Interrogate your institutions; take climate change to the committee in parliament and get lawmakers engaged on issues they can connect with their constituencies on.
Earlier this year, at the 2019 SOAS African Development Forum, editors of The Republic sat down with United Nations Deputy Secretary-General, Amina J. Mohammed, to discuss climate change from an African context. COP25, the UN Climate Change Conference, runs this week from 02 December to 13 December. Coinciding with COP25, this interview provides insight into where we are today with ‘going green’, how Africa is leading climate change efforts, and how to make climate change intervention more inclusive and people-led.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
There is a lot of discussion about the environment these days, which is good because we need to take action. Do you foresee a future where African leaders have a more active role in how the conversations are shaped? Particularly since those living in Africa will feel the most impact of the consequences.
AMINA J. MOHAMMED
These discussions are important and they’ve been going on for decades. The breakthrough we had was to actually address what we need to do to bend the curve on emissions in The Paris Agreement. And what we pushed for was for every country to acknowledge that they had a role to play, including those that do not contribute to it but actually bear the burden. If these countries are going to grow in the way we want to see them grow in their economies, they should start going green and not continue being brown.
The NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions, which set out how each country will reduce emissions) were originally ‘INDCs’ (I for intended), and then they became ‘NDCs’ when we got the Paris Agreement. The Paris Agreement sets out a country’s pathway to reducing emissions. What we’ve tried to do—because 2015 itself didn’t only bring the Paris Agreement—is keep a place for this with Sustainable Development Goal 13 (take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts). So there is an alignment with the sustainable development agenda and climate action. The NDCs are really the entry point.
Sadly, since 2015, not much progress has happened on the NDCs because once we ratified [the Paris Agreement], everyone became pre-occupied with the people that got off the train like the United States and, recently, more of our European countries as well as to some extent, Brazil. I think we got preoccupied with their actions, rather than what we could be doing.
COP24 (the United Nations Climate Change Conference), which took place last year in Katowice, Poland, was supposed to give us the rule book. In Paris, we got more than we’d bargained for, and so we decided to give future agreements two years to come to fruition. When we came to an agreement in Paris, we thought it would take us two years—in fact, it took less than six months and suddenly we were stuck, and had to ask ourselves ‘what do we do now?’
This is the multi-lateral system for you. So COP24 in Katowice eventually gave us a rulebook, which has guidelines on how to operationalize the Paris Agreement, and I think that there was a lot of political pressure, including from the Secretary-General to member states, to get that done. What does that do? It says right, now we can start to address whether we are going to be on a pathway that will get us below 1.5 degrees Celsius. So, the impetus is that, coming out of Katowice, we set ambition.
At our climate summit at the UN in September, our aim will be to try to meet the targets of 2020 and take stock of the emissions that were supposed to improve the quality and ambition of the NDCs. To do that, we became very specific—if we say ambition, what does that mean? It means targeting the emitters. Who are the big emitters? It is the G20 members—they emit 82 per cent of emissions, that’s where we should go. We talk a lot about African countries and yes, okay, that’s fine, we want to grow green, but we are not responsible for it.
WALE LAWAL / FARIDAH DIKKO
This is true.
AMINA J. MOHAMMED
But how do we get our leaders involved? Well, first we already have one African country in the G20, South Africa, and they are taking the lead. We have a strong Africa group on climate action that is led by Egypt, and the African Union has also been very forceful about some of these big issues. As you have seen, Nigeria’s President Buhari was the first person to put the spotlight on Lake Chad; it has tasked us to talk about water and the poverty agenda. At the same time, we started talking about energy nexus—what about the renewables, what is the transition to that? The African leaders and the African Development Bank were engaged in the conversation.
Additionally, [French] President Macron started the One Planet Summit to get some momentum—his first regional outing on this was in Nairobi in March. You also have the Africa Pledge and at the forefront of that is President Kenyatta of Kenya. So African leaders are stepping up. We have also seen more engagement by the youth because the transition to the green economy is about young people. It is about skillsets and technology that we do not quite have right now. If you look at agriculture, and the full value chain of that, much of it is going to be about technology. But how are we going to get that technology out so that we go to scale and that we are not just talking about elite projects and programmes in urban settings?
A lot of the conversation around climate change typically happens in those types of settings. How do we take these conversations into civilian spaces in places like Nigeria and what does climate change intervention look like at the grass-roots level?
AMINA J. MOHAMMED
It has a number of elements to it. I mean there’s the grass roots, which, for instance, you still have to take technology. I went to the 5G Conference in Barcelona, what did I see there? Very simple: technology that would do two things. One, planting is not backbreaking anymore—drones can do it over fields and fields. And that means when you are not planting, you become an agricultural technologist, and that’s good and cool. But the second thing I saw was that if a lot of your crops could be lost because of the fungus in the soil, technology can be put in the ground to tell you (through an app on your phone) when this fungus begins to grow so that you can get to the source to deal with it. So, with the technology that is coming, we have to exchange this knowledge and that is why coming to the SOAS Africa Development Forum today is great.
The question now is what are you students going to do? What are you acquiring the knowledge for? Are you going to stay here [in the UK] and just use it here and every now and again, you come out to Africa for a holiday or are you actually going to take it back and deploy it in our countries and connect our public sector, connect the private sector to this?
At the grass roots, I think communities, cooperatives, particularly women and young people, can begin to look at farming in a different way. The government will support when they see initiatives, when they see that something is going to happen—where they do, then you should engage them. Then I think the private sector has to be engaged, the private sector has got an interest if you look at the value chain. For example, Unilever—they will worry about being left out because the consumers determine which products they buy and they do not. You can bring technology in that uses less water, using more technology with women and with young people. But this is all at the micro-level.
At the policy level, I think you need to interrogate. When you interrogate policy, in most public sector institutions in Africa, it stops there, it doesn’t go much further. You know, these are institutions that are going to be there for life and so they do not take us very seriously, either as coming from outside these institutions or as young people. Interrogate your institutions; take climate change to the committee in parliament and get lawmakers engaged on issues they can connect with their constituencies on. Parliamentarians like their airspace; they are like peacocks, they want to shine.
So, you know, intelligently, make those connections. Look at the policy, determine what needs to happen to change the environment for you, take it to the parliamentarians, give them something to win. And you’ll slowly see the connections being made. Or say to them, ‘There’s a line item in the budget that will start to operationalise this policy but we do not see it happening’. Go to them and they will put it into the budget for you. All government can do is take a budget to the parliament, it is the parliament that determines what happens. So those changes can be made, what’s important is knowing your entry points⎈