18/01/2016 07:37 GMT | Updated 17/01/2017 05:12 GMT

Post COP21: Africa and Climate Change

Friday December 12 was a significant day in African development. Nearly 200 countries united to approve the Paris Agreement, which will come into effect in 2020. A truly historic deal, the Paris Agreement commits all signatory countries to limit global temperature well below 2C and pursue efforts to contain it to 1.5C. In addition, the deal requires all parties to peak greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.

I believe that the Paris Agreement represents a positive step forward in Africa's efforts to combat climate change. First, the deal promises developing countries $100 billon per year in climate finance by 2020. This funding will be vital in the continent's efforts to implement adaptation strategies to reduce its unique susceptibility to climate change, and adopt mitigating measures in order to achieve sustainable growth. Furthermore, the Paris Agreement highlights the importance of achieving 'universal access to sustainable energy in developing countries, especially Africa', which will provide strong impetus for greater investment in renewable energy.

While this comprehensive, global treaty is encouraging, we must not lose sight of the immense challenges ahead. Although it currently contributes the lowest share of greenhouse gas emissions, Africa is the most vulnerable continent to climate change, exacerbated by multiple stressors including weak adaptive capacity and widespread poverty. Consequently, we will need to take decisive action to achieve the Paris Agreement's vision. As the leading source of job creation and an engine of growth, I believe that private sector companies are well positioned to help African countries cut greenhouse gas emissions and drive sustainable, low-carbon development.

As Aknwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank, points out, Africa has incredible renewable energy resources. For example, the continent can source an additional 10 terawatts of solar energy, 1,300 gigawatts of wind power, and 15GW of geothermal potential. Private companies have the financial resources and clout to significantly scale up investment in renewable energy and help unlock Africa's potential. Last year, Google announced that it is investing in the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project in Northern Africa, the continent's largest wind project. Once complete, Lake Turkana will bring 310 megawatts of clean energy onto Kenya's grid- enough to power more than two million households across the country. The project will also reduce Kenya's reliance on fossil fuels and help stabilise the country's energy supply. I want to emphasise that these investments are not gifts. Rather, they are beneficial to all stakeholders: companies are helping to strengthen the infrastructure that they need to operate on the continent. At the same time, African governments get the help they need to cut deploy new technologies transforming energy systems across the world and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the Climate Policy Initiative, the private sector devoted $US243 billion to climate-related investments, making it the largest source of climate finance. However, Africa's unique susceptibility to climate change means that it needs even greater levels of funding to scale up adaptation efforts. Accordingly, I would call on for-profit companies to work with multilateral organisations, African governments, and other stakeholders to augment the climate financing made available through the Paris Agreement. Although the current focus is on mitigation, UNECA outlines the exciting opportunities available with regard to adaptation such as debt and equity through direct project lending, and credit lines to local finance institutions. In addition, enhancing the capacity of people and institutions is essential to mobilising extra climate finance. In this way, businesses can contribute their expertise by partnering with researchers and academics to enhance proposals for competitive grants.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, businesses can help African countries implement the Paris Agreement by reducing their own carbon footprint. For example, TAAG, the Angolan national carrier, is investing heavily in more fuel-efficient technologies. Furthermore, FMCG giant, Unilever, has pledged to become 'carbon positive' in their operations by 2030. To achieve this, the company says that it will source 100% of its total energy across its operations by renewable energy by 2030, and eliminate coal from its energy mix by 2020. In parallel, I would encourage institutional investors to review their portfolios and reduce carbon-intensive assets. This can greatly assist countries to achieve their intended nationally determined contributions.

Ultimately, Africa's great vulnerability to the effects of climate change demands a multi-stakeholder response. Given their financial resources and scale, private sector companies can be vital partners to African countries by scaling up investment in renewable energy, boosting climate finance, and decarbonising their own operations.