New economic model, collaborative effort needed to address environmental challenges in Africa: UNEP

Model must help Africa adapt to climate change while creating jobs for its people

By Kiran Pandey
Published: Friday 18 August 2023
Elizabeth Maruma Mrema speaking at the African Ministerial Conference on Environment ministerial segment August 17, 2023. Photo: Elizabeth M Mrema (@mremae) / X

Climate change is the biggest threat to the African continent, said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in her speech at the high-level ministerial session held on August 18, 2023. The Tanzanian lawyer was speaking during the 19th ordinary session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, 2023 (AMCEN, 2023). 

As many as 1.4 billion people in Africa are facing the prospect of environmental calamity in the form of the triple planetary crisis, which include climate change, nature and biodiversity loss as well as pollution and waste

The surface temperature on the Africa continent is rising faster than the world average and the region is particularly susceptible to the effects of the climate catastrophe. Sea levels in the region are also rising, she highlighted.

Amid this, the continent has been hammered by extreme disasters. These range from the three-year drought in the Horn of Africa, to Cyclone Freddy, one of the most powerful storms ever recorded in the southern hemisphere. 

Filling the finance gap

Africa has only a fraction of the money it needs to contend with climate change. As the climate-linked crisis and the impacts become more pronounced, by 2030 Africa will require nearly $3 trillion in climate financing, according to recent estimates.

Countries must increase domestic private sector finance for climate-related initiatives in order to mobilise that amount of resources, she said.

Only 14 per cent of Africa’s total climate financing is now provided by private companies. More than 80 per cent is derived from global public sources, she stated.

African nations must enhance their investment practices to draw more private capital while facilitating the flow of funds inside their economies.

She also urged African countries to weave their climate targets into national investment plans and spell out for investors the many opportunities that will come with the green transition.

Africa has contributed the least to climate change but is poised to suffer the most, she reminded.

So, international debt relief is crucial and the global community has a duty to lighten Africa’s debt load, the UNEP deputy executive director noted. This is vital if this continent is to finance the transition to a climate-resilient future. 

In the last 70 years, Africa has lost two-thirds of its productive land, while its population has increased six times. So, she appreciated the Great Green Wall Initiative for repairing thousands of kilometres of degraded land across Africa.

New economic model

To craft a climate-resilient sustainable future amid this crisis, the continent needs a new economic model, stated Mrema in her speech.

A new economic model is one that will create jobs while limiting greenhouse gas emissions, she added. The new model must also help the people of Africa adapt to climate change.

AMCEN was created in 1985 to promote regional cooperation between African Governments in addressing environmental challenges confronting the region.

Mrema called for collaborative efforts from African Ministers of Environment from 54 countries.

African governments must actively participate in the upcoming Africa Climate Summit, the International Conference on Chemicals Management, the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee which is developing a legally binding global instrument on plastic pollution, and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28).

This is a great opportunity to be bold about decisions and endorse outcomes that fit into global negotiations on plastic pollution, biodiversity and climate change, she said.

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