Done right, a sustainable Covid-19 recovery is a $7.7trn opportunity

Oluwaseun Oguntuase
By Oluwaseun Oguntuase

Centre for Environmental Studies and Sustainable Development, Lagos State University, Nigeria

Posted on Wednesday, 16 September 2020 09:30

A researcher works inside a laboratory at ICIPE headquarters in Nairobi
A researcher works inside a laboratory at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya May 11, 2020. REUTERS/Jackson Njehia

As Africa counts the cost, it needs to look beyond the 'back to normal' approach, and take this opportunity for a genuine sustainable restart of the economy.

The worst-case cost of the pandemic to the global economy at a nightmarish $82 trillion over 5 years by the Centre for Risk Studies at the University of Cambridge.

While, comparatively, Covid-19 death rates have been low and share of recoveries high in Africa, the estimated losses to African economies range from $37bn – $79bn by the World Bank, to $35bn – $100bn by the African Development Bank, and as high as $275bn by the World Economic Forum.

Africa’s climate change threat

Human induced climate change is arguably the most systemic threat to life existence on planet Earth.  It exacerbates existing risks and creates new risks for human and natural systems.

Africa is facing the sharp end of climate change.

READ MORE Climate talks fail to tackle Africa’s priorities, again

Multiple biophysical, political, and socioeconomic stresses interact to constrain the continent adaptive capacity to climate change.

The Food and Agricultural Organization projected that climate change may result in the loss of 2–7% of GDP by 2100 in parts of sub-Sahara Africa, 2–4% and 0.4–1.3% in West and Central Africa, and Northern and Southern Africa, respectively.

The reduction in global carbon emissions from confinement measures to flatten the curve of Covid-19 pandemic have led to calls to integrate climate action into Covid-19 recovery strategies.

  • Emissions reductions caused by economic downturns tend to be temporary – and can lead to emissions growth as economies attempt to get back on track as shown in the case of the global financial crisis of 2008.
  • The implication is that the pandemic could either accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy or, ceteris paribus, result in burning of more fossil fuels.

Avoiding the worst impacts of climate change required keeping global warming well below 2°0C (3.6F) set in the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015.

READ MORE Climate change is here: time to use all the whole financial toolkit

How low-carbon transition considerations will be integrated into post-Covid-19 recovery plans remains subject to ideological discussion.

Bioeconomy has been identified as a new perspective for solving the geopolitical challenges that the world is facing in the twenty-first century, including climate change.

The Global Bioeconomy Summit defined bioeconomy as the production, utilization and conservation of biological resources, including related knowledge, science, technology, and innovation, to provide information, products, processes and services across all economic sectors aiming towards a sustainable economy.

READ MORE Kenya’s economy weakened by the scourge of locusts, climate change

Operationally, bioeconomy replaces non-renewable resources with sustainably produced renewable biological resources to produce food, fuel, fine chemicals, and other substances with the goal of achieving sustainable wellbeing.

The oft-cited market potential of bioeconomy by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development is $7.7 trillion opportunity for business by 2030.

Despite its well-discussed and highly-accepted potentials as new economic wave, the adoption of bioeconomy is quite muted in Africa.

  • South Africa is the only country that has implemented a comprehensive strategy on the continent.
  • Countries such as Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Tanzania, and Uganda have some bioeconomy-related activities.

A recent study of the readiness of African countries to adopt bioeconomy showed a poor state across the continent.

This was largely due to the poor state of investment and skills in Research and Development, the absence of latest technologies, poor industrial production process, poor university-industry collaboration, and poor institutional arrangements.

The highlight of the study was that South Africa is the best equipped country to adopt bioeconomy on the continent.

Consequently, developing national and regional strategies is an important step in developing Africa’s bioeconomy.

To further effectively institute bioeconomy for sustainable post-Covid-19 recovery in Africa, relevant stakeholders must collaborate to improve the level of training and skills of the workforce, support R&D activities, build and improve infrastructures, entrench innovation ecosystems, develop value chains across diverse sectors of bioeconomy, and improve general governance.

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While no one knows yet what life after the coronavirus will look like, the pandemic offers a unique opportunity to transform African economies and put forward the change the society needs to create a sustainable and desirable future. Competitive, ecologically sustainable and socially acceptable bioeconomy is desirable in Africa to ensure future resource security and sustained livelihoods.


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