Atmospheric resources offer important opportunities for sustainable development and improving human well-being. Their sustainable management can contribute towards the realization of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and meeting the MDG targets, as well as regional and national targets:

  • Rainwater harvesting can increase access to safe and clean water;
  • Effective rain-fed agriculture can improve food security and thus reduce extreme hunger;
  • Harnessing renewable energy resources can power small-scale rural industries and improve income;
  • Developing national renewable energy resources can enhance reliability and lower costs of electricity to the productive sectors;
  • Harnessing solar energy can improve access to household lighting and power, and increase livelihood and educational opportunities;
  • Increasing participation in global businesses and the market sector can lead to improved income and enhance opportunity; and
  • Reducing air pollution can result in improved health and reduce child and maternal mortality levels.

Improving scientific and technological capacity, including through partnerships with the global community, is an important strategy for harnessing the full potential of atmospheric resources. Information and knowledge are increasingly driving societies and economies. The success of future societies, businesses and economies will be determined by their abilities to generate, process and make use of knowledge. Thus, harnessing atmospheric resources for sustainable development demands that Africa invest in broadening and strengthening science and technology capacity. Adding value to natural resources requires the development of new materials, processes and products. Advances in materials and biotechnology are crucial for most renewable energy technologies (IEA 2004). In the short term, Africa will have to rely heavily on technology transfer, although in the medium to long term, developing indigenous technology will be essential.

Africa can promote innovations through the establishment of science parks. These will serve as seed- beds for new technology-based firms (NTBFs), which could contribute to poverty reduction in the medium to long term. In the short term, African governments could enter into partnerships with scientists in the African diaspora to support research and development in Africa. This strategy will repatriate knowledge and skills to Africa and assist in mitigating the “brain drain”.

Investment in basic research is important for maximizing opportunities. International cooperation, including through establishing partnerships between developing countries, could offer crucial support and access to resources. Cooperation between South Africa, India and Brazil in nanotechnology development is one example for an effective research partnership. Investing in basic research is important, as noted by the IEA:

“Developing advanced technologies requires not only applied research and technology refinement, but also the innovation that stems from advances in basic science. Knowledge flowing from basic research is what will feed the development of new materials, bioprocesses, nanotechnologies, and other approaches that could reduce clean technology costs. It could also lead to new unforeseen technologies and novel approaches to providing energy services. Effective linkage between basic science and applied technology development will be important to ensure that these opportunities are opened up” (IEA 2003a).

The availability of fossil energy reserves underpins the wealth of African countries and their ability to invest in the development of renewable energy resources, such as hydropower and solar energy. Oil reserves are found mainly in Algeria, Angola, Chad, Gabon, Mauritania, Equatorial Guinea, Egypt, Nigeria, Libya and Sudan and have been an important factor in improved economic growth (ECA 2005b). Africa has just 5 per cent of the world’s coal resources, and over 97 per cent of this is found in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Botswana (EIA 2003). Most of the natural gas reserves are found in Western Africa (Nigeria 30.8 per cent) and Northern Africa (Egypt 10.7 per cent, Algeria 39.6 per cent, and Libya 11.5 per cent) (WEC 2001). Countries not endowed with fossil fuel reserves require substantial financial support to develop their atmospheric resources.