‘’The environment and the economy are two sides of the same coin. If we cannot sustain the environment, we cannot sustain ourselves.’’
Africa’s journey to economic prosperity has been a complex one. Informed by industrialization strategies, the continental free trade agenda and infrastructural & economic treaties: there is an undeniable prioritization of economic prosperity that has an underlying promise to its citizens of inequality reduction. What is lost in the conversation however, is a fundamental understanding of land restoration and environmental protection in economic growth, while other regional blocs across the globe are looking towards realizing the green economy.
The green economy is an alternative economic model principled in the safeguarding, protection and restoration in nature while ensuring an inclusive approach to economic participation. Launched as an initiative by UN Environment in 2008, the green economy initiative (GEI) set out collaboratively, requiring country level assistance from researchers, academics and climate conscious economics to boost political interest and motivate policy makers to prioritize and support environmental investments. This model shifts focus from an extractive to mainstreaming non-conventional GDP indicators such as social environmental indicators that affect productivity, including environmental health, climate change and social wellness.
In our context, the green economy prepares realized citizen-led industries, meaningful economic participation and restored environments. The African Development Bank (AfDB) noted that agriculture, energy and infrastructure remain key drivers for a post-Covid19 recovery in the continent, with renewable energy potential. According to Dr. Akinwumi A. Adesina, AfDB’s president, Africa’s energy transition presents a $100 billion per annum investment opportunity, further adding that agriculture potentially offers massive investments in climate-smart crops to build more resilient food systems. Climate-resilient infrastructure offers investment potential of between $130 billion and $170 billion. This however requires uptake and political will from our governments.
Uptake of green economy transition will require a cultural shift from economic institutions to reprioritize human development and environmental wellness in determining economic health. While Africa has experienced a consistent income boom for the past 3 decades with GDP rates averaging at 5%, economic growth is mainly based on resource exploitation while unemployment, poverty rates, lack of access to basic amenities have been exacerbated due to the COVID pandemic. It further calls to question the prioritization of non-renewable extraction and projects with local economic engagement on micro levels.
On the ground, Southern Africa is still facing challenges on the political and investor will towards green economic transitioning. Canadian company ReconAfrica’s oil and gas exploration in the Kavango Basin not only works in contradiction of Namibian and Botswana’s signed agreements to reducing carbon emissions, but had included minimal consultation with various stakeholders, particularly youth and women. Speaking to Fridays for Future Windhoek, a San Youth Leader stated his community was never consulted in the process of land excavation, nor were they in any decision making process granting a go-ahead for project exploration. “The presence of the oil industry will mean the forceful enclosure of land; excluding us and preventing our free movement and that of animals; and resulting in our further displacement. In this way we will be prevented from hunting and gathering food, collecting medicine and performing our cultural practices and sacred rituals – in short it will prevent us from being San,’’ he added.
While ReconAfrica largely benefited from its first drill in the Kavango Basin, the cost of environmental and social vulnerabilities permeate. Jan Arket,a consulting engineering geologist based in South Africa, who has worked for decades on drilling-related projects noted that despite denials in Botswana and Namibia that fracking will occur, the technique must be applied to determine the extent of any shale oil or gas reservoir, and the viability of extracting these. “Even if fracking is not engaged the 25 to 30 year period anticipated for conventional shale oil/gas extraction will inevitably result in carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere, and more critically, methane extracted as fugitive emissions,” explains Jan. “Similarly, the very real potential of the groundwater level and contamination due to unlined ponds, which hold radioactive brine, could significantly impact the agricultural, the people and wildlife of Kavango,” he added.
ReconAfrica estimated that there are 120 billion barrels of oil equivalent in the basin, equating to 51.6 gigatonnes of CO2. This further directly contravenes with Botswana and Namibia’s commitment to reduce their carbon footprint by 15% and 89% respectively by 2030, while ReconAfrica’s home base in Canada is hastening efforts of carbon reduction.
It is clear that more work towards information sensitization with governments, citizens and the private sector in Africa needs to roll out, through more inclusive conversations in various platforms, however there needs to be more effort from experts and environmentalists to engage with trade policy and economic experts on a smooth transitioning into climate smart economic industries. The historic culture of land resource extraction, degradation and community exclusion is a colonial legacy that we not only need to rid, but include effective existing mechanisms to not only realize land restoration, but provide much needed social solutions to Africans.