loader image

Economic growth or environmental protection : What choice for Africa?

Home > Blog > Sustainable Development > Economic growth or environmental protection : What choice for Africa?

Economic growth or environmental protection : What choice for Africa?

Development and environmental protection are intrinsically linked. Yet, Africa, whose economy heavily depends on extractive industries, often faces the dilemma of choosing between these two imperatives. However, the path to sustainability offers numerous economic opportunities for this rapidly growing continent.

Climate inequity and economic vulnerability

Africa is responsible for only 4 % of global carbon emissions. This is a negligible proportion compared to the impacts of climate change affecting the continent. Floods, droughts, heat waves, and other adverse effects cause 100 million internal displacements. Additionally, climate change adaptation costs the continent nearly 5 to 7 billion USD annually and is expected to reach 50 billion USD by 2030.

The alarming climate disruption also exacerbates the severe vulnerabilities of the continent. Famine, which ravages many regions of Africa, remains a major issue. Despite efforts to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the first two goals—no poverty and zero hunger—are the hardest to achieve.

Economy dependent on extractive activities

The global quest for sustainability challenges extractive activities, which are essential to the economies of many African nations. Currently, 45 African countries rely on the export of raw materials, including fossil fuels. These countries are major exporters of raw materials and key suppliers in many sectors. For example, Togo is the main supplier of organic soybeans to the European Union, while Madagascar is the world’s largest exporter of vanilla.

These sectors represent a significant source of income, especially in foreign currencies. Many debates suggest that these nations should export their natural resources to stimulate economic growth while preserving their environment. On the other hand, the exploitation and industrialization of these sectors offer an alternative to sustainable development but generate negative environmental impacts.

The best option is to reconcile sustainable development with economic growth. However, this remains a challenge, especially for the industrialization of the mining sector, which heavily depends on fossil fuel extraction. These countries face increasing pressure to give up this potentially lucrative revenue source. Paradoxically, investments in this sector are constantly increasing. Multinational companies continue their explorations in the Orange Basin. For example, in March 2024, Total Énergie obtained a new offshore exploration permit.

Africa : Future Clean Industrial Hub

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the crucial importance of digitization. Digitalization is essential to maintain education and business productivity during confinement. Video conferencing, even after the pandemic, is a boon for the continent. It revolutionizes education, particularly in remote areas, and introduces new practical working methods.

Fintechs, like mobile money, are rapidly expanding in Africa. These innovations transform the lives of the unbanked and promote financial inclusion, especially for youth and women. Technological advancements and revolutionary innovations also reduce the carbon footprint. In Mali, the digitization of administrative services and teleconsultation reduces long and costly trips. Similarly, the « Digital Senegal 2025 » program, supported by the UNDP, is expected to create 140,000 jobs and increase the digital sector’s contribution to GDP by 10 %.

Moreover, many government projects aligned with sustainable development goals are multiplying, particularly those aimed at climate resilience. Notable among them are the solar park project in Nairobi, designed to provide a stable electricity supply, and green hydrogen initiatives supported by the European Investment Bank, the International Solar Alliance, and the African Union.

Sustainable revolution : Persistent challenges

Since the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015, significant progress has been made in education, health, and gender equality. However, Africa still faces difficulties in eradicating poverty and hunger, although these issues remain priorities. States and local governments must better harmonize and coordinate their efforts to achieve the SDGs by adopting a holistic and interdisciplinary approach.

Silo approach to SDGs

States and local governments often work in isolation in different areas, without coordination or collaboration. A comprehensive approach that integrates social, environmental, and economic aspects is essential to achieve the SDGs. It is necessary to fundamentally rethink how problems are addressed to achieve a lasting impact. Each target serves as a progress indicator and should be seen as an opportunity for improvement.

Funding deficit

The lack of funds is a major challenge in achieving the SDGs, despite mechanisms like the Green Fund. Africa receives only 3 % of global climate adaptation financing. The SDGs are not prioritized by major financiers, who prefer to invest in African mineral resources. Additionally, public finances are often poorly managed, limiting the sustainable and optimal impact of available resources. Investments in national and international conference participation are costly, while digitalization allows for lower-cost interactions.

Inadequacy of projects with African culture

Some green and sustainable projects fail due to cultural mismatches. Recent progress mainly stems from efforts to survive natural disasters, with very few true initiatives aimed at strengthening resilience to climate change. To ensure their sustainability and success, it is imperative to adapt these projects to local cultures. Ethics, cooperation, and government leadership are crucial to overcoming challenges in Africa, especially in conflict areas like North Kivu. A balance between economic development and humanity’s survival is also necessary.

Share this article
Share this Article:
Join our newsletter

Join the latest releases and tips, interesting articles, and exclusive interviews in your inbox every week.