African cities are stepping up to the plate on climate action. Cities throughout the massive continent know how far-reaching and severe the impacts of rising temperatures will be, so they’re not standing down.
Nine cities—including Tshwane, South Africa; Dar es Salaam, Tanzania; and Lagos, Nigeria—pledged this week to achieve “zero carbon” economies by 2050, according to Reuters. That means either absolutely no carbon emissions, or offsetting a small amount of emissions by perhaps planting trees or investing in renewables. Waste management, transportation, and buildings are just some of the areas cities must focus on to reduce their emissions levels.
This effort coincides with their respective countries’ attempts to meet the goals set forth in the Paris climate agreement. Each country has its own goals: Nigeria, for instance, hopes to reduce its carbon emissions by at least 20 percent by 2030. Ghana, whose capital of Accra signed onto the new pledge, has planned to reduce its emissions by about 15 percent by 2030.
African cities have begun thinking even further ahead, and that’s because they have to. While their nations have contributed minimally to climate change compared with the developed world, they’re poised to suffer the most. An uncertain climate will impact rainfall levels and exacerbate desertification in regions with high rates of poverty and subsistence agriculture. Cape Town, another signee, is feeling these impacts today, as persistent drought has led to such low water levels that the city was prepared for it to run out.
“We cannot ignore the implications of what will befall us if we do not act now,” said Accra Mayor Mohammed Adjei Sowah, at a meeting on urban climate action in Nigeria, per Reuters.
How African cities plan to meet their targets is a separate question. Many nations are still developing and struggle with electricity in general. Dirty energy sources like oil, gas, coal, and biomass are often most economically feasible for households to cook and power their homes with. Unfortunately these not only emit loads of carbon into the atmosphere; they’re also super polluting and damaging to health.
There’s serious potential for renewables, though. Sub-Saharan Africa, for instance, is bathed in sunlight. It’s a matter of having the funds to invest in the technology, and doing so fast: By 2050, Africa is expected to be responsible for half of the world’s population growth. The more people, the more power they’ll need.
With the threat of climate change rapidly increasing, these cities have got no time to waste.