Guest post by Mary Robinson
Mary Robinson is President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice and a Board member of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation. She served as President of Ireland from 1990 to 1997 and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights from 1997 to 2002.
Public service in Africa and the climate change challenge
As the continent with the most climate-vulnerable societies, ecosystems and agrosystems, Africa is expected to be one of the hardest hit by climate change. African countries are characterised by an already warmer climate and areas which are more exposed to climate hazards such as rainfall variability, poor soils and flood plains. Global sea level rise is projected to reach between 0.2 to 2.0 metres by 2100, which creates higher risk of flooding, erosion, storm surges and intense rainstorms, on a continent where more than a quarter of the population lives within 100km of the coastal zone.
Unless global warming stays below 2 degrees celsius, drought and desertification are expected to increase, with the proportion of Africa’s population at risk of undernourishment likely to attain 50.0%. Moreover, climate change is already one of the causes behind raising food prices, together with higher energy prices and the increased use of grain in biofuel.
The Paris Agreement on climate, adopted at the Paris UN Climate Change Conference 21 (COP 21) in December 2015, saw parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change reach an agreement to combat climate change and accelerate and intensify the actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. So far, with the exception of Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Libya, Mozambique, South Sudan and Tanzania, all African countries have ratified the Paris Agreement.
At the global level the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (2030 Agenda) and, at continental level, the Common African Position on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (CAP), the Agenda 2063 and the African Development Bank (AfDB) High 5s for Transforming Africa, all include interrelated goals and ambitions. Tackling climate in Africa would thus require a comprehensive approach that puts all these deliverables from different frameworks together, for an implementation plan tailored to continent-specific challenges and needs.
As Mo Ibrahim said, “without strong public services and committed public servants, there will be no efficient delivery of expected public goods and services, nor implementation of any commitment, however strongly voiced”. Yet, public service in Africa is seldom assessed in international and continental debates on Africa’s future, including its role in climate change mitigation.
The Ibrahim Forum and Next Generation Forum held on 27-28 April 2018 in Kigali, Rwanda, aimed at filling this void and shedding light on this topic. A recurring concern was the growing citizens’ dissatisfaction with the delivery of traditional public services such as health and education. On top of this, African public services have to respond to new demands, due to Africa’s young and urbanising demography and 21st century challenges, in fields such as culture, business enabling environment, and climate change.
The response to climate change should envisage an inclusive engagement involving actors besides central public services. Public actors at local level are increasingly important, with cities often managing populations bigger than countries. Action should also involve non-public actors, such as the private sector and civil society, without which implementation of many commitments would not be achieved.
As a Mo Ibrahim Foundation Board member, I was pleased to hear forward-looking perspectives from the Next Generation Forum participants in Kigali. Climate change is a challenge that suits the next generation, as it is new and requires innovative actions, also through technology. Besides improving youth participation and ownership, this would allow Africa to leapfrog, which can in turn create business opportunities, job creation and foster a sustainable growth.