By Sharon Atieno

With Africa already feeling the effect of the triple planetary crisis- climate change, nature and biodiversity loss, and pollution and waste- the continent needs a new economic model to be more resilient.

This is according to Elizabeth Mrema, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Deputy Executive Director during the 19th ordinary session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Elizabeth Mrema speaking during AMCEN”s 19th session held in Addis Ababa

She noted that the new economic model needs to support growth while protecting biodiversity, end pollution while respecting the most vulnerable, as well as create jobs while limiting greenhouse gas emissions and helping the people adapt to climate change.

According to Mrema, though the continent has suffered tremendously from the impact of climate change including droughts, cyclones and rising sea levels among others, Africa has only a fraction of the money needed to contend with climate change.

With financing climate change expected to increase in the coming years, she urged countries to unlock more domestic private-sector financing for climate-related projects.

“Right now, just 14 per cent of all climate financing in Africa comes from private businesses. More than 80 percent comes from international public sources,” Mrema said.

“To attract more private capital, countries will need to improve their investment regimens, making it easier for money to move around their economies.”

She also urged countries to find ways to de-risk projects and forge partnerships with the private sector, which often has the capital and expertise to make major infrastructure projects a reality.

Moreover, Mrema said countries will also need to weave their climate targets into national investment plans and spell out for investors the many opportunities that will come with the green transition.

Calling for international debt relief, she said:  “It is a great injustice that Africa, which has contributed the least to climate change, is poised to suffer the most. The global community has a duty to lighten Africa’s debt load, which is vital if this continent is to finance the transition to a climate-resilient future.”

Biodiversity loss

To safeguard Africa’s natural heritage and address the issue of biodiversity loss, Mrema said, there need to be inter-ministerial collaborations to infuse biodiversity into national programmes and policies.

Besides, she urged African countries to put more effort to restore damaged landscapes, especially those that have fallen prey to desertification, saying “Africa’s economy is based on its natural resources, in particular, agriculture, livestock and minerals. In other words, Africa’s prosperity is on land, water and healthy ecosystems.”

Mrema also cautioned against the detrimental harvesting of minerals which leads to uprooting forests and ravaging sensitive landscapes, observing that such actions are ultimately self-defeating

Additionally, she said UNEP stands ready to provide tailored support to African countries that want to forge biodiversity-friendly economies.

Plastic pollution

She encouraged African countries to find a way of weening themselves off plastic, highlighting that plastic pollution in the continent is resulting in clogging of rivers, air pollution and food pollution in terms of microplastics.

Additionally, Mrema called for the participation of African leaders in talks to develop a legally binding global instrument on plastic pollution, observing that the continent is making a tremendous effort in pioneering novel ways to reduce the impact of plastic on the environment while creating jobs and fostering sustainability.

A photo session after a panel discussion at the 19th ordinary session of AMCEN in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

The nineteenth ordinary session of AMCEN which started on 14th August and ends on 18th August was held under the theme “Seizing opportunities and enhancing collaboration to address environmental challenges in Africa.”

Its focus is to strengthen collaboration among various institutions and enhance the implementation of regional and global environmental frameworks in order to address the environmental challenges facing the continent. This entails building on existing initiatives, including strengthening the role of those institutions that support the implementation of regional and global outcomes.

The session is an opportunity for ministers to provide policy guidance for upcoming key environmental events. These include the 28th session of the Conference of  Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC COP28) and the Africa Climate Summit; the sixth session of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEA-6); Africa’s participation in the development of an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution (INC process); Africa’s preparations for the 16th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD COP16); preparations for the 5th session of the International Conference on Chemicals Management (ICCM5), and how Africa will respond to the implementation of the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

The session also aims to further strengthen the work of AMCEN in its contribution to the region’s environment and sustainable development agenda. This includes addressing emerging environmental issues, enhancing collaborative efforts with partners and stakeholders, beefing up its financial base (AMCEN Trust Fund), and review of proposals to strengthen its rules of procedure, as was decided by the resumed 18th ordinary session, among other matters.