Achieving an equitable and sustainable African future
Reflections on the INET-CGET /Oxfam Strategic Dialogue
Climate change is widely considered the largest market failure in the world, with the people who are the least responsible being those who suffer – or will suffer – the most. To limit these disproportionate effects, there is a need for both equitable and sustainable development to ensure that no one is left behind in the move towards reducing carbon emissions.
The Institute for New Economic Thinking (INET), the Commission on Global Economic Transformation (CGET) and Oxfam hosted a strategic dialogue ahead of the 2019 World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Cape Town that discussed these issues, and focused on developing actionable solutions to work towards this equitable and sustainable future. African thought leaders, including OneWorld CEO Belynda Petrie, were brought together to discuss these topics and provide workable solutions that are specific to an African context.
In Africa, the effects of the equality–sustainability link are strongly felt. Africa has high levels of inequality and its already vulnerable population will be amongst the worst hit by climate change. As the world calls for high emitting countries to transition to low carbon economies, Africa, as a relatively under-developed group, has a latecomer advantage and could leapfrog the industrialisation pathways of the past, arriving at a green and growing economic future. This enables African countries to avoid the costly process of retrofitting their institutions and infrastructure to be sustainable. The strategic dialogues offered an opportunity to workshop ways in which this leapfrogging could be achieved.
OneWorld’s Belynda Petrie brought the issue of institutions to the table. Currently, African institutions are often not fit for purpose. Institutions need to be equitable and adaptable, resilient, and work towards serving the goals of equality and sustainability. Decentralising institutions will empower local communities to hold government accountable and increase their ownership of local resources. Additionally, decentralisation will enable better economic development outside of urban areas and enable rural populations to participate in the economy. An example of this was raised in OneWorld’s recent work on building pathways towards the Just Transition with South Africa’s National Planning Commission, facilitating a social partner dialogue and stakeholder engagement process across South African society. During this process, the implementation of decentralised energy through small scale embedded generation or community owned renewable energy was posited as a favourable solution to inequitable energy access.
The need for a strategic education policy was also addressed at the INET-CGET/Oxfam dialogue. Education systems should be designed to provide learners with the skills that they will need in their future to contribute to Africa’s development. Current education policy is limited in this respect. OneWorld’s projects with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Government of Flanders also emphasised this, in the context of job creation. Participants at the dialogue discussed how employment transition needs to happen, under planned up-skilling and re-skilling programmes. Cohesive education policy will be key to ensuring that Africa has the capacity to leapfrog.
The solutions proposed above need to be catalyzed by transformative leadership. Part of this is Africa-centered thought leadership. We need to look internally and develop solutions for issues that draw on local knowledge, which will be more easily accessible through a decentralised platform of governance and abundant as a result of focused education and skills development strategies. Developing a regional policy that enables this collaborative and innovative Africa-centered thinking is a crucial part of this, as many opportunities for peer learning exist.
In conclusion, Africa has the potential to leapfrog emission-heavy development pathways. Discussion at the dialogue session highlighted how the pathway to this should include decentralised institutions and strategic education policies and will be greatly enhanced by transformative, Africa-centered leadership and regional cooperation. Using solutions such as these, Africa can go through a just development transition to a green economy.