Kigali — Climate change activist Mithika Mwenda, the Executive Director of the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA), is not reluctant to engage African governments to do what's necessary to commit to post-COVID-19 green growth strategies.
Through Africa's post-COVID-19 green recovery pathway, initiated in July last year, governments have committed to reaching the Paris Agreement's climate change targets and prosperity objectives by adopting eco-friendly measures and doing this amid COVID-19 recovery.
The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) shows that COVID-19 has triggered the deepest economic recession. The current recovery plan by African governments is centred around climate finance, renewable energy, nature-based solutions, resilient agriculture, and green and resilient cities.
Activists say African countries need to urgently move from talk shops in conferences to implement green commitments.
Mwenda told IPS that climate actors should not forget the shortcomings manifested by the environmental crisis in terms of biodiversity losses, plastic menace etc.
While tackling the climate crisis, most African countries will require a holistic approach to recovery planning and policymaking. Both climate experts and activists stress that African governments face an 'enormous challenge' even as they seize opportunities of the green transition, which aims to assist developing countries in rebuilding better from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The latest official report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicates that by 2050 greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic production, use and disposal would account for 15 per cent of allowed emissions, under the goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C (34.7°F).
It said that a shift to a circular economy can reduce the volume of plastics entering oceans by over 80 per cent by 2040; reduce virgin plastic production by 55 per cent, save governments US$70 billion by 2040, reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent, and create at least 700,000 additional jobs - mainly in the global south, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa.
While state actors in the negotiations expressed their optimism about the smooth implementation of green economic recovery from COVID-19, some environmental activists believe that much will depend on what is at stake as African countries commit unprecedented resources to green recovery from COVID-19.
"There is one thing resolving (to support international agreements) and another thing implementing it," Mwenda said while referring to the current situation in most countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Creating local green jobs: the United States, Italy and South Africa show the benefits of adopting green solutions, especially job creation. The report identified that improving the energy efficiency of existing and new homes, schools, and workplaces could create 900,000 jobs in South Africa.
"These urban actions would lead to significant emissions reduction that would surpass the South African 2030 climate target, making higher ambition to align with the Paris Agreement possible for South Africa," the report stated. South Africa is one of the African countries committed to green recovery - although there have been mixed messages by politicians because of the country's dependency on coal both domestically and for export.
The concerns raised by some politicians mirror concerns of other developing countries. Scientists in a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned that emissions need to be cut swiftly to limit global warming. However, one of the authors, Fatima Denton, warns that if this is done "at the expense of justice, of poverty eradication and the inclusion of people, then you're back at the starting block."
The report also warns that it is crucial to ensure that youth, indigenous communities, and workers are on board.
During the fifth session of the UN Environment Assembly, which took place in March in Nairobi, Kenya, the historical agreement on green recovery from COVID-19 was adopted based on three initial draft resolutions from various nations, establishing an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC), that has been assigned to complete draft global legally binding agreement by the end of 2024.
According to Inger Andersen, Executive Director of UNEP, this is the most significant environmental multilateral deal since the Paris accord.
The historic resolution, titled "End Plastic Pollution: Towards an internationally legally binding instrument", was adopted after the three-day UNEA-5.2 meeting, attended by more than 3,400 in-person and 1,500 online participants from 175 UN Member States, including 79 ministers and 17 high-level officials.
"This is an insurance policy for this generation and future ones, so they may live with plastic and not be doomed by it," Andersen said.
While humanity is facing a pandemic, an economic crisis and an ecological breakdown, African governments were advised to put their countries on sustainable trajectories that prioritise economic opportunity, poverty reduction and planetary health.
The continent holds 30 percent of the world's mineral reserves and 65 percent of its arable land. It has massive renewable energy sources, according to the UNEP estimates.
According to environmental experts, the best way to tackle these issues simultaneously in Africa is to prioritise green investments in COVID-19 recovery by mobilising assets that back the sustainable use of resources.
Because the economic fallout from COVID-19 accelerated existing inequalities, it is even more critical for countries to rebuild their economies and enhance resilience against future shocks.
While activists agree the green recovery initiative is important for post-COVID-19 economies in Africa, the major challenge for these developing countries is access to these funds.
Faustin Vuningoma, the Executive Secretary of Rwanda Climate and Development Network (RCDN), told IPS that the capacity to develop green projects and meet the required criteria for most countries in Africa could easily hinder the developing world - especially access to resources.
"It is important for African countries to engage development partners with the funding resources and make sure they meet all criteria to access these funding," Vuningoma said.
"The international partnerships will be crucial in tackling a problem that affects all of us," said Dr Jeanne d'Arc Mujawamariya, Rwanda's Minister of Environment, referring to the landmark agreement in Nairobi.