Inclusive green economy requires bottom-up approach

THE risk of climate change is all around us and it is quite apparent that the most vulnerable in society are bearing the brunt of this risk. Whether you speak to smallholder farmers in the rolling slopes of the Rwenzori mountains in Uganda, where rainfall has dropped by more than 20% or you speak to a township dweller in the outskirts of Cape Town, whose shack has been razed by a recent fire, the story is the same. Severe change in weather patterns is rapidly eroding their livelihoods and there are hardly enough social safety nets to help them cope.

Building an inclusive green economy lies at the centre of finding solutions that help build social and ecological resilience, but also provide an opportunity for such groups to partake in identifying the solutions that works best for their local context. To achieve an inclusive green economy therefore requires a bottom-up approach to encourage meaningful participation in the process, backed by strong policy signals from the top.

Unfortunately, there is no evidence to show that this is the approach that is being undertaken in operationalising the green economy in many developing countries. Most of the discourse is still taking place at the macro-economic level and characterised by interventions at that level, whose effect on the most vulnerable people on the ground or pressing ecological crisis are limited at least in the short- to medium term.

For example, the obsession with “mega-projects”, whilst important for achieving change at a large scale, mirrors the same approaches used in the traditional economic system that led us into the climate crisis in the first place. Prestigious schemes such as the Grand Inga dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo, or the large scale procurement of renewal energy in South Africa, are all fraught with challenges, that if not well managed might negate the very purpose for which they were conceived — energy access.

The real opportunity of creating meaningful change is through activating local economies, to enable those at the frontline of climate risk to defend themselves. This is because most of the climate-related risks inevitably translate into social problems or a local ecological crisis that need to be addressed at that level. Most importantly those who are faced by the prevalent risks must be at the forefront of devising solutions that are sustainable, through green entrepreneurship for example.

Green entrepreneurship, which is a term used to describe entrepreneurial activities that focus on ecological outcomes, plays an important role in addressing social and economic challenges that are associated with climate change. One would expect that due to the well-documented effects of climate change at the local level in South Africa, there would be a hive of green entrepreneurial activities at the local level that seek to turn climate risks into opportunities. Sadly this seems not to be the case, where in many cases environmental issues are still regarded as peripheral and lack well-established support structures in terms of business incubation and finance for small- and micro enterprises.

By their very nature many green entrepreneurial activities do not lend themselves to the traditional business models that mostly focus on profitability, growth and an understanding of a readily available market. Green entrepreneurs in many instances focus on emerging business principles that promote new forms of ownership, distribution and exchange of goods and services. As a result the odds are stuck against such ventures, and they do not often find the support required to make a significant difference.

For example, a very brief analysis of business incubators in South Africa, shows that most of the support to small enterprises is for high growth sectors, such as technology, manufacturing and the retail sector. Even though some of these ventures are social enterprises, the majority still do not embrace green economy principles. There is a need therefore to explicitly support enterprises that promote green entrepreneurship, especially for a country such as South Africa, projected be highly affected by climate change.

This is the gap that the African Centre for a Green Economy is seeking to fill through its innovation hub that is being established in partnership with DOEN foundation, the Green Economy Coalition and the New Economics Foundation. Over the next two years, the initiative will develop, support and accelerate promising green enterprises that promote local participation in building an inclusive green economy in South Africa.

An earlier version of this article was posted on the Business Day Live website, available here

Energy access a key priority for Africa in South-South cooperation***

Most people who have lived in sub-Saharan Africa have a personal tale about access to electricity or lack thereof. Whether it is ‘blackouts’ that last several days or having to put up with noisy diesel powered generators in the neighbourhood, Africa’s struggle for reliable power supply is all too evident.

My own experience is no different.

For the 6 years of my secondary schooling in Uganda in the 1990s, each student carried 5 litres of kerosene and a lamp to boarding school at the beginning of every school term.

This was necessary because electricity supply lasted only a couple of hours, which was not enough to cover the time needed to study and pass tough A-level exams. As a result we used to go for evening studies in the school library carrying our books with one hand and a kerosene lamp with the other.

As soon as the main grid power supply went off, our kerosene lamps kicked in so we could continue our schoolwork. The danger of exposure to poisonous gases and the risk of storing large quantities of highly flammable liquids in the dormitories were all too apparent, but we had no other option.

Fast forward to 2014, the above scenario is still a daily reality in many schools, households, hospitals and other vital installations throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Many communities are still faced with the daily dread that they might not have the electricity needed to carry out their routine activities, which could cost a life, an education or a meal.

It is in this context that the green transformation and the realignment to promote South-South cooperation should be viewed.

Improving energy access and empowering those at the base of the pyramid should be the defining framework for any South-South cooperation

According to the World Energy Outlook (2011), in 2009 sub-Saharan Africa had an electrification rate of 30% compared to 68% in South Asia and 93% in Latin America. Two years later, the WEO 2013 notes that Africa is still home to a large share (nearly 50%) of the 1.3 billion people in the world without access to electricity (PDF) and 25% of the 2.6 billion who still rely on biomass for cooking.

It’s clear that Africa’s top priority should be to increase access to electricity supply as the basis of any South-South Cooperation in the energy sector.

Depending on the choices that African leaders make, the low rate of electrification accords Africa the opportunity to deploy cleaner technologies that could place the continent at the forefront of green transformation. Improving energy access can be achieved much more cost effectively through mini-grids or stand-alone off-grid installations at the local level, especially in rural areas. Interventions that focus on extending the main grid do not often result in improving energy access, because such schemes are costly and may require long-term commitments from large consumers to make them sustainable.

Are we doing enough to lift millions of Africans out of energy poverty?

Lifting millions of Africans out of energy poverty and achieving greater economic prosperity depends entirely on how much effort is placed on the green transformation.

Many countries in Africa have made significant progress in the transition to a green economy. For example, South Africa has recently completed its third major procurement process for independent power producers, and it is estimated that by the sixth bid, the potential investments in renewables would be worth more than US$10 billion. However, some analysts are worried that most of the preferred bidders are large international utilities, driven mostly by profit motives and less interested in socio-economic outcomes like narrowing the energy poverty gap.

This tension between the pursuit of profit and socio-economic and environmentally sustainable outcomes is at the core of the opportunities and challenges facing green transformations that are meant to serve broader development goals. A similar challenge faces South-South Cooperation for development.

To-date, most of the economic interactions have been driven by corporate interests, and it remains to be seen if rules of the game will change to ensure that investment patterns result in decent jobs and environmental sustainability. Some of the more powerful countries in the global South, have been accused of exploiting less developed but resource-rich countries to satisfy their needs for raw materials in fast-growing economies, in deals similar to those that have long defined the North-South economic relationships of African countries.

Will South-South cooperation lead to an effective green transformation?

My personal observation is that unless things change radically this is very unlikely, partly because the focus of South-South cooperation is still biased towards the major economies, with the rest playing a marginal role.

There is a need to shake up this arrangement to bring more players on board to ensure that benefits of South-South cooperation trickle to those regions where change is needed the most. For example, the recent discovery of oil in the east Africa region is going to be a major economic boost for the region, but at what cost to the environment? The current flurry of oil-prospecting activities in the region, including in areas designed as National Parks and critical watersheds is quite worrying. Without strong green transformation goals, many African countries may well find themselves on the same paths the industrialised world has followed, to the detriment of all.

It is my hope that the mutual learning and knowledge sharing that has underpinned most South-South Cooperation interactions so far will be an opportunity for many African countries: an opportunity to embrace a green future, on their own terms.

Dr Mao Amis is Executive Director of the African Centre for a Green Economy (AFRICEGE)

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Happy New Year from Africege

As we usher in the New Year, we would like to thank many individuals and organizations that have supported us in the past year. Since the launch of Africege in March 2013, we have made significant progress and have laid a very strong foundation to move us forward. We are very excited about the prospects of the new year and look forward to making a difference in helping Africa grow sustainably.

At Africege we are working to promote water, energy and food security in East and Southern Africa, by providing a platform for emerging leaders in Africa to be at the forefront of addressing the continent’s sustainability challenges. Our locally driven solutions are primarily geared towards empowering those at the bottom of the pyramid.

In 2013 we initiated some innovative projects and established very strategic partnerships to help us achieve our vision of realizing a green economy in Africa that is both socially inclusive, equitable and environmentally sustainable. We will continue spreading our footprint in 2014 to ensure that we make our contribution to addressing the key challenges of water, energy and food security for the majority of Africans.

We have learnt many things since the launch of Africege, the key lesson that stands out for us is that determination, courage and good will is all we need to impact lives on the ground, regardless of the limitations we might be facing. Whether it’s mentoring young social entrepreneurs in impoverished communities in South Africa, promoting smallholder farmers in Uganda or conducting research on agricultural futures in Zambia we have been able to demonstrate the power of perseverance and a strong will to make a difference.

We are looking forward to an exciting year ahead of growing our young organization and most importantly creating that platform for emerging leaders on the continent to drive change.

Thank you Madiba

As the world descends on South Africa to pay their tributes to Nelson Mandela, the African Centre for a Green Economy (Africege) would like to echo all the voices that are celebrating one of the most iconic figures of our lifetime. Mandela was not only a statesman but also an embodiment of what the human spirit is capable of achieving in the face of adversity. The values that Mandela espoused will live with us forever and a reminder that with courage and commitment we can achieve a great deal in our pursuit to create a better world for all.

Mandela’s life was not only dedicated to social justice and equity, but he also had deep concern for sustainability, recognising that we live in a resource constrained world and need to sustainably manage our natural resources. Mandela recognised the need to manage our water resources and had this to say, “Access to water is a common goal. It is central in the social, economic and political affairs of the country, African continent and the world. It should be a lead sector of cooperation for world development”.

South Africa faces enormous sustainability challenges including insufficient access to water, environmental degradation and biodiversity loss. We need to honour Madiba’s legacy by placing sustainability at the core of South Africa’s and development agenda.

For some of us who have benefited directly from Mandela’s legacy, this is a period of deep personal reflection, gratitude, and inspiration to continue pursuing our goals of creating a better world for all.

South Africa shows leadership in the transition to a green economy

In 2008 South Africans had a first hand experience of lack of energy insecurity, as a result of massive power cuts across the country with major implications on the economy. Even though energy access remains elusive to sections of South African society, especially the poor and rural dwellers in general the government of South Africa has done a great job in ensuring energy security for the country. Indeed South Africa is proving to be a leader in the deployment of renewable energy, having made major commitments to transition the country to a low carbon economy.

Only a few years ago renewable energy sources other then nuclear power featured promptly in the South Africa’s energy mix, but that picture is changing- at the speed of light. South Africa’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), stipulates that by 2030 about 43% of energy supply should come from renewable energy. The good news is that South Africa has made bold sets towards achieving that goal, which is very commendable for a country that is often criticized for its slow pace of policy implementation.

According to the department of Energy, South Africa is expected to buy 3725MW of renewable energy from independent power producers to reduce over reliance on coal power, which is the main source of power albeit a very dirty one. As a result of this positive sentiment from government, the country has been able to attract R150 billion in foreign direct investment in the energy sector, and this figure is projected to increase as the renewable energy procurement goes to competition.

The key lessons that can be drawn out of the South African experience is that the transition to a green economy is indeed possible, and given the right policy environment, its possible to mobilize the necessary resources to deploy the technologies required to transition to a green economy. It should however also be noted that the transition to a green economy is incomplete, unless its inclusive and is able to address pertinent social justice issues. It remains to be seen how these interventions in South Africa will impact those at the bottom of the pyramid, through job creation and improved energy access and hence poverty alleviation.




AFRICEGE Board Member co-authors a book

We are proud to announce that one of our board members and co-founder of Africege, Dr Sepo Hachigonta has co-authored a book on climate change and agriculture in Southern Africa, entitled Southern African Agriculture and Climate Change: A Comprehensive Analysis. The book was recently launched at the high level regional dialogue on climate smart agriculture. This annual dialogue draws key policymakers in the region, and this year it was attended by the Prime Minister of Lesotho, and Secretary General of SADC among other key stakeholders.

In the book, Dr Hachigonta and his co-authors write “agriculture is the main source of employment and income for southern Africa’s rural population. This crucial economic activity is endangered by climate change. This study is a comprehensive analysis that focuses on ways to foster agricultural development and food security in Southern Africa”

This is a critical publication, at at a time when the Southern Africa region faces significant threats from climate change that has led to declining crop yields, resulting in food insecurity for many countries in the region.

Dr Hachigonta, who holds an MSc and PhD from the University of Cape Town has been associated with AFRICEGE from the start, when generic viagra best the idea was first conceived during the Young Scientists Global Change Conference in Beijing in 2006. We are very proud to be associated with Dr Hachigonta, and the significant impact and influence he wields on climate change and agriculture in the region.


High level regional dialogue on climate smart agriculture

The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach so the saying goes, and if this is true, hopefully the message of climate change will find it’s way into our hearts, if its impact on food security in Southern Africa is anything to go by. High temperatures will reduce crop yields, increased prevalence of pests and weeds. Changes in precipitation such as increased rainfall or drought will increase the likelihood of crop failure negatively impacting food security.

Many countries in sub-Saharan countries are already highly vulnerable due to the prevailing food insecurity, and the advent of climate change is going to exacerbate that situation. The most vulnerable populations are often those who are already at the bottom of the pyramid.  This is because the poorest section of the population often has the least options to adapt to climate change, and with projected increase in crop prices, cialis online hunger will be a real problem affecting the ability of many countries to meet their MDG goals.

Group photo of some delegates at the climate smart agriculture dialogue

Group photo of some delegates at the climate smart agriculture dialogue

Climate smart agriculture (CSA) seeks to comprehensively address the threat posed by climate change on agriculture and also seeks to curb the potential contribution of poor agricultural practices on green house emissions, that cause climate change.  CSA “seeks to incease sustainable productivity, strengthen farmers’ resilience, reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration.”

The high level regional dialogue on climate smart agriculture (CSA) is convened by the Food, Agriculture, Natural Resources, Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), bringing together key stakeholders in the Southern Africa region to dialogue evidence based policy implementation in support of CSA. This dialogue that is convened annually, can be regarded as the epitome of thought leadership on building resilience to combat climate change.

Africege is proud to participate in this year’s dialogue having collaborated with FANRPAN understanding the policy landscape on climate change and human health in sout

hern Africa. More information on the dialogue can be found here:


Partnership for action on green economy

UNEP just just announced an initiative called the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE). PAGE is a response to the outcome document of Rio+20 (The future we want). PAGE aims to support 30 countries build national green economy strategies, that will create new jobs, promote clean technology and reduce environmental risks and poverty.

As Africa’s wealth grows, poverty must come down

Africa’s booming economic growth fuelled by a rigorous focus on government and citizen accountability will boost poverty reduction and promote shared prosperity, according to the World Bank’s latest Africa’s Pulse, the twice-yearly analysis of the economic trends and latest data on the continent. “The broad picture emerging from the data is that Africa’s economies have been expanding robustly and that poverty is coming down,” says Shanta Devarajan, the World Bank’s Chief Economist for Africa, and lead author of Africa’s Pulse. More>