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  • Writer's pictureBJIL

Addressing Climate Change and Displacement in Africa through Public-Private Partnerships

Amanda Colding (J.D. Candidate, Class of 2024) is a contributing editor. Her interests include private-sector international law, human rights law, gender-based violence advocacy, refugee rights, and youth and disability rights. Amanda holds a B.A. in English from Spelman College in Atlanta, Georgia, where she studied abroad in Durban, South Africa, for a semester. Before law school, Amanda served as a Freedom Corps Fellow at the Working Families Party and a coach for Progressive Pipeline’s cohort of fellows. Currently, she works as the team coordinator for the International Human Rights Law Clinic and will be working with the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, next semester. She speaks French at an intermediate level.


Solar panels in Rwanda. Source: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany
Solar panels in Rwanda. Source: Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, Germany

Climate Change in Africa

On the continent of Africa, many countries are suffering the damaging effects of climate change which is impacting each community’s way of life.

According to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), African communities are encountering highly destructive floods and droughts that are affecting states’ economic systems. In the WMO’s words,“[r]ising water demand combined with limited and unpredictable supplies threaten[s] to aggravate conflict and displacement.”

The WMO’s State of the Climate in Africa 2021 Report has highlighted the extreme events the continent has experienced, ranging from extreme floods and tropical cyclones to droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, and sand storms. While South Sudan and Nigeria have experienced extreme flooding, cyclones have moved through Madagascar and Mozambique. Algeria has undergone a series of 43 wildfires in June 2022 and 22 wildfires the following August.

The report also indicates the cross-cutting impacts of these climate crises on agriculture, community displacement, and the economy.

The droughts and floods in 2021 propelled hunger and malnourishment across countries in Africa. These factors, coupled with economic slowdowns and downturns, contributed to food insecurity and inhibited the progress toward the zero hunger goals in Africa. East Africa encountered long droughts from below average raining seasons which raised food prices and made food unavailable or inaccessible. This left more than 58 million East Africans to suffer from food insecurity and famine. At the same time, in West Africa, cereal production was impacted by sporadic and late rains which increased food prices and decreased agricultural outputs . From October to December 2021 23.7 million people in the Sahel and West Africa suffered from a food crisis or worse. In African countries drought-related hazards have led to the loss of over half a million people’s lives and an economic loss totaling over 70 billion USD.

The Grand South region of Madagascar faced its worst drought in thirty years in 2021. This left the population struggling on the verge of famine during the year. Madagascar had also fallen victim to an Armyworm outbreak which led to 60% of crops being lost. Malagasy locusts also infested more than 48,00 hectares of land. As a result, 1.14 million people experienced high levels of food insecurity from April to September 2021. North Africa has seen multiple harsh fires that have burned thousands of hectares of land, damaged orchards, and disturbed livestock. In Algeria, 40,00 hectares of land were burned, more than 5,000 hectares of fruit trees were lost, and 19,000 farm animals were killed.

As these climate crises increasingly contribute to food insecurity, they are also causing high levels of displacement and a surge in climate refugees. Many internally displaced people in Africa live in the areas most impacted by climate change while lacking the necessary resources to guard against climate change’s effects.

This situation highlights the inequality and disproportionate impact that climate change has on Africa. Although the continent as a whole only contributes to “2% to 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions,” its people are among the first to feel climate change’s worst effects.

Inherent Risk for All Countries

According to UN projections, Africa’s population is set to double in 2050 and one in four people will live in Africa. By 2100, Africa’s share of the world population is set to rise from 17% to 40%. As Africa’s population grows, more and more African people will be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis

By 2100 the climate crisis will have worsened and there will be a severe increase in the number of climate refugees emigrating from East, West, North and South Africa.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) addresses the impact climate change has on migration and declining living conditions. UNHCR addressed the way that natural resources like drinking water have become scarce in regions that host refugees. The High Commissioner also highlights the way climate change acts as a threat multiplier when it comes to existing tensions and conflicts. Due to extreme weather events, 20 million people on average are forced to leave their homes and move to other regions in their countries annually.


This will expand the population of refugees that are forced to leave their countries due to their home state being uninhabitable. The crisis will push more climate refugees to seek safety and resources in bordering African countries and more Western countries.

Public-Private Partnerships as a Way Forward

Although countries in Africa are facing the dire consequences of climate change, there are still many opportunities to enforce global cooperation to tackle the climate crisis that affects us all. Developed countries who once exploited African countries by extracting resources through oppressive practices have the chance to create legislative frameworks that incentivize public-private partnerships with African governments. These nations have an opportunity to create legislative frameworks that protect against corruption and exploitation in African countries while also encouraging private entities to invest in green technologies that could help tackle the climate crises faced in each country in Africa.

African countries are in such a great position to lead the world in global climate action because their economies do not have to overcome pre-existing carbon-based economic infrastructures. While other countries will be occupied working to decarbonize their economies and transform old carbon-based economic structures, Africa has the opportunity to invest in a robust green sustainable economy. The continent can be the first to take on this innovative approach to the economic market and show other countries how to build an economy that is centered around creating a sustainable environment while they work to decarbonize. As noted by the founding CEO of the Climate Action Platform for Africa “[t]he continent doesn’t have an ‘old economy’ that needs to be decarbonized. It can invest right away in the green economy that we need — an economy that’s net positive for the planet and the people.”

This would be possible through the young workforce that continues to grow as well as the continent’s large plots of land and renewable resources. Investing in a wholly green economy would open up a path for new economic opportunities in Africa.

The Climate Action Platform for Africa is a public benefit organization that demonstrates the value of climate mitigation efforts through projects that utilize its natural resources, land, and young workforce. In the Climate Action Platform for Africa there are three pathways that Africa can pursue to create a green- and sustainable-based economy. One of these pathways would be uplifting sustainability as a core principle when adopting technology and business models for consumption and production. Sustainable technologies could lead to “job creation, better public health and improved climate change resilience for the continent.”

Another way Africa can shift to a more sustainable and green economy is through keeping bulky raw processing industries on the continent rather than exporting to other places that will use coal and additional polluting energy sources to process them. Thisreduce[s] emissions from global value chains” while also increasing economic investment and job creation on the continent.

Africa also maintains a substantial amount of forests, grasslands, peatlands, and mangroves which plays a substantial role in the decarbonization process by slowing climate change and environmental degradation. To maintain these efforts it is essential that the international community works to compensate these communities and employees who work to keep the lands nurtured and alive.

Currently, according to the Infrastructure Consortium for Africa (ICA), investors struggle with investment because of a lack of political will and certainty in the implementation of public-private partnerships. Other barriers to expanding public-private partnerships that the ICA mentions include the lack of institutional capacity, unrealistic expectations, financial risk, the regulatory environment, potential corruption, and the lack of transparency.

Developed countries can play an essential role in overcoming these challenges by creating legislative incentives for private actors to invest in the maintenance of green habitats through tax breaks. This would require countries to enter into bilateral treaties with African countries to allow investment in green technologies in Africa while also encouraging sustainable environmental efforts.

One case study of public-private partnerships working for the benefit of another region’s economy is that of the Central Partnership for Central America (PCA). In partnership with Vice President Harris, the World Bank, and private sector actors, the PCA “mobilized $3.2 billion in investments with a 10-year goal to create one million jobs and economically enable 20 million individuals.”Although this is set to happen over a set period of time, 450,000 people have been included to use MasterCard, Visa, Bancolombia, and Davivienda and two million people have accessed broadband services through Microsoft and Millicom. Microsoft delivered internet access to children in rural indigenous communities totalling around 4000 people.

To transform Africa’s economy into a green, sustainable one African countries should turn to resources that guide the States in a way that is financially responsible for investors and safe for the public sector. The Infrastructure Consortium for Africa, the World Bank, and Partnerships UK also came together to create “Attracting Investors to African Public-Private Partnerships: a Project Preparation Guide” to outline the ways to make transforming public-private partnerships in Africa into a reality. It addresses the necessity for a policy framework, a legal framework, and an investor framework that ensures an investor’s participation in public-private partnerships while also encouraging full integration of the partnership in the public sector.

This strategy to achieve a green sustainable economy through public-private partnerships provides a great opportunity for countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Belgium, and France to confront their histories of colonization and imperialism which left many African countries that were rich in raw materials and resources behind in the developed world. It gives developed countries that reaped many of the rewards from their exploitative and corrupt practices the chance to contribute some form of reparations to the countries that have suffered the most since the Berlin Conference.

This would require these countries to cede power in efforts to save the world from the global climate crisis that’s leaving countries like Senegal at risk of extreme flooding which threatens to displace 80% of its colonial capital by 2080.

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