The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today, Mohamed Adow, Founding Director of Power Shift Africa and Climate Breakthrough Awardee.
“Africa can become a renewable energy superpower”
I grew up in a pastoralist farming community in northern Kenya. What first brought climate injustice home to me was my personal experiences. Seeing our family’s livestock killed by drought and our neighbours’ livelihoods destroyed. Handing out food to my community, while knowing this may only keep them alive until the next drought strikes.
Coming from this background helped me see the climate crisis clearly. It’s not abstract when it’s something you’ve witnessed first-hand. You can feel it in your gut.
Livelihoods under threat
I come from a region where five million pastoralists are in a critical situation. Their old way of life, herding animals in the rangelands, is falling prey to climate change.
Thousands of farmers and herders have been forced to give up their traditional livelihoods because consecutive droughts have decimated their livestock.
My first job was providing food aid. But this was like a band aid on a systemic problem. I realised that helping my community could not be achieved without a bigger change to the development pathway of Africa and the rest of the world: a shift away from fossil fuels and limiting global heating to below 1.5 degrees.
An African voice
From 2008 to 2019, I worked for Christian Aid, an international NGO, leading their global climate policy and advocacy work. During this period the media would often approach me, looking for an African voice, even though I was working for an international organisation.
And I thought: “How about setting up an African organisation, with the goal of becoming an authority on climate and energy issues in Africa?” That’s when I had the opportunity to help set up Power Shift Africa, an independent African organisation and thinktank.
Power Shift Africa works in policy, advocacy and communications. We aim to mobilise climate action across the continent and amplify Africa’s voice in the international climate arena. We present a united, well-evidenced message to African governments, other stakeholders, and to the media, to support a shift in climate and energy policies to low carbon and resilient alternatives. We also help increase media communications to leverage the African voice internationally.
Taking the lead
I believe the African continent is well positioned to lead the world towards a successful climate outcome at COP27. The way to do that is for Africa to play a greater role in the talks at a global level and push for ambitious action to be taken.
At the same time, our continent is the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. And when you look at international climate policy processes, you realise that Africa has been overlooked. At Power Shift Africa, we’re addressing these structural barriers and capacity gaps within national and regional decision-making bodies, civil society and state actors to support and enhance climate leadership.
Fossil fuel risks
My personal experiences of climate change make it hard for me to think of a situation where I would ever consider giving up. But there are major challenges. We’re currently in a difficult place, following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the shift in the geopolitics that has led to a scramble for African fossil fuels.
If we don’t stop this, we risk locking Africa into a fossil fuel development pathway. And there are short-sighted African governments who want to risk the opportunity to develop sustainably by turning to help Europe meet its oil and gas needs.
They don’t seem to realise that Europe has selfish motives – to plug the oil and gas shortage in the short term, while working to ditch fossil fuels in the long term. If that happens, Africa could become a big polluter burdened with stranded assets and economic instability, with our communities still left out of overly centralised energy systems.
Renewable energy potential
However, I believe that Africa can become a renewable energy superpower. So, the question becomes how can we radically shift away from centralised fossil fuel energy towards the vast distributed, people-centred renewable energy sources that deliver meaningful economic development and clean energy access for our population?
Some African countries are showing us what’s possible. My own country, Kenya, has almost 90% of its electricity powered by renewables. And Africa is home to the biggest solar plant in the world, in Morocco. We have huge wind and geothermal potential. With the right decisions and investment, I think African nations can easily tap into this.
Solving two crises together
Our appeal to leaders at COP27 is to hear the science, which is clear, and to hear the alarm bells, that are ringing, so we can collectively avoid catastrophic climate impact. In Africa, a central core of the climate crisis is energy. On one hand, almost 70% of our continent’s population lacks access to modern, reliable energy services. On the other hand, African states continue to rely heavily on fossil fuels.
At COP27, we’ll appeal to leaders to address these two crises of energy access and climate heating fossil fuels by solving them together. And how do you do that? Through a radical shift away from centralised fossil fuel energy towards distributed human-centred renewable energy sources. It’s what Africa needs and it’s what the world needs. My biggest hope for the future is that young people rise up and demand that the current generation effectively addresses the crisis we’ve caused. What we need is for young people across the world to join hands and demand greater climate action and to build pressure on governments.
Mohamed Adow is a Climate Breakthrough Awardee. He is an international climate policy expert and ardent advocate for the people who are disproportionately affected by climate change but play almost no role in causing it. Mohamed is the Founder and Director of Power Shift Africa, a nongovernmental organization and think tank based in Kenya to mobilise climate action in Africa and shift climate and energy policies to zero carbon. Prior to that, Mohamed led Christian Aid’s global climate policy and advocacy work for over a decade. While with Christian Aid, he led the creation of the Pan-Africa Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), which is made up of over 1,000 organizations across 48 countries. He is also an advisor to the Climate Vulnerable Forum and a former Board Chair of Climate Action Network International.
Mohamed Adow | Climate Breakthrough Project
The Climate Breakthrough Project is giving talented climate leaders the time, space and financial support to create and implement bold solutions that radically cut greenhouse gas emissions in their countries or around the world.
The IKEA Foundation is partnering with the Climate Breakthrough Project because we believe it is vital to enable visionary leaders to develop strategies that will help protect our planet for future generations.