How business schools can help Africa handle the impending climate crises

As part of the Business Forum hosted by the AUC School of Business Forum last week, a roundtable discussion was held on March 15 entitled “Just Transition for Africa: The Role of Business Schools.” The session tackled the inequities presented by climate crisis, primarily in Africa, as well as prospective solutions ranging from climate investment to energy transitions. The panellists also discussed how Africa is leading the way on some elements of climate solutions, particularly considering how disproportionately affected the continent is by the on-going climate crisis.

Climate change does not have a blanket effect, and the latest IPCC report released earlier this year shows how every corner of the world is affected by current and prospective warming, with most people set to be affected by heat stress and potential food shortages. Global resilience lies in conserving 30% to 50% of Earth’s land, freshwater and oceans, the report read. In this light, the session tackled Africa’s role in climate mitigation and adaptation efforts, particularly inventive ones, seeing that African livelihoods are most at risk.

“Climate change in general does not affect countries or communities or people in the same way. There is a huge inequality when we talk about Africa. Our contribution to the total build-up to the rise in temperature is minuscule. But [comparably] our share of its consequences is quite huge,” AUC School of Business Professor and John D. Gerhart Centre Director Ali Awni said in his opening remarks as moderator.

The session’s speakers included Chief Executive of the African Climate Foundation Saliem Fakir, Strathmore University and Resilience University College Professor Jacqueline McGlade, UNFCCC Director Youssef Nassef, and Executive Director of the Gordon Institute of Business Science Roze Phillips.

Fakir discussed the USD 8.5 billion ‘Just Energy Transition’ transaction aiding South Africa’s decarbonization efforts, in partnership with France, Germany, the United Kingdom and the United States of America, along with the European Union. An ambitious plan pioneered on the continent, Fakir says it is a model for home-grown initiatives and particularly investable pathways to attract investment using climate finance, thereby interlinking climate with economic development to achieve interlinked objectives.

“We learned that global aid communities is not going to be able to respond to all needs, particularly on adaptation and resilience, and that actually we ourselves within the African continent must be innovative,” said Fakir, explaining the importance of drawing from domestic resources and savings to “climate-proof” key exports and sectors that are crucial for local livelihoods. He also discussed Africa’s low carbon trajectory, and the economic promise this holds particularly when paired with the continent’s bustling entrepreneurial energy, declaring this the “African development climate nexus.” Moving away from carbon intensity is crucial for strategic and climate reasons alike, as the world moves more in the direction of climate diplomacy.

To make wide scale decarbonisation possible, Fakir highlights the importance of broadening the energy mix and providing flexibility for economies to be more responsive to an increasingly decarbonized world. Decarbonisation enhances energy security by capitalizing on new kinds of technology, he argues. “I’m of the view that we as Africans can go very far in leading in grant-based climate financing if we work collectively,” he added, explaining this as one way to reduce debt to create more stimulus and growth.

Meanwhile, Director of the Adaptation Division at the UNFCCC, Youssef Nassef, pointed to the industrial revolution’s dark legacy in affecting how we do business to date. The challenges of today can’t be looked at in silos, he says, and instead it’s necessary to see “the fundamental flaw in the way we’ve been doing business over the past 200 years since the industrial revolution, and we keep running after plugging these holes, the latest of which now is the pandemic. Looking at the transformation from a more fundamental perspective it’s not just about climate change, but the whole notion of “moving the world to a new place,” he explained.

There is an intersectionality between this and lagging electricity access, water access and food security for hundreds of millions in the African continent. For Nassef, the long-term planning to resolve much of this partially relies on grants, in order for countries to be able to set reliable long-term goals. To do so, the bureaucratic hurdles that might stand in the way of grant accessibility must be broken down. Nassef also referenced expectations by the Abu Dhabi-based International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) that the climate transition would lead to a 6.4% GDP increase in Africa.

“Resilience has been potentially overlooked. When I think about local resilience where we don’t necessarily need to have vast fortunes to make populations and local communities more resilient, it’s more about understanding how policies, knowledge, curriculum and what we’re actually teaching in our business schools. I would like to suggest that as we transform our societies, and as we respond to what’s happening both in the natural world and in society, we need to ensure that emissions reduction is not only a just transition, but that we really pay attention to gender equity. And that these things are socially inclusive,” said Strathmore University and Resilience University College Professor Jacqueline McGlade.

However, the natural world is also rapidly changing, which moreover requires much data for the drawing of accurate predictions. In McGlade’s view, intersectionality in a volatile world requires looking at measures like prosperity and well-being. Human and ecological well-being must be assessed just as we do material growth, she highlighted.

Meanwhile, Executive Director of the Gordon Institute of Business Science Roze Phillips criticized the common argument of pitting climate justice and decent work against each other, when in fact both are not at odds and don’t come at the expense of each other.

“The actual culprit is economic growth by way of extraction and exploitation, benefiting the few at the expense of many. And we know that in our African countries,we’vecountries, we’ve had the additional complication that is brought by our our colonial past,” she contends, emphasising the importance of upskilling and reskilling through nuanced approaches. The just transition also requires collective ownership and government interventions. The building blocks of transition, after all, need not to focus on quick wins.

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