burning coal and hydrocarbons, increasingly saturating the atmosphere and CO2 and other gases contributing to global warming, to speak only of these pollutants...

Now, with the achievement of our level of development has come awareness of climate impact, and draped in our newfound virtue, we rightly advocate weaning ourselves gradually, and the rest of humanity with us, from our unquenchable appetite for fossil fuels. Yes, but what about emerging countries, or even those who only aspire to become so? Are we going to impose our admirable model, when we have finally developed it, on all those countries that aspire to reach our standard of living? The answer is clearly no. A large number of States explicitly claim the right to exploit their fossil fuels for their development, as explained in particular by the director of the national oil company of Congo. “We must develop our States and it must be a dynamic and not a rupture. We can't stop oil, it's the country's main resource [...]. So we cannot break away from crude oil overnight…”

Can we blame them? Despite the glaring governance problems affecting the continent, the leaders make this obvious observation like anyone else: in sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 60% of young people are out of work and each year nearly 10 to 12 million arrive on the employment market. It is estimated that the net creation of jobs in the formal sector does not exceed 3 or 4 million. Indeed, on average, 86% of jobs in Africa are in the informal sector. This is because the current African growth model continues to rely heavily on traditional low-productivity sectors, commodity exports and government spending.

Changing this model would require the creation of a processing industry, which consumes a lot of energy, although the now hegemonic position of Southeast Asia leaves very little room for Africa. And indeed, only 6% of all jobs created between 2000 and 2018 in sub-Saharan Africa were in the manufacturing sector, which now accounts for only 6.2% of total employment.

Burning hydrocarbons would represent the solution? It is doubtful... And yet, Africans claim this right. The Earth has not finished warming up.


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