FORTUNE: What outcome do you hope for from the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment?

Rose Mwebaza: This particular African Ministerial Conference hopes to examine three critical issues for the African member states. The top priority on the agenda the Bureau of Ministers set is climate change, as many countries are affected by desertification, land degradation slides, and energy and power cuts.

We will discuss how member states can access funds to adapt to the challenges of climate change, explore collaboration at continental and regional levels, particularly with the African Union climate change strategy and reach a resolution on Africa's common position which will be endorsed by the committee of Heads of State and government at the upcoming summit in Nairobi, Kenya, in September.

Most importantly, this position will be used by the African group during the negotiations at the 28th Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP 28), which will be held in November in Dubai.

I want to draw attention to plastic pollution. Our unit has been mandated by member states to develop an internationally binding agreement to eliminate plastic and its pollution globally. Therefore, African member states will create a position to guide negotiations during the conference. We will also discuss the global biodiversity framework adopted in Montreal last December, in which member states established a fund, and African countries will push for the capitalisation of the fund.

FORTUNE: You have actively participated in the climate change movement for over two decades. What transformations have you observed through the years? What has become prominent and faded out of the conversation?

The first thing I observed is the consistency in the political leadership of climate change. Initially, it was just a discussion among experts at the national level, and maybe non-governmental organisations. Over time, ministers are becoming increasingly committed, and now, of course, heads of state and government are joining in with great momentum.

The Africa Climate Summit is going to be another hope for the continent. And it explains why we are getting significant results. I believe one of the biggest results Africa has put in the climate arena is the loss and damage fund.

The other change I see is the diversity of people within governments engaged in the conversation. When I started this journey over two decades ago, It was something discussed at an environmental ministry level with no emphasis given elsewhere. But as I sit here in Addis Abeba where Ministers of Finance are discussing with the Ministers of Environment on partnerships to mobilise climate finance for Africa; two important ministries working together, that is an important change.

FORTUNE: It has been 14 years since the developed world pledged 100 billion dollars annually to assist climate adaptability in developing countries. But African countries have continuously appealed with little effort for the funding to be fulfilled. How can trust be fostered between these two sides moving forward?

If you look at how the Africa Climate Summit is structured, it is not about a blame game anymore but rather a partnership to deal with a planetary crisis. We have reached a tipping point, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. So we can blame each other or work together to put up the money needed to create resilience for the communities of millions of Africans and allow them to adapt to the harsh environmental conditions exacerbated by climate change.

Take for instance, the countries in the Sahel or the south that cyclone threads have battered, it is a crisis with human and social implications that can even lead to social unrest. That is why there is a whole discussion on the link between climate and conflict and security at the highest level of the UN Security Council.

FORTUNE: Africa continues to be vulnerable to extreme weather events such as killer floods, locust attacks and heat waves. What can they do to mitigate the impact of these scenarios despite their small contribution to causing it?

As Africans, we have come to the realisation that even though we have contributed an insignificant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, the truth of the matter is that with the high degree of greenhouse gas emissions globally which do not have boundaries, we must work collectively with a global community. So this is what the Africa group proposes as the G20, which is mainly responsible for the majority of the greenhouse gas emissions, can get actually committed to net zero, and committed a very substantive voice to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

FORTUNE: Critical rare earth minerals are set to quadruple in demand by 2050 if the world is to achieve Net Zero pledges. How can African countries handle negotiations to benefit both economically and mitigate their citizens' exploitation without compromising the climate change objectives?

One of the most important conversations happening currently is the global energy transition. Africa holds a large portion of the minerals needed for this transition, including those used in electromobility. This could be seen as another supercycle of mineral boom for the continent, but how can it be managed to benefit the economy? One solution is to bring the much-needed injection of resources into the economy and use the extraction boom of critical minerals to create jobs and industrialise the country.

The other area that needs to be considered as the climate challenge is linked to global ecosystem destruction is how to extract without eliminating greenhouse gas emissions in the air. We are having conversations on how to extract without using excessive amounts of water and destroying nature and leading to pollution. It is a multi-dimensional but critical issue. Therefore, we are working very closely with the African Union has an African mining vision, and the African member states have established the African Mineral Development Center. Within the United Nations, we work with UNDP, and the UNECA, to support the different dimensions of challenges they would face in dealing with the high demand for these critical minerals, but also for getting the most benefits out of this super cycle of critical minerals.

FORTUNE: In the same spirit, Africa is endowed with abundant resources that are ripe for using renewable energy, ample solar power and geothermal energy. What has been hampering investment in the private and public sectors?

Globally, investment in renewable energy has been increasing. The cost per capital investment in solar, for example, has gone down considerably which is commercially viable now. But the level of investment in Africa has remained persistently low.

We need to talk about access to energy for Africa. There is an abundance of renewable energy sources. Morocco has the biggest solar installation. Over 90pc of Kenya's, the host of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), energy is generated through geothermal.

South Africa now has embarked on establishing the biggest solar installation in Africa that will overshadow the one in Morocco to make the point that for Africa, the energy transition also includes harnessing the potential for renewable energy that is abandoned, and that is now attracting investments. The enabler for this is improvement in technologies to make it more accessible and cost-effective while setting up policies that attract companies to invest; because this is mainly private-sector driven.

FORTUNE: Criticism has been largely towards establishing private-public partnership programs in Africa. Is building capacity in terms of African local governments essential in guaranteeing the development of renewable energy sources?

Yes. Capacity remains a real issue in many of the member states despite favourable regulatory frameworks. The challenge is implementation. One of the things we are discussing during the meeting in Addis Abeba is establishing a mechanism to support the environmental protection agencies of member states with capacity building, and the ability to enforce and monitor policies and regulations. Going forward, we hope to increase the implementation capacity by working with established environmental protection agencies.

FORTUNE: How can African countries maintain both firm ground on companies that take advantage of the lax environmentally regulatory framework and also attract investment? Do you think the continent is capable and strong enough to manage the tightrope?

Absolutely! The key is information in almost every industry now; the leather industry together with the textile industry, contributes significantly to global production. We know there are sufficient technologies to mitigate the effects of dyes and other technical products for the leather tanning process. So I believe for the member states, it is clearly knowing that Africa can no longer continue to be a dumping ground for all technologies perpetuating pollution. It is not refusing investments; it is paying attention not merely to the dollar value of the investment, but also to the industry or technologies that have been used. The sustainability of the entire process must include a circular process that allows reuse and recycling because if you look at plastic and how we have polluted the African ecosystem, generally we cannot recycle our way out of it. So we must find a way to manage this errant plastic pollution everywhere in the long term.

PUBLISHED ON Aug 19,2023 [ VOL 24 , NO 1216]

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 0 / 5. Vote count: 0

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Put your comments here

N.B: A submit button will appear once you fill out all the required fields.

Editors' Pick