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Covid-19 recovery financing should be an investment in nature

On May 18, 2021, President Emmanuel Macron of France hosted the Sustainable Financing for Africa Summit in Paris. The meeting, coming in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic which has had devastating socio-economic impacts on Africa economies, brought together more than 30 African and European leaders to rally for financial support to aid Africa’s post-pandemic economic recovery.

Ken Mwathe
Ken Mwathe

According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the impact of the pandemic has had a severe impact on economies, with Africa facing a budget shortfall of up to $290 billion up to 2023. This situation could derail Africa’s development agenda.  A key outcome of the summit was a call to ramp up of vaccination on the continent and provide access to sustainable financing to help African countries recover from the impact of COVID-19.

In December 2020, African countries meeting at the 8th special session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) rolled out the Africa Green Stimulus Programme to support post Covid recovery. This comprehensive plan is aimed at helping boost economies and social systems to help Africa build back better from the Covid-19 pandemic. Crucially, the Ministers called for the protection and restoration of biodiversity, noting the need for programmes to link, biodiversity conservation, climate action, pollution reduction, and socio-economic equity for an effective COVID-19 recovery.

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It is not enough for Africa to recover from the pandemic. Building back better should proceed in a manner that does not harm nature and biodiversity or exacerbate the impacts of climate change. Recovery projects in key sectors such as infrastructure, agriculture and energy should be meticulously planned to avoid or mitigate any negative impacts and restore areas that are crucial for fauna and flora in the continent. These areas are also critical sources of water and provide fresh air and other ecosystem services such as absorption of carbon.

The current trend where oil pipelines, agricultural development, superhighways and mega dams take over parts of national parks, wetlands and key biodiversity areas will not promote the green agenda but will lead to loss of biodiversity, increased poverty and community susceptibility to climate change.

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One of the ways through which Africa can recover is by incorporating green recovery aspects at the core of Africa’s   economic strategies.  There are several sectors which can be the building blocks of such a recovery including infrastructure, agriculture and energy. While Africa is endowed with significant renewable energy resources, more than 500 million people do not have access to power, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).

In spite of this demand, green investments into the sector are still meagre, with Africa’s energy transition presenting a $100 billion annual investment opportunity yet to be exploited, according to the African Development Bank (AfDB). Taking the cue, a number of African countries are hinging their green recovery on energy transition. An example is Nigeria, where the government is implementing   the county’s largest investment in solar energy as part of the COVID-19 recovery strategy. The programme known as Solar Power Naija will focus on installing 5 million solar home systems, enabling up to 25 million people access electricity, while reducing emissions.

Multilateral Finance Institutions (MFIs) and indeed all development partners have a key role to play in ensuring that post Covid financing supports true green recovery.  First, funders should develop funding criteria against which proposed recovery programmes will be checked. For example, energy and other infrastructure should not lead to killing of birds or wildlife or damage to key habitats. Secondly, recovery programmes must be informed by strategic environmental assessments and other crucial studies.

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Thirdly, transparent monitoring mechanisms should be put in place to enable tracking and reporting of finances and investments. Finally, funders should insist on effective public participation, including local communities and civil society in the development and implementation of covid recovery projects.

While Covid-19 has been a big challenge to Africa and its economies, it offers governments an opportunity to build back better by spurring green recovery and growth, protecting biodiversity and ecosystems while helping people to be climate change and pandemic resilient.

By Ken Mwathe (Policy and Communications Coordinator at BirdLife International Africa; Ken.Mwathe@birdlife.org)

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