This article provides an African perspective on the latest UNEP Adaptation Gap Report, aptly called ‘the Gathering Storm’, 2021.
The findings of the 2021 UNEP Adaptation Gap report are another reminder of the wisdom in the African proverb that says: “there are no shortcuts to the top of the palm tree”. In short, climate deterioration far outpaces global efforts to adapt.
The science is clear and leaves no space to doubt: the cumulative effect of all Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) commitments will likely result in a 2.7°C global warming. Even if we manage to achieve the best-case scenario and stay within 1.5°C, some impacts of climate change are already irreversible and will be with us for many decades to come. This requires much more elevated global action and concrete support to the developing world to adapt to the devastating consequences of climate change.
Especially for Africa, a region with a low socioeconomic base and has contributed least to climate change but is already disproportionately vulnerable to the changing climate. The report findings bring more bad news at many vital levels for the continent’s development, including social, economic and political stability.
The report paints a gloomy horizon and calls for urgent action to avoid a worse scenario. More actions are needed to overcome the already existing challenges that continue to be exacerbated by climate change. From food security, where already 257 million people still go to bed hungry every day, to nutritional security, over 60 million children are malnourished. To this painful situation, we add the 12 million young people joining a weak labour market every year looking for a decent and stable job.
This current situation calls for an appreciation of two fundamental realities. First, we must appreciate that Africa is not a single statistic data point. Each of the 54 countries has diverse socio-cultural realities with common threads of adaptation opportunities. In addition, the informal sector dominates economies across the continent, with up to 80% of economic players operating outside structured economic sectors. Second, tying any adaptation opportunity requires a realization that the primary driver of Africa’s disproportionate vulnerability is a low socioeconomic base. Therefore, enhancing the majority's economic participation stands out as a formidable strategy to actualizing meaningful adaptation in the continent.
Doing so calls for the prioritization of some critical levers, which would move the talk to action and make climate adaptation work for communities and economies bearing the brunt of climate change.
This would begin with complementing Adaptation with Mitigation. Article 7.1 of the Paris Climate Change Agreement is a stark reminder that to be adequate, the level of adaptation efforts must be at pace with the damage caused by emissions. Adaptation actions need a firm focus on enhancing ecological resilience and unlocking tangible income opportunities for communities. And for this to occur, mitigation needs to be a complementary activity undertaken simultaneously.
While over 90% of African countries have ratified their NDCs, an estimated 70% have not translated these NDCs into concrete plans that are attractive for implementation investments. It is a missed opportunity because it will be hard for African countries to attract investment for climate change without robust investment plans. So far, Africa and other developing regions need more than $70 billion to adapt to the changing climate.
In our work, we consider this step critical, and we work closely with African countries to support them transform their NDCs into investment plans to attract partners and financial resources.
Africa needs to build on its strengths, including its youth, who form 60% of the population. Another is the informal sector that engages up to 80% of the population. This will entail a symbiotic approach that guides young people to retool their skills and deliver mitigation solutions that enable agricultural informal sector actors to adapt to the changing climate.
In addition, African governments need to leverage their local governance structures and use them used effectively. Across the continent, local governance structures trusted by communities offer an effective conduit for upscaling adaptation. For example, in the Buganda Kingdom of Uganda, EBA and clean energy solutions have been taken up within the local governance structures.
Another lever is data for policy. Africa does not lack in pro- Adaptation policies. The more significant gap is in a lack of implementation of policy provisions already in place. African countries need to prioritise feedback mechanisms to uptake data on adaptation approaches that have proven workable with ground implementers.
This year's UNEP Adaptation Gap Report is an urgent reminder that Africa cannot afford to mortgage its future based on promises alone. Africa needs to intensify its implementation ambition by engaging all economic and social actors and building on its available assets.
“If you want to know the end, look at the beginning”. This African proverb aptly captures the parallels in Glasgow on Saturday 13th November 2021 as nearly 200 parties agreed to a compromise to keep the safe 1.5℃ warming threshold within sight, just as they did six years ago in adopting the Paris Agreement. The pragmatic optimism that pulled the globe together in 2015 to adopt the Paris Agreement was a good beginning that laid the foundation to finally iron out pending issues that prevented full, ambitious implementation of the agreement — which is what the Glasgow Climate Pact has achieved six years later.
COP26 registered some notable achievements. For example, while the planet was on course to a dangerous 2.7℃ warming going into Glasgow, new announcements made during the conference could see warming this century limited to 2.4 degrees C, or as little as 1.8 degrees C. In addition, parties agreed to revisit their commitments, as necessary, by the end of 2022 to put the planet on track for the safe 1.5°C warmings. To put this in perspective, estimates before the Paris Agreement in 2014 took the world to 3.7degrees C of warming this century! So, in the very short period from 2014 to 2021, predicted warming this century has fallen from 3.7 degrees to as low as 2.4 degrees or even 1.8 degrees. That is a very significant change. For the first time, the conference also agreed to phase-down unabated coal and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, all steps towards achieving the safe warming thresholds. And all this actuated in a manner that justly transitions economies to low emissions pathways.
The conference also finalized the “Paris Rule Book, “ which explains the “how” of implementing the Paris Agreement. This covered key issues of cross-border collaboration in implementation that are covered under Article 6 and transparency & reporting on progress by all parties that had previously been contentious. On the critical finance issues, wealthy countries committed to doubling the collective share of adaptation finance within the $100 billion annual targets for 2021–2025. And to reach the $100 billion goals as soon as possible. Parties also committed to a process to agree on long-term climate finance beyond 2025.
Implications of COP26 for Africa
But which way Africa? One fundamental fact is that climate change stressors did not stop even as the negotiations ended in Glasgow. Africa continues to hold the unenviable position of being disproportionately vulnerable. For a region that has contributed least to the changing climate, accounting for only 2–3%, Africa is already heating up twice as fast as the rest of the globe, and 20 countries are already warming more quickly than the globe. By proportionality, the implication is that as the world crosses the safe target of 1.5℃, Africa could be approaching catastrophic levels of up 3℃. And with this, the escalation of socioeconomic misery that is already at breaking point is guaranteed. This portends more bad news. Be it the 257million people experiencing hunger. The over 12million young people who need jobs every year remain disenfranchised in unemployment. Up to 60million children are malnourished and costing the continent between 1.9% and 16% of its GDP. To a surge in vector-borne diseases like malaria. To increase flood risks, where flooding costs between $10billion. Despite all these, another variable, the COVID-19 global pandemic, has been added to this equation of stressors
This then means that Africa’s pace to build resilience must exceed the global average. The continent must aim for resilience building at least at twice the global pace. And this should follow pathways that unlock tangible socioeconomic opportunities — including food security, creating inclusive enterprise opportunities and competitive macro-economic growth. By this ensure a just transition of Africa’s communities to the low emissions development pathway.
Already, the continent has taken steps to demonstrate this urgency. For example, the region was among the leading leaders in ratifying its first Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) commitments. Up to 98% of countries have ratified their 1st round Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) that are now being built upon. This makes Africa the continent with the highest compliance rate. As countries submit second-round NDCs, already 37 countries have submitted revised NDCs, with 18 being highlighted for submitting stronger targets. But while impressive, these emissions cuts need to be considered in the context of achieving a just transition for a region that remains a negligible emitter yet disproportionately vulnerable because of a low socioeconomic base.
Implementation considering a Just Transition in Africa
Fundamental questions need to be answered as to how the region approaches issues such as ending fossils fuel subsidies, operationalising market mechanisms, the finance question among key elements agreed to in Glasgow towards ratcheting up implementation ambition of the Paris Agreement. The following are the key issues to guide Africa’s implementation of its climate commitments considering the need to actuate a just transition.
First, relook at fossil fuel subsidies. It is estimated that Africa has spent as much as $75billion in fossil fuel subsidies in just one year. But the question we need to ask is, how do such expenditures contribute to a just transition? How do they contribute to job creation, for instance? The answer needs to start from a serious consideration of economic inclusivity. The entirety of Africa’s extractive sectors is estimated to employ less than 1% of Africa’s workforce. The lack of inclusivity in this sector coupled with the economic effects of commodities price shocks, where Africa has lost up to $63 billion due to price shocks, and leading oil economies shrinking by up to 10.6% in 2020/21, means that the region needs to look at everything around fossil fuels, including subsidies, from economic inclusivity. And this calls for an urgent need to re-invest proceeds from oil and fossil-based extractive industries into the inclusive climate-resilient areas of the economy instead of fuel subsidies that are unsustainable in the long run. Part of the $179billion in oil revenues that Africa earns, together with part of the $75billion currently expended in subsidies, needs to be re-invested in inclusive and climate-resilient sectors of the economy to provide dividends in jobs and competitive enterprise opportunities for the majority. For example, up to $320billion in new business opportunities can be added each year to Africa’s economies between now and 2030 if we transition to low carbon, value-added, sustainable, and climate-proofed food and land-use systems. Part of the proceeds from and subsidies expended in the oil sector needs to be re-invested to unlock these opportunities.
The second is just a transition in energy. The energy conversation in Glasgow focused on “phasing-down” coal and fossil fuel subsidies. We need to ask in Africa how this discussion relates to a region that is not only a negligible emitter but also leads to energy poverty. Currently, over 580 million Africans lack access to energy. In addition, unpredictable and frequent power outages cost firms in low- and middle-income countries — the majority in Africa — up to $300 billion each year. To bridge this gap, using fossil-based high emitting solutions such as generator-based power costs three to six times what grid consumers pay across the globe. This impedes the competitiveness of local enterprises that must pay more for unstable power than their competitors in the local marketplace. An equivalent discussion for Africa that will achieve the same objectives of abating energy-related emissions envisioned in Glasgow should be to bridge the energy divide using clean sources. And considering that energy is an enabler of economic development and not an end, this approach has two paradigms to focus on:
One is that up to 84% of Africa’s energy poor are in rural areas and live far from grid connectivity. The lower energy demand densities in rural areas coupled with high dispersal where potential users are spread sparsely over large areas mean that extending grid connectivity becomes uneconomical, including costly transmission losses. This then makes off-grid solutions the most economical for Africa. And in investing in such an off-grid, Africa will need to target its areas of comparative strength. Clean energy solutions such as solar power offer the region the most significant comparative advantage. Africa has the richest solar resource in the world. Africa enjoys the lowest cost of solar development at $1.30 per watt compared to the global average of $1.80 per watt. Africa holds less than 1% of the global total installed solar capacity even with this significant advantage. This is a time gap that the region should focus on bridging and turning its comparative advantage into a global competitive edge. Two is the context of application which should target productive applications. Bridging the energy gap needs to prioritise relevant energy solutions that can be applied to power key income-generating activities in Africa’s underserved to enable them to enhance incomes and build resilience.
The third is the finance gap. Even as Glasgow parties agreed to double the $100 billion pledge to developing countries, Africa already needs a minimum of $2.5trillion to implement its climate action commitments. This means that even if the pledges were honoured in full, the gap would still be gapping. At the same time, the region already invests in adaptation at the rate of 2% of GDP each year. The question is how the region can bridge the finance gap using what it already has. One area that is a big win for the region was the finalization of the rule book, with key issues of Article 6 being ironed out. This is to say that the region can leverage Article 6 to mobilise market financing to drive key NDCs action in the two most critical sectors to the just transition — agriculture and clean energy — that are already prioritised in over 70% of NDCs. For example, Article 6.2 on Internationally-Transferred Mitigation Outcomes allows countries that are considered the highest emitters to partner with low emitters across the globe — including in Africa — and agree on how their high emissions can be offset through investing in supporting a low emission action within the territories of low emitters. Africa, due to its negligible emissions, is a natural supply market here. But the key to Africa’s benefit should be on how well such market mechanisms are tied to catalyse the growth of competitive low carbon enterprises on the continent. While typical areas of investment have been in reforestation, Africa should take a strategic stance and prioritise how any collaborations towards reforestation will enhance much needed economic productivity. Africa should look at investing its 2% of GDP contribution to climate action to forging collaborations under Article 6 that unlock such tangible enterprises to implement up to 70% of its NDCs while unlocking key socioeconomic opportunities to drive a just transition.
Also, some of the money pledged and promised will go to developing countries to restore damaged land and help tackle wildfires, the above opportunities for Africa should inform how this money is utilised to drive the implementation of NDCs. Indirect financing through incentivising critical constituencies of implementers in Africa is key. These resources should be used to incentivize a shift to non-typical sources such as micro-finance & cooperatives that are most accessible to most Africans in the informal sector and most vulnerable. Leveraging the informal sector that provides livelihoods for up to 80% of Africans and the youth to invest in enterprise actions that drive the realisation of country NDCs is a critical niche to tap. Africa informal sector, as well as the youth, are already engaged in various actions. In addition to looking at new sources of investment, we need to look at catalysing a shift of investments by these actors who are the majority players in Africa’s economies.
Fourth, incentivise the youth & informal sector for implementation in the aforementioned areas. Africa can only compete from her position of strength. The region’s strength is her youth, who form over 60% of the population. Another is the informal sector that engages up to 80%. These two constituencies need to be tapped as the foot soldiers of ground implementation and inform policy recalibration to maximise implementation. The enterprises they do need to be incentivised to take up climate action solutions as productivity and income generation sources.
For example, clean cooking is an area in which many youths are already engaged. Fuelwood is a major driver of deforestation in Africa. The provision of sustainable alternatives that are better is a key incentive for reducing this risk that African countries need to prioritise in their NDCs implementation. It is crucial to support youth to retool their skills into establishing enterprise actions that drive clean cooking to lower pressure on ecosystems and minimize indoor pollution. Targeted fiscal incentives such as offering tax holidays for youth & informal sector entrepreneurs who establish enterprises in the NDCs areas to enable them to minimise their tax burden during the formative years will go a long way to attracting enterprise growth and longevity in climate action.
Fifth is data for policy. The entrepreneurial actions of the youth and informal sector actors in implementing climate actions need to be tapped as sources of empirical data of what works successfully to be further targeted by enabling policy incentives to expand such successes. This will form a continuous loop of policy being informed by what works to make them targeted and maximize their impact in driving implementation.
The success in Glasgow elicited the nostalgia of Paris 6 years ago, where pragmatism and unity of purpose to combat common challenges of climate change led to the Paris Agreement. Glasgow replicated this success, only this time, from an implementation dimension. Africa will be among the regions that will benefit most from the full implementation of the agreement, which should now be the focus for everyone across the planet. The transition away from fossil fuels and towards a clean, just, renewable future is going to happen. Let’s keep the passion and faith!
Industrialisation is often imagined as an influx of high polluting, heavy industry.
But in this era of globally interlinked economies, Africa cannot replicate what was done in the west and expect economic competitiveness. The hundreds of years since the industrial revolution, Africa was absent, which means the west has perfected its ability to compete in high carbon economies. In addition, the shift of global standards towards leaner, more efficient systems that progress towards zero emissions means adopting the old high carbon pathways will rob the region of its opportunity to gain a competitive edge in the low emissions pathway, and finally isolate the region’s economies as the globe is already transitioning to low carbon pathways.
Targeted strategic actions are what Africa needs to enhance its economic competitiveness while meeting its emissions reductions commitments, and these are as follows:
First, leverage low transition costs as a source of global competitiveness. Africa’s economies are not yet locked up in high emissions development models. This represents an opportunity to take leadership in the low emissions pathway with minimal transition costs and leapfrog into low emissions pathways, as the region did with leapfrogging landlines onto mobile telephony.
It is estimated that a move to low-carbon, greener economies can create 60 million jobs by 2030, and Africa needs to tap these socioeconomic opportunities leveraging its minimal transition costs urgently.
As an example, in energy, it is projected that energy de-carbonization globally in line with an average 20C world scenario will result in net energy savings of USD 71trillion by 2050. Africa should not be left out of this benefit. At the moment, up to 580million Africans lack access to electricity. In addition, unpredictable and frequent power outages cost firms in low- and middle-income countries – the majority in Africa – up to $300 billion each year. To bridge this gap, using fossil-based high emitting measures such as generator-based power costs three to six times what grid consumers pay across the globe to deny enterprises in the region the ability to compete.
Considering that up to 84% of the energy-poor in Africa are in rural areas, bridging the gap most effectively calls for off-grid solutions that are accessible and efficient in electrifying rural Africa. It is estimated that bridging Africa’s electricity gap by investing in clean energy, including decentralised, off-grid systems, could result in as many as 11.8 million jobs by 2050 while abating emissions.
In addition, efforts should leverage the most accessible renewable energy resources in which Africa holds the highest comparative advantage globally. Accordingly, with the richest solar resources in the world, coupled with the lowest cost of $1.30 per watt compared to the global average of $1.80 per watt, Africa has not tapped this comparative advantage as it holds less than 1% of the worldwide total installed capacity.
To be sustainable, we cannot look at jobs during the construction phase of these energy initiatives alone, but rather the jobs generated from the utilisation of such energy investments. This means that energy investments should be targeted at delivering usable, stable, relevant power for value-added enterprise actions, especially in the continent’s informal sector that employs up to 80% of our population, including in the inclusive agro-sector. Just as a small-scale example, solar-powered micro-irrigation is increasing farm-level incomes by up to ten times, improving yields by up to 300 per cent and reducing water usage by up to 90 per cent.
Decentralizing solar solutions – including as simple as solar dryers to power agro-value addition means turning Africa’s high postharvest losses of $48billion, into much-needed income and job opportunities. at a small scale, solar dryers decentralised to informal food traders to enable them to increase shelf life if their perishables have been proven capable of increasing their earning by up to 30times.
This is a timely comparative advantage for the region to bridge the energy divide in a low emissions pathway and productive power enterprises to enable the growth of cottage industries in inclusive areas such as agriculture to expand incomes.
The second is clean cooking. The number of people without access to clean cooking in Africa has been rising from about a 750million ten years ago to 890million two years ago – the highest deficiency globally. In some of the most deficient countries, only 5% or less of the population has access to clean cooking. As a result, over 490,000-700,000 premature deaths occur each year in Africa because of indoor air pollution arising from unclean cooking facilities. Biomass accounts for up to 50% of Africa’s total primary energy supply and is a crucial source of the 56% of land-based emissions in Africa through deforestation for fuelwood. At the same time, over 80% of households in sub-Saharan Africa rely on wood-based energy indicating significant market demand for biomass-based fuel.
Creating alternative, viable, more competitive clean cooking solutions directly means recouping $10 - $20billion annually expended on charcoal & wood fuel while saving forests and enhancing health by minimising indoor pollution. These are simple, accessible solutions like waste recovery to fuel briquettes, which, combined with clean-burning cookstoves, have been shown to save an average household in Africa nearly three times more than using ordinary charcoal. This is an opportunity for establishing a whole cottage industry of clean cooking to tap a ready local market.
The third is ICT. It is estimated that by 2030 – just nine years to come, some 230million jobs across Africa will need some digital skills. This means emissions related to large scale ICT infrastructure such as data centres will increase insignificance. It is estimated that globally, the energy consumption of data centres is set to account for 3.2% of global emissions by 2025, and this will increase to 14% by 2040 – about the same level of emissions as the US today. This is an opportunity for ICT development in Africa to chat a low carbon pathway on two levels – directly and indirectly. Directly, the region will need to prioritise energy efficiency measures in all data centres – including turning off unused servers, prioritising newer equipment with better energy efficiency specifications, using power on demand, among key direct measures. Indirect measures will apply more from the application of ICT. Africa will need to apply ICT as strategic tools for dematerialising and reducing the carbon footprint of processes in critical sectors that engage a majority – such as agriculture which already employs over 60%. Examples include, for instance, digital marketing, which has the potential to cut emissions associated with traditional paper processes as well as transport-related emissions by reducing the need to travel for markets, and with this, the added advantage of real-time market information and reduced costs. How this digitisation can be enhanced more in the informal sector will continue to impact both climate compliance in the region and unlock economic opportunities. For example, in our work in Cameroon, we have seen that providing digital market solutions to cassava farmers and value adders to enable them to access markets efficiently and affordably can jointly with solar dryer powered value addition, increase incomes by up to 150%, with zero emissions added.
Africa already needs a minimum of $2.5trillion to implement its climate action commitments. Even as COP26 in Glasgow agreed to double the $100 billion pledge to developing countries, this means that even if the pledges were honoured in full, the gap would still be gapping for Africa.
If we were to go with just a few countries example, Ghana needs $9.3 - 15.5billion to implement their Climate action plans between 2020- 2030. Uganda needs $2.9billion for adaptation and $5.4billion mitigation actions, specifically in energy totalling $8.3 billion. The key is that implementation costs are exorbitant & public finance alone is not adequate. Over the years, the total climate financing to Africa has not yet reached $10billion - not even sufficient for just Uganda & Ghana not to talk of the entire continent. This then is to say that the continent urgently needs to look into market financing approaches beyond current international public finance alone.
At the same time, Africa already invests in adaptation at the rate of 2% of GDP each year. The question is how the region can bridge the finance gap using what it already has. Through our work, we support countries to put in place structures to attract market investments - both local & international - and lessons from these countries will be expanded to inform all 54 countries with gaps in this area. The need for practical tools to inform optimal implementation trajectories for countries is now in full swing. For example, article 6 specifies cross-border cooperation in implementing the agreement. This opens the door for investment cooperation from different partners to drive the implementation of respective countries’ NDCs. Countries will need tools to inform them on the optimal areas of return that these investments should be channelled to. Tools – in the form of investment plans and multi-sectorial policy coordination – to ensure a ready platform to operationalize these critical aspects of the Paris Agreement that the Glasgow pact has now energized are crucial.
This is to say that the region can leverage Article 6 to mobilise market financing to drive key NDCs action in the two most critical sectors to the just transition – agriculture and clean energy – that are already prioritised in over 70% of NDCs. For example, Article 6.2 on Internationally-Transferred Mitigation Outcomes (ITMO) allows countries that are considered the highest emitters to partner with low emitters across the globe – including in Africa – and agree on how their high emissions can be offset through investing in supporting a low emission action within the territories of low emitters. Africa, due to its negligible emissions, is a natural supply market here. But the key to Africa’s benefit should be on how well such market mechanisms are tied to catalyse the growth of competitive low carbon enterprises on the continent. While typical areas of investment have been in reforestation, Africa should take a strategic stance and prioritise how any collaborations towards reforestation will enhance much needed economic productivity.
Creating jobs for youth, enhancing food security to drive a trajectory of competitive economies is critical. Here, collaboration to invest in clean energy aligned to powering agriculture value addition enterprises will be unlocking up to $48 billion worth of PHLs, as positive financing tied to power a just transition. Africa should look at investing its 2% of GDP contribution to climate action to forging collaborations under Article 6 that unlock such tangible enterprises to implement up to 70% of its NDCs while unlocking key socioeconomic opportunities to drive a just transition.
Some of the money pledged and promised will go to developing countries to restore damaged land. The above opportunities for Africa should inform how this money is utilised to drive the implementation of NDCs. Indirect financing through incentivizing critical constituencies of implementers in Africa is vital. These resources should be used to incentivize a shift to non-typical sources such as micro-finance & cooperatives that are most accessible to most Africans in the informal sector and most vulnerable. Leveraging the informal sector that provides livelihoods for up to 80% of Africans and the youth to invest in enterprise actions that drive the realization of country NDCs is a critical niche to tap. Africa informal sector, as well as the youth, are already engaged in various actions.
In addition to looking at new sources of investment, we need to look at catalyzing a shift of investments by these actors who are the majority players in Africa’s economies. This is how the finance gap in Africa can be close as we supercharge and turbocharge the informal sector to become socio-economically viable. This will be when climate action financing will matter to the most vulnerable to the continent and elsewhere.
In recent years we have seen thedisenfranchisementof young people from all works of life across the continent venting out their frustration. The indignity and the pain of being unable to put food on the table cut across everyone regardless of chronological age – and this is where the pain of our youth lies. These youth represent the continent’s most sovereign capital to drive accelerated socioeconomic, climate-resilient transformation.
The way to change anything is NOT to use the same approaches that caused the problem, but rather apply alternative approaches, where inclusivity and selflessness are at the centre stage. We must all converge for a conversation on how we can each apply our talents, skills, motivations, aptitudes, passions to forge solutions to these challenges. A conversation on how we can practically tap youth's talents to turn pressing socio-economic challenges into competitive enterprise opportunities that put more money in more pockets.
We are living in unprecedented times. The Covid-19 Pandemic has undoubtedly challenged every one of us, ranging to economies and societies globally. Africa, like the rest of the globe, has suffered the consequences of the COVID-19. Lives and livelihoodshave been lost. Opportunities and hopes of millions have been dashed. And in the midst of all this, many lessons have accrued. The most fundamental of which speaks to the core of value. Speaks to the core of our usefulness as a people. And the verdict has been consistent – t is time for all of us to stop passing the buck of responsibility and take development as a personal responsibility. Because when it matters most, it must become personal.
Let face it, in the solutions world where progress resides; youthfulness is usefulness. This is the only realistic view of the term “youth” that matters. What matters is the value we can bring to the solutions table. This understanding of youthfulness is critical to our discussion of Innovative Volunteerism, which starts with two insightful African proverbs.
The first proverb is - that “the one with eyes is not told to see” in the context of our discussion, from the mountains of East Africa to the rainforests of central Africa. From the coastlines of West Africa to the savannas of Southern Africa and on to the golden sands of North Africa, Africa’s challenges are self-evident. 257 million people go to bed hungry every day. 620million people are energy impoverished. Over 12 million new jobs are needed every year as more youth join the “tarmac” in a desperate search for hard to find, near non-existent jobs. The elephant in the room – Climate Change, where the content remains the most disproportionately vulnerable region of the globe to its disastrous impacts, which we are already seeing across the entire continent.
The blame game and passing the buckis not an option. Selflessly applying what we have, our skills, talents, creativity, energy to touch many livesis the only option. It is out of this reality and needs that Innovative Volunteerism came about as a mindset change tool. It is a tool to enable everyone to apply their skills & talents, regardless of disciplinary backgrounds, to touch many lives. To enable each of us to take personal responsibility for #ClimateAction and, in the process, tap into the many income & enterprise opportunities that it presents.
This then brings in the second proverb that contextualises Innovative Volunteerism from an operational dimension. Which is - that “not everyone who chased the zebra caught it, but he who caught it, chased it”. This proverb reminds us that we must take all chances and act if Innovative Volunteerism is to work. We must step out into the solutions space and get to work with what we have. One fundamental construct of life that is misconstrued and has limited us from taking chances is that people expect the world to be a place of celebration and absolute ease. Yet, the reality is that it is supposed to be a place of challenges. Those who came before us faced serious challenges. But they did not relent. They surmounted, and out of this, arose solutions that we continue to enjoy to this day. In this information age, the challenges we face are just a small fraction of the momentous challenges that those who went before us overcame. The point, therefore, is this – that the world is not a celebration or a place of ease, but it is a place of surmounting challenges, devising solutions that make life better for ourselves and everyone else.
We, therefore, must banish this fundamental misconception that has made Africa continue to take last and embrace reality as it is. We must not let challenges relegate us to a place of dependency and shortcuts, but rather embrace them as the reality and work to devise solutions to them. To give you another example, consider a baby learning to walk and put yourself in the baby’s world. When learning to walk, that is a difficult, painful & risky task that all babies undertake. They fall often. At times, they injure themselves. They even bled and cried. But they do not stop. They push through, and that is how all of us adults learn to walk and run. You can imagine a baby who stopped trying at the shock and pain of the first fall because they thought people automatically walked with no pain. They will stagnate and never achieve any of their potentials. The same applies to life. We must stop expecting things to be easy. Remember that challenges are inevitable and will come. But they represent an opportunity for you to devise alternatives & solutions that will surmount them and catapult you to a high level where you touch many lives. This is what each of us must engrain in our minds on a sombre note from now on. Anything less and the sorry state we will persist.
This is the letter and spirit of Innovative Volunteerism. That we take personal responsibility to address climate change challenges using what we already have – our skills, talents, energy, creativity, ongoing work, and leveraging the already existing enabling policy & regulatory environment, and delivering climate action solutions from an enterprise dimension, but to execute this responsibility, first, we must be willing. Then we must be selfless. Then we must act in a structured way, building on our strengths to ensure the solutions are effective and globally competitive. And this structure means improving, refining, and adapting our skills, talents, ongoing work, regardless of disciplinary backgrounds, to selflessly offer competitive climate action solutions in Africa’s area of global comparative advantage, which is its clean energy powered sustainable agro-value chains. And as you set forth, I will leave you with the following key takeaways:
First,Fundamentals do not change.
We live in the era of global competitiveness and market economies. The implication is that the sustainability of any initiative we undertake depends on how successfully it can be executed as an enterprise. To you, this means that any causeyou are passionate about must touch many lives and one that can be implemented in an enterprising way. And this means prioritising solutions through sectors for which we hold unique comparative advantages that can enable us to solve challenges while creating competitive enterprise opportunities. In Africa, our clear global abundance in clean energy and arable land, coupled with very high postharvest losses & food imports, place us primally to tap no less than $83 billion each year from straightforward actions.
For example, decentralizing solar driers made from locally available material to farmers & traders in local markets who produce and sell us food means enabling them to preserve and increase the shelf life of their harvest. This, in turn, means that what remains unsold at the end of the day can be sold when demand peaks. This means cutting postharvest losses to increase food availability and increasing earnings at this farmer & informal trader level by up to 30times. And the multiplier effects of such a move means unlocking income opportunities which means more opportunities – be it for the transports, small-scale manufacturing opportunities for those who fabricate these dryers, marketing opportunities, among many. And all these realised without piling on unnecessary emissions that exacerbate climate change. And the beauty is there are favourable sectorial policies in all countries. What it will take is for each of us to come down from our mental high horse, that tells us that having a certificate entitles us to a job, that tells us life is supposed to be a celebration and to realise that the certificates actually bequeath us a responsibility to solve problems and offer real value to society and the creator.
Second, “you have little power over what is not yours”.
The first thing you must answer yourself honestly is to determine what you really have. And what you really own – is yourself. By yourself, I mean your skills. It is your responsibility to continually improve, refine and adapt your skills to ensure you tap into contemporary opportunities that climate action presents in the catalytic area. Waste recovery to wealth is another critical area that is complementary to clean energy & agro-vale chains.
Converting agriculture waste to fuel briquettes is a $20 billion a year industry that replaces charcoal use while preserving forests. Converting waste to biofertilizer can recoup billions spent in imported mineral fertilisers. And by this, ignite local fertiliser production enterprises that do not harm the environment. Agriculture waste recovery to fuel briquettes and biofertilizer represent the most non-capital enterprise areas that any youth can engage in, which also aligns with Africa’s area of comparative advantage. But this is not the only one. Plastic pollution, for instance, already costs Africa millions of dollars.
Third, is the finance question.
As an African proverb reminds us, “money is sharper than the sword”. This speaks of the importance of financial capital. But one key question that is hardly answered is – do we need finance at scale or impact at scale?Africa needs impact at scale, and for this, finance cannot be approached in the traditional sense but built on structures that are well known in Africa. I am talking of the already well-established structure of low-risk financing that we call communal cooperatives. These exist in nearly every village in Africa. What needs to happen is for each of you to join these cooperatives, pool your resources, and raise the capital you need to kick start climate action enterprises. In addition, through these cooperatives, you will build relationships with other actors, who may end up being your clients. This is how we will achieve impact at scale.
Fourth, we must leverage Soft Power to reboot Africa’s narrative.
One profound African proverb reminds us that “a cutting word is worse than a bowstring, a cut may heal, but the cut of the tongue does not”. In the context of this discussion, this proverb underscores the importance of what I call “soft power”, which is mostly expressed in the content in our words. And I will give just one example to illustrate this. With the advent of social media, many youths are influencing their peers through what they share. From their taste in fashion to music and lifestyles that they share on social media platforms, youth influence each other’s choices on a global scale through social media. This is a manifestation of soft power. In the not so distant past, an international media house slandered an African country. And the youth and other social media users launched a famous hashtag that trended for days causing the media house to withdraw and apologise for their out of character representation of the said country. This is soft power. My message to you today is this – instead of wasting your soft power in influencing your peers to do things that do not add value, the time has now come that you influence each other to become solutions providers. To catalyse the growth of alliances of solutions providers – where we all influence each other to take decisive integrated action on catalytic areas of clean energy value addition and waste recovery to wealth as discussed today. This is what being an Innovative Volunteerism actor entails. We have the tools in our hands. Let us not waste any more time.
Dr Richard Munang is a Climate Action and Development Policy Expert, Renowned Inspirational Public Speaker, Award-Winning Innovator, Author of #InnovativeVolunteerism