Global climate change movement offers huge opportunity for Africa
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala
JOHANNESBURG - The Covid-19 pandemic continues to have a devastating impact across the planet and in roles with the World Health Organisation and GAVI, I have seen first-hand the scale of the challenge ahead, but I believe it is a moment in history that presents Africa with very real opportunities.
There is a growing consensus across the world that now is our once in a lifetime opportunity to act if we want to save our planet and our futures. That is why the fight against Covid-19 must include a climate change strategy that rebuilds stronger, inclusive economies geared for low carbon growth.
This is especially the case in Africa. As a continent we know we have done the least of any group of people on earth to create climate change, contributing just 2 to 3 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions. And yet our continent is the most ecologically fragile and therefore the most likely to bear a disproportionate burden of a changing climate in the coming decades.
However, there are reasons for optimism. There is a mounting body of evidence that shows that a people-centred approach to climate action is possible and that pursuing economic growth and protecting the environment need not be mutually exclusive.
It is estimated that bold climate action could deliver $26 trillion (R433trl) in economic benefits through to 2030. Other benefits of switching to a clean economy include the creation of more than 65 million new low-carbon jobs, and 700 000 fewer air pollution-related deaths.
This is the new growth story in the world, and it comes with exciting economic and market opportunities that Africa must capitalise on. We need people-centred climate action that will unlock social and economic benefits, and a just transition away from a high-carbon economy. In Africa, that would mean restoring ecosystems in ways that also raise rural incomes, reduce emissions, and build resilience; or using revenues from carbon pricing to better target support to low- and middle-income households.
And we must also focus on the education of girls and women, because once we do that – we have educated a household and from there we can educate a nation about the importance of caring for our planet.
Another reason I am optimistic is the innovation I see in Africa. This has been most evident this year in our battle against the virus where we have seen people inventing digital trackers and all sorts of apps and technologies that are being deployed by governments to monitor Covid-19.
Delivering the benefits of a new climate economy requires ambitious action across key economic systems, creating the conditions for the phase out of coal and rapid scale-up of renewables in the energy sector; investing in shared, electric, and low-carbon transport in cities; scaling up sustainable food and land use systems, including forest landscape restoration; targeting investment to resilient water infrastructure; and reducing emissions from key industrial value chains, such as plastic.
Africa has that ambition. Initiatives are being developed across the continent to meet the formidable challenges that lie ahead. But this ambition needs support.
That is why I am honoured to be joining Prince William and a team of leaders from different parts of the world as a member of the Earthshot Prize Council.
The Earthshot Prize is a new multi-million pound global prize which aims to incentivise change and create a new wave of ambition and innovation around finding ways to help save the planet. These can be new technologies, systems, policies, or solutions and can come from anywhere in the world, from all sectors, and from the grassroots upwards. Crucially, these solutions will work on every level, and as well as having a positive effect on environmental change we hope they will improve living standards globally.
I believe that this Prize has the potential to drive real change as we work together to protect our planet. Whether that be through fostering new ideas, nurturing talent, maximising impact, or scaling solutions.
The Earthshot Prize is inspiring, optimistic, and most importantly it is truly global. I know that it will inspire people right across Africa – including young people, who are so crucial to our ability to innovate and bring about real, tangible change.
Through the Prize, the solutions championed in Africa could be replicated, supported and scaled in countries all around the world, and where those affected most by climate change will be the ones who feel the positive effect of the solutions first.
We now have a unique opportunity to address the impacts of climate change in Africa. We can lead with a people-centred innovative approach that can propel sustainable development in ways that improve millions of people’s lives.
Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala is an economist and international development expert, serving twice as Nigeria’s Finance Minister. She is Co-Chair of The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate and was recently appointed as AU Special Envoy to mobilise international financial support for the fight against Covid-19 and WHO Special Envoy for Access to Covid-19 Tools Accelerator.