2009 Tutu Fellows James Mwangi was a featured speaker at the Climeworks Direct Air Carbon Capture Summit in June 2023, delivering the keynote address. His session dealt with direct air carbon capture, which, he says is at a turning point. However, the marathon to build a carbon removal industry that successfully operates at gigaton scale has only just begun.
James said that Africa is often painted as the quintessential climate victim and the continent that has had the least to do with creating the impacts the world is facing from fossil fuels use. And, he says, for many, that's where the conversation tails off. But the scale of the problem that climate change presents requires Africa to be an active participant in the solutions - especially with so few countries globally living up to net zero emissions promises.
For the world to become climate positive, some countries are going to need to remove carbon at massive scale. Africa presents the best opportunity for this to happen.
Nature-based solutions, he says, cannot get the world where it needs to get to, even with incentives. And while Africa should do this too, it doesn't go far enough. Instead, he says, the world needs to tap into Africa's potential for carbon capture and net negative development. African has a superabundance of renewable energy, with 40% of the world's terrestrial solar energy hitting the continent - but only 1.2% of the world's solar panels are installed in Africa, and 0.6% of investment in solar.
James spelled out other advantages Africa offered - including a young population and resources needed to develop infrastructure for a quarter of the world's population. That's a lot of concrete into which carbon could be stored, he said.
And much of the uptake of renewable energy - wind, geothermal and other techologies - isn't occurring because of a lack of investment to use that energy isn't there. By investing in climate positive growth using renewable energy, it would allow for higher incomes without corresponding increases in emissions; by producing for the world with lower carbon intensity, it accelerates decarbonisation. Energy intensive industries could be located in Africa and producing a win-win for the planet. James also covers much of the subject matter at the conference in a compelling TED talk titled Africa's Great Carbon Valley.
You can view his speech at the conference below: