A united African front is imperative for climate action

The continent must come together to mitigate the impact of climate change while embracing sustainable development, says Kaddu Sebunya, CEO of African Wildlife Foundation

Friday 26 November 2021 13:51
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This year’s COP26 summit in Glasgow managed to prove two main things that we have always known but failed to acknowledge: one is that we are at a tipping point and two, African countries MUST unite to fight this ticking time bomb.

Even though, it is common knowledge that Africa has released the least amounts of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, we, Africans, are likely to be the victims of climate emergency disasters.

And we have been seeing this warning signs, from the locusts’ plagues, incessant flooding, prolonged and intensified drought periods, increased rainfall, you name it.

The handwriting has been crimson clear on the wall, we have just failed to recognize who the letter is addressed to.

So, whilst, our emission levels have been the lowest, our numbers continue to grow at an alarming rate, and this is commensurate to our equal rapid rate of development.

We must take a step back and reevaluate our role in mitigating the impact of climate change while embracing sustainable development for the future of our beloved continent.

One thing is certain, Africa’s development is non-negotiable. But we must ensure that this development does not cost us our natural resource capital as it will openly be a false choice.

And this is where our unification is important, while other continents can afford to represent one another through regional bloc, African nations are yet to determine their unified voice especially on climate change.

Which is quite puzzling to say the least, seeing that individual African nations are making monumental strides individually in curbing climate impact; from significant percentages of renewable energy sources in Kenya and Morocco, groundbreaking sustainable agricultural techniques in Uganda and Ethiopia, and state of the art smart technological advancements in Rwanda and Nigeria – Africa has proven to be on the right trajectory towards development.

But that singular, unified voice is still muffled between our seats.

The Africa Protected Areas Directors Meeting that was held in Nairobi this mid-November aims at being one such amalgamated front. A pre-cursor event to the anticipated African Protected Areas Congress in March 2022 in Kigali-Rwanda, this in-person session was the first time Africa’s protected area directors convened to shape a continental agenda for the system of protected and conserved areas across the continent.

The value of safeguarding Africa’s protected, and conserved areas is understated in numerous instances when discussing climate action. This is the mindset we need to change if we must address how to combat this global menace.

If African leaders are serious about mitigating its impact, investing in protected and conserved areas must be a key. priority concern on annual basis and not one that is enshrined in Africa’s Agenda 2063.

The questions should be, will be there an Africa to envision in 2063 should these trends continue?

African governments must stop pursuing economic strategies from 40 or 50 years ago. Because of our majority youthful population composition, rather than “build back better”, we can simply choose a better path from the start. Additionally, we have incredible value in our natural resources that can be realized in non- extractive ways due to the changes in how business is being done these days.

Africa must have a comprehensive approach to climate resilience beyond adaptation financing, regardless of foreign contributions. Climate resilience, disaster preparedness and prevention, climate mitigation and adaptation, health and well-being, and biodiversitymust be our key focus of implementation if we aim to make a significant difference.

We have to stop thinking about nature as “nice to have”. We are undervaluing nature. All of our sectors rely on it, and many of our trade partners do too. Our system of protected and conserved areas provides the backbone of our natural infrastructure, yet they face a financing gap of $200 billion. Companies that rely on them need to pay for them. Further, our politics are such that we are at times negotiating against ourselves.

The reality is that to solve climate change there are incentives for high emitters to pay us to preserve our natural infrastructure. Yet we dismiss these mechanisms due to historical injustice. Why would we negotiate against offers to pay us to set aside our reserves? Rather, we should secure that nest egg, but make it conditional on the investment we need to leapfrog old growth strategies.

There is an opportunity at the moment, if the private sector and public sector in Africa show leadership, to negotiate for technology transfer that would help us leapfrog the old infrastructure we are often building now to build economies that compete in the global system of the future -high, tech, low carbon and decentralized. The world needs us to achieve desired future climate scenarios. That’s leverage. It is indeed time for us to “think out of the box” about how we grow our economies and use that leverage to secure our natural infrastructure while adopting new cleaner technologies that drive clean green growth.

It starts with vision – our companies need to be hungry to build sustainability. Our national leaders need to set economic agendas that properly value and invest in natural infrastructure and identify our national comparative advantages in the modern global economy, and at a local level we need really solid planning to make sure we grow while not degrading the resource base, and then bring investment and business incubation to the small business entrepreneurs that will drive wealth at a local level.

Once Africans realize the strength we have in numbers in unity, we can easily take charge in leading the rest of the world to combat climate action.

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