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Local governments must lead the fightback against climate change

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Monday, 16 December 2019 05:38

Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, secretary general of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Africa.

Tackling climate change in Africa is too serious an issue to be left to national governments, Jean-Pierre Elong Mbassi, secretary general of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) Africa, said in an interview.

Binding contracts on climate targets are urgently needed between local and national governments in Africa, he said. Such contracts are “the only way the Paris agreement will be implemented.”

  • UCLG is a global network of cities and local and regional governments.
  • Elong Mbassi, who is based in Rabat, spoke from Madrid where he was attending the UN COP25 climate conference.

There is “no way” that national contributions will be enough to limit global warning to 2°C even in a perfect scenario, Elong Mbassi says. Sub-national actors will be key to bridging the gap.

  • Climate change “must be everyone’s business”, including local authorities, the private sector and civil society. “About 70% of the climate agenda is a local agenda.”

Scientists say that Africa will likely be the continent that is hit hardest by climate change over the coming decades, while having less capacity to deal with the impact.

Researchers at the UK Meteorological Office and the University of Leeds argued in April that many existing climate change models fail to capture the extent of future changes in African weather extremes.

  • The culture of “shame and blame” is an insufficient way to address the issue, Elong Mbassi says.

Eighteen countries have signed the 2014 Africa Charter on Decentralisation, but only five have ratified it, Elong Mbassi says.

  • A minimum of 15 ratifications would be needed to make it binding at the African Union.
  • Elong Mbassi urged local authorities to press national governments to ratify the charter.
  • “There is no way our continent will catch up and develop if it is not decentralised.”

Freedom of Movement

Investment in infrastructure to generate and distribute renewable energy will be crucial. Elong Mbassi says that it’s “not fair” to present African investments as the most risky. Reputational factors mean that “people tend to overweight the risk.

The reality is that a rapidly growing population means that demand is bound to increase.

  • “One in two of the global population that is under 18 lives in Africa, he notes. “It’s the only place where double-digit returns are available.”
  • “The issue is lack of confidence, linked to ignorance.” The urgent need, he argues, is “to change the risk narrative. Africa will become more risky if business people shy away.”

The Africa Continental Free Trade Area, Elong Mbassi says, may facilitate trading in new products from renewable energy sources, especially in border regions.

  • But the agreement needs to be accompanied by freedom of movement to reach its full potential.  “Free trade should go with free movement,” he says.

Elong Mbassi points to the Songhai organic farming project at Porto-Novo in Benin, which uses animal waste and plant residues to produce biogas, as the kind of solution that should be more widely adopted.

  • People come from Asia to learn about it, he says – but not from Africa.
  • “The flow of knowledge and experience across Africa is not happening much.”

A long-term vision would be a that the free trade agreement could help pave the way for a continental-wide railway network. “We started building our continent from the roof,” he says. We now need to build from the foundation.”

Bottom Line: African local governments need to work from the bottom up to combat climate change.

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