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Earth Overshoot Day: What can East Africa do to Facilitate a Healthy Planet

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Photo credit: ASHRAF SHAZLY/AFP/Getty Images

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I’ve recently learned about a new phenomenon: ecological overshoot, which occurs when the demands placed on the natural ecosystem exceed its capacity to regenerate. Earth Overshoot Day, calculated by the Global Footprint Network, is determined by dividing Earth’s ecological resources produced in a year by humanity’s demand, then multiplying it by the number of days in a year. As of August 2nd, it’s estimated that humanity has depleted our planet’s ecological resources for 2023. Earth is in an environmental deficit until January 1st, 2024. We are currently consuming resources borrowed from future generations.

The planet has been experiencing ecological overshoot since 1970 due to the demands of growing economies and populations on Earth’s limited resources. The consequences, including droughts, climate change, biodiversity loss, and increased extinction rates, are visible worldwide. Earth Overshoot Day is an annual reminder of the seriousness of ecological and environmental problems. Humans must make more responsible choices for our planet and future generations.

So, what can East Africa do? East Africa’s carbon footprint is increasing annually at a rate of 6.5%. With a growing population and economy, 80% of the region’s energy comes from biomass, the primary driver of deforestation. Pastoralism also contributes to land degradation in the area. East Africa can harness renewable resources effectively beyond conservation, restoration, regenerative agricultural practices, and sustainable tourism.

Harnessing Renewable Resources

Despite global breakthroughs in renewable energy, renewables only account for 11% of global energy consumption. The Global Footprint Network reports that fossil energy consumption has remained constant since 2009, while global energy demand has increased by 20%. East Africa has abundant renewable energy resources, including wind, hydro, and solar. The vast coastline is an underutilized resource. East Africa can help reduce carbon and methane emissions from energy production in Africa and the world, exporting excess electricity to neighboring areas. Early investment in transmission infrastructure is crucial to facilitate this transition.

East Africa is blessed with resources capable of generating renewable energy, including wind, hydro, and solar power. Its vast coastline is one of the underutilized assets. Given the abundance of low-carbon energy sources, East Africa can contribute to reducing carbon and methane emissions from energy production in Africa and worldwide. Any surplus electricity generated within the region can be exported to neighboring areas. Establishing transmission infrastructure early is essential to enable the efficient transmission of excess electricity and replace high carbon and methane emissions with low-emission alternatives in other locations.

What about Improve Funding Opportunities?

When we examine the previous global investment flow in Sub-Saharan Africa, we observe that the region has received relatively minor investments in the past decade, with East Africa accounting for 43% of the cumulative investment. In East Africa, Kenya dominates the share of investments in off-grid renewables by 49%, while investments in other regional markets remain relatively low. Most of the investments in the region come from the public sector. Regional investment in renewable energy needs improvement. Financial resources are essential for transitioning to renewable energies and the green economy.

Governments in the region have committed 11% of their budget funds to address their climate needs and facilitate a transition to a green economy, but this is insufficient. 50% of the investment must come from the private sector. Our governments must break down the investment barriers by enhancing policy frameworks and the investment environment in the region. We cannot overlook the need for a multisectoral approach in designing strategies to improve funding opportunities, including attracting private investments.

Renewable energy is just one of the core areas that need investment. Forestry, sustainable development, and sustainable infrastructure are other areas on which our governments should focus. According to the African Development Bank, these are the core areas East Africa can leverage to develop green and climate resilience.

Read the AfDB 2023 report Mobilizing Private Sector Financing for Climate Change and Green Growth.

According to the report, East Africa has great potential for investments in green infrastructure and green technologies. Access to funding for SMEs in the field of green technologies needs improvement. One of the reasons why SMEs are not quickly adopting green practices is a lack of finances. However, SMEs comprise a significant proportion of the region’s private sector and thus play a crucial role in achieving environmental sustainability.

Tailor-made strategies are imperative to meet each country’s climate and green economy needs. However, intergovernmental cooperation is just as important. Coordination is essential to ensure the sustainable consumption of resources in the region, the implementation of green economy interventions, and the overall health of planet Earth. The world’s survival depends on the health of its natural resources; this responsibility falls on every individual and government, regardless of our carbon footprint rate.

High carbon-producing countries, such as the U.S., Australia, Germany, Sweden, Japan, and the U.K., must take more aggressive action to restore the planet. These countries are among the highest consumers of Earth’s resources, with equally high carbon emissions. Bold action is urgently needed for a healthier world, moving beyond mere commitments.

A writer and a champion of change and sustainable development. She writes on climate change, gender justice and equality, human rights, education, Tanzania and the wider region of Eastern Africa.

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