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Saturday, June 3, 2023

Right Livelihood Lecture: Ngongo clamours energy alternatives, collective response to climate change

Over the past six years, the Benin City-based Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF) and the University of Port Harcourt have hosted the Right Livelihood College Lectures at the University of Port Harcourt – one of the nine campuses of the Right Livelihood College (RLC) globally.

Rene Ngongo
Rene Ngongo

The RLC is a global capacity building initiative of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation. Founded in 2009, the RLC aims to make the knowledge of the Laureates accessible to all and, by linking young scholars, academics and civil society organisations with the Laureates, hopes to make their “winning ideas” succeed and multiply. The Award is given in honour to courageous individuals and organisations solving global problems.

The annual lecture serves as a bridge connecting academics, activists, youths, community people and policy makers in the quest to enthrone justice and equity in all spheres of human engagement. The lectures are delivered by Right Livelihood laureates and bring forward actionable knowledge towards solving local and global challenges.

This year’s session held virtually on June 19, 2020 and the lecture was delivered by Rene Ngongo who received the Right Livelihood Award in 2009. René Ngongo is a Congolese biologist cum environmentalist and political activist. He was recently elected the Rapporteur of the Socio-Economic Council of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The chief host was the Acting Vice Chancellor of the University of Port Harcourt, Prof. Regina Ogali. University officials who welcomed everyone to the lecture included the Acting Director, Centre for Conflicts and Gender Studies, Dr. Gladys Worlu; Dean, Faculty of Social Sciences, Prof. Prince Mmom; Dr. Obinna Nwodim who commented on the lecture; and Dr Fidelis Allen, coordinator of the RLC campus in Uniport.

The focus was on “Climate Change and Energy Alternatives” and it was stressed that the future of our planet depends in part on eco-citizen behavior of young people who must avoid the tragic mistakes made by older generations through polluting activities that has injected huge quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere resulting to the climate change crisis today.

The lecture noted that, through COVID-19, nature has sent humans a message that we must heed. We must halt the rapid destruction of natural environments by hunting of exotic and wild animal species for recreational reasons and destroying their habitats, thus accelerating the spread of infectious diseases.

It was pointed out that climate change transforms all aspects of human life including water supply, availability and distribution of food resources, reduction of snow cover and melting of glaciers, etc. Our failure to contextualize climate change and identify its root causes is having dangerous consequences.

Rene Ngongo noted that forests, including the Congolese forests, are being threatened partly because the consumption of resources by humans is exceeding the Earth’s capacity to replenish itself. Recurring events such as bush fires in Brazil, the United States and Australia or locust infestations in East Africa, and now the Coronavirus pandemic, demonstrate the interdependence of humans and networks of life in which we live.

The lecturer spoke extensively with reference to the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) which constitutes most of the equatorial rain forest in Africa. According to him, with 155 million hectares of forest cover, the country alone houses more than half of the forests of the Congo Basin, and almost 10% of the world’s tropical rain forests. In addition to the socio-economic and cultural uses, the Congolese forests store 140Gt of CO2 (equal to 3 years of global emissions). Preservation of these forests is therefore vital in the fight against global warming.

He stated that flagship actions that can be taken to preserve forests and promote climate change resilience include:

  • Monitoring of the forest sector and denunciation of environmental and social violations
  • Improving the regulatory and institutional framework for biodiversity conservation
  • Raising awareness and educating the population on climate change
  • Establishing bush fire monitoring systems and management plans
  • Training farmers in resilient agricultural production techniques (agro-ecology)

It was noted that the increase in international electricity consumption in the coming years raises fears of greater increase in greenhouse gas emissions going against climate targets and could have serious consequences for our planet. Despite all the goodwill displayed during the previous international climate conferences, investment in renewable energy is still poor in the face of the fixation on fossil fuels in the global energy mix.

“Thinking about energy alternatives today is part of a resilience strategy based on the anticipated increase in greenhouse gases; the ability to find innovative solutions such as renewable, clean and non-polluting energy sources;  and based on the need to bounce back from the fossil fuels addiction and begin a just energy transition,” Ngongo stated.

He further explained that getting out of dependence on oil means first abandoning our development model which is based on overconsumption and waste. It means to build a transition between two worlds-the old one, marked by dependence on fossil fuels and the new one which will inevitably be the product of an energy mix, produced from 100% green renewable sources.

For civil society, the issue of energy is one of the main challenges of the hour. This issue can only be resolved through tripartite participatory management including state actors, civil society actors and the private sector.

Some steps in the positive direction will include the promotion of renewable energies; participation in environmental and social impact studies of energy projects; improvement of access to electricity; mobilization of the private sector for its active involvement in renewable energies; recovery of waste for the production of biomass energy; and improvement of the legal frameworks in the energy sector.

It was highlighted that Africa remains the continent with the least energy. More than 640 million Africans do not have access to energy, which corresponds to an access rate slightly above 40%, the lowest level in the world. Africa has an immense renewable energy potential, but it currently uses only a small part of it. Hydroelectricity provides about one fifth of the current capacity, but the potential used does not even correspond to one tenth of the total. The technical potential of solar, wind and geothermal energy and bioenergy is also significant.

According to the laureate, “access to clean energy is one of the key factors of inclusive growth, especially since it creates opportunities for women, young people and children, both in urban and rural areas. It is an essential component of economic, social and political development and environmental health.”

To improve people’s access to renewable energy, the activity of operators at national levels should be rationalised and development of large-scale projects should be set be flexible and focus on regional levels. Innovative solutions to provide populations in rural areas with reliable and efficient energy modes should be encouraged.

Ngongo urged everyone to get involved to engender the transition that we want: given the magnitude of the challenges and the rapidly worsening climate change. it is our collective responsibility to urgently step up our action at all levels – citizens, civil society actors, trade unionists, young people and other actors and accelerate the implementation of resolutions and commitments in favour of the preservation of our forest heritage and to engage without delay in the energy transition.

“If we don’t react urgently to climate change, we will have to look for another planet,” Ngongo concluded.

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