08.03.2016 - Natural Sciences Sector

Africa has begun the transition to sustainable development

© UNESCO / Solar-powered irrigation in Mali

From 20 February to 2 March 2016, UNESCO’s Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, Flavia Schlegel, travelled to Kenya, South Africa, Sudan and Zimbabwe to discuss how the Organization could best help these countries harness science, technology and innovation (STI) to implementing their sustainable development strategies. The UNESCO Science Report was presented at her last port of call, Bindura University of Science Education in Zimbabwe.

The UNESCO Science Report reveals that many African countries have not waited for the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in September last year to embark on a more sustainable development path. Many of the long-term planning ‘Vision’ documents to 2020 or 2030 adopted by African countries over the past decade have identified sustainable development as being a pillar of their national development strategy, along with more inclusive growth and better governance.

Regional economic communities are also conscious that developing an African Economic Community by 2028 will need to go hand in hand with greater scientific integration and more sustainable development. For instance, the Vision 2020 document adopted by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in 2011 aspires to ‘create a borderless, prosperous and cohesive region built on good governance, where people have the capacity to access and harness its enormous resources through the creation of opportunities for sustainable development.’ The ECOWAS Policy on Science and Technology (2011) is an integral part of Vision 2020.

At the pan-African level, too, emphasis has been placed on embarking on a more sustainable development path. Often, this orientation stems from a growing recognition of the value of Africa’s natural resources and apprehension at the anticipated ravages of climate change on the continent. It is revealing that the Competitive Research Grants issued by the African Union between 2010 and 2012 focused on postharvest technologies and agriculture; renewable and sustainable energy; water and sanitation; fisheries and climate change.

The African Action Plan for 2010–2015 adopted by the African Union and its New Partnership for Africa’s Development expressly underscores the important role that harmonized regional policies could play in adapting to climate change.

Regional economic communities have heeded the call. In 2013, ministers from one of Africa’s biggest economic communities, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), adopted a Regional Climate Change programme. Meanwhile, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) has been implementing a five-year initiative since 2010 jointly with the East African Community (EAC) and SADC dubbed The African Solution to Address Climate Change.

Sustainability being mainstreamed into development strategies

In the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (2012), the heads of state of ten countries commit to integrating the value of natural capital into national accounting and corporate planning, namely Botswana, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mozambique, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and the United Republic of Tanzania. Since the 2012 summit, an implementation framework has been drafted to track progress. In 2013, for instance, Botswana initiated the development of a National Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan.

Emerging Gabon: Strategic Plan to 2025 (2012) considers sustainable development to be a pillar of the country’s development strategy. Emerging Gabon created a National Council on Climate Change which produced a National Climate Plan in 2013. A law on sustainable development followed in August 2014. According to Emerging Gabon, the share of hydropower in Gabon’s electricity matrix is to rise from 40% in 2010 to 80% by 2020. By 2030, Gabon plans to export 3 000 MW of hydropower to its neighbours. Gabon has also established a Centre for Environmental Research jointly with the University of Oregon in the USA (in 2011), which focuses on climate change and environmental governance, including the development of ecotourism.

Rwanda plans to create its own Climate Change and Environment Innovation Centre. The country made the headlines in September 2008 when it banned plastic bags. These have been replaced by biodegradable bags made from materials such as cotton, banana and papyrus.

Funding to reduce the technology gap

Lack of funding often impedes project implementation in Africa. Rwanda has overcome this hurdle by setting up a National Fund for Environment and Climate Change in Rwanda (FONERWA) in 2008, within the National Green Growth and Climate Resilience Strategy. FONERWA provides competitive research funding through calls for proposals. So far, projects have been put forward by private companies, Rwandan districts, the Ministry of Infrastructure and non-governmental organizations. Projects funded through the most recent call for proposals (the sixth) include the provision of solar power to off-the-grid communities, the construction of microhydropower plants, rainwater harvesting and gardening for Kigali’s urban poor. FONERWA is currently identifying funding for the pilot ‘green city’ to be launched by 2018.

Increasingly, the private sector is driving investment in sustainable development. Much of the social innovation reported in East and Central Africa focuses on overcoming sustainability challenges such as food security, renewable energy and climate change mitigation. Technology innovation hubs are springing up around the continent, like Hive Colab in Uganda which helps entrepreneurs innovate in climate technologies, information and communication technologies and agribusiness.

A growing number of countries are investing in technology parks, including Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria and Tunisia. The adoption of the United Nations’ Technology Facilitation Mechanism for clean and environmentally sound technologies in September 2015 should help to reduce the technology gap with developed countries. The United Nations is also currently discussing how to operationalize the proposed technology bank, the purpose of which will be to enhance the ability of least developed countries to access technologies developed elsewhere and their capacity to patent.

Renewable energy a pillar of development strategies

Renewable energy is a pillar of many countries’ development strategies. Ethiopia, for instance, is developing wind power, biofuels and the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam within its Climate Resilient Green Economy Vision and Strategy, which is part of the nation’s Growth and Transformation Plan for 2011–2015.

Renewable energy is the subject of one of Madagascar’s five Master Plans of Research, along with health and biodiversity, agriculture and food security, environment and climate change.

In Liberia, where the infrastructure for energy generation was destroyed by a quarter century of civil war, 59% of Liberian firms cite lack of electricity as being a major handicap to doing business, according to a World Bank Doing Business Survey in 2012. Liberia’s National Vision: Liberia Rising 2030 outlines plans to make greater use of renewable energy and to install affordable power services, with ‘more access to fuel that does not contribute to deforestation.’ Liberia has the largest rainforest in West Africa.

In Kenya’s Rift Valley, geothermal energy is being developed, in order to reduce imports of fossil fuels and expand access to electricity, which currently only reaches one in five Kenyans. Almost half of electricity currently comes from hydropower but the growing frequency of drought is causing water and power shortages. In parallel, Kenya began building what may become Africa’s biggest wind farm in 2014, through the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project.

North of the Sahara, another country has plans to lead Africa in renewables by 2020. Morocco inaugurated the continent’s biggest wind farm in 2014 and is building Africa’s biggest solar farm in Ouarzazate.

Within its own Solar Plan (2009), Tunisia plans to raise the share of renewables in the energy mix to 16% by 2016 and 40% by 2030. Tunisia’s Ecosolar Village, a technology park, should soon be operational.

Algeria is Africa’s third-biggest producer of oil and ranks tenth worldwide for natural gas. However, according to British Petroleum’s Statistical Review of World Energy (2009), its known gas reserves cold be exhausted within half a century. Like Morocco and Tunisia, Algeria is diversifying its energy mix. Moreover, it began this transition before Brent crude prices began tumbling in mid-2014. Since 2011, 60 solar and wind projects have been approved within Algeria’s Renewable Energy and Efficiency programme, which plans to raise the share of renewables to 40% of the energy mix by 2030. In 2013, Algeria signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the European Union for technology transfer to Algeria in fossil fuels and renewable energy.

Centres of excellence taking Africa’s sustainability agenda forward

Many of the networks of centres of excellence set up over the past decade across the continent are using research to take the continent’s sustainability agenda forward. Among the research priorities of the Biosciences Eastern and Central Africa Network hosted by Kenya, for instance, are climate-smart forage grasses. Meanwhile, the Bio-Innovate network in East Africa (est. 2010) is improving crop productivity and agro-processing and building smallholder farmers’ resilience to climate change.

In 2014, a call for the establishment of a UNESCO centre of excellence on ocean science and innovation for capacity-building and research, as a contribution to the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, was endorsed by the Mauritius Ministerial Declaration adopted by four island states: Comoros, Mauritius, Madagascar and the Seychelles.

Source: UNESCO Science Report: towards 2030 (published in 2015)

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