Africa carries little responsibility for climate change, but the continent is bearing much of the burden as it is afflicted by extreme climate events, from droughts and desertification to flooding and rising sea levels. African women are particularly hard hit, given their crucial role providing food and water for families and communities. However, an Africa-Europe Foundation debate Wednesday heard how women are increasingly taking a leadership role in the fight against climate change in Africa.
“Women are in a unique situation to be agents of change … Women are in a special position to carry out the changes our societies need,” (11:18) Madalena Carvalho Fischer, Director General for Foreign Policy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Portugal, told the online exchange.
She emphasised the importance of Europe working with Africa to help women through sharing experience, technology and educational opportunities. “The key word is education,” Carvalho Fischer continued. “We really need to open new opportunities for this young generation of girls and women, so that they can really be the change-makers, so that they can really bring change to their communities and to their families.”(13:58)
Carvalho Fischer was one of several high-profile speakers from both Africa and Europe who addressed stakeholders from government, business, academia and civil society in the 90-minute discussion. The debate fits into a series of ‘Green talks’ in the lead up to the EU-Africa High Level Green Investment Forum to be held in Lisbon on 23 April 2021.
In partnership with the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the Africa Union Commission, the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Africa-Europe Energy Partnership, the talks are aimed sharing experiences, innovative approaches, and opportunities to mobilise capital and expertise to promote the Green Transition in Africa and in Europe.
Addressing Wednesday’s debate, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, Mayor of Freetown and Member of the Africa Europe Foundation Women Leaders Network (WLN), had a stark message: as well as investments to hold back the advance of climate change, there’s an urgent need to focus on adapting to global warming’s ongoing impact on Africa.
“What we’re having to cope with, isn’t just climate change and wanting to stop that, clearly, but also recognising that climate change is here and whether it’s heavy rainfall, it’s flooding, coastal floods, these are things that are affecting our residents now,” (40:59) she said. “That conversation clearly needs to be had as well … not just stopping climate change but dealing with what’s impacting us right now.”
From her experience running the capital of Sierra Leone, Aki-Sawyerr underscored the importance of working on a local scale with effective communications to show citizens the importance of climate action that can bring tangible improvements to their daily lives.
Madji Sock, Partner, Dalberg Advisors, cofounder of the Women’s Investment Club Senegal (WIC) and member of the Africa Europe Foundation Women Leaders Network (WLN), focused on entrepreneurial investment as a tool for empowering women and fighting climate change. She explained how WIC investments are helping women-led start-ups move up to the next level, giving as examples a Senegalese business that recycles tyres and a bakery using local grains.
“Women invest with more criteria in mind, beyond the financial ones, women will ask more questions … women also think about the sustainability of investments,” (1:06:06) she said. “We need to put more capital in the hands of women, so that climate considerations become a top criteria, if not the top criteria, in investment decisions.”
Turning to rural Africa, where women make up the majority of agricultural smallholders but often lack access to inputs like seeds and fertiliser, and face income gaps of over 60% compared to men doing similar work, Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director, African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) argued for policies and investments that address both climate issues and gender inequalities.
“If you really want to address climate change in Africa, you really must effectively address the needs and priorities of African women … African women really are bearing the brunt of climate change on the continent, but most importantly they really are the face of the solution,” (16:34) Kamau-Rutenberg said. Care is needed to ensure African farming becomes part of the climate-change solution, rather than adding to the problem.
“Agricultural production is a big part of the way Africans are experiencing climate change because so much of our population is involved in agriculture,” she added. “If we are not careful, agricultural production in Africa could end up being a major contributor to greenhouse gases in a way that it is in many parts of the world.” (17:40)
In terms of the Europe-Africa relationship, a paradigm change is needed in development dynamics, argued Diane Binder, Founding Partner at Regenopolis, member of the Conseil Présidentiel Pour L’Afrique, and European Young Leader (EYL40). She called for a greater focus on locally created, women-led initiatives supported by the international community as partners in a way that builds on the ‘incredible spirit of innovation, of resilience, of entrepreneurship’ in Africa.
Change also needs to come at a broader level, she contended. “The current system of governing patriarchy has determined our way of thinking and acting for the past thousands of years, and now this system is cracking. People are waking up, people are conscious of the costs to our planet, they are aware of the sacrifices on our everyday life,” (30:24) Binder said. “Decisions have always been made by men in a business-as-usual approach … and we cannot afford business as usual any longer.” (31:34)
One clear example of where women’s voices need to be heard in the fight against climate change is clean cooking, argued Nadia Gullestrup Christen, Climate Activist and, Denmark’s Youth delegate to the UN for COP26. She pointed out that 2.6 billion people still don’t have access to clean cooking methods, many of them in Africa, and that as a result 2.5 million people die prematurely, mostly from inhaling cooking smoke.
“Global decision-makers have consistently failed to prioritize access to affordable clean cooking fuels and technologies,” (1:10:21) she said. “If women were included more in taking these decisions, I fundamentally believe problems like clean cooking would be addressed in a more efficient way, not because women are better at taking decisions than men, but because diverse groups of decision makers are better than non-diverse groups.”
The Africa Europe Foundation is partnering with a broad range of high-level partners, including the Portuguese Presidency of the Council of the European Union, the European Commission, the Africa Union Commission, the European Investment Bank, the African Development Bank, and the Africa-Europe Energy Partnership in a series of ‘Green Talks’ in the lead up to the EU-Africa High-Level Green Investment Forum to be held in Lisbon on the 23 April 2021.
The ‘Green Talks’ are aimed at sharing experiences, innovative approaches, and opportunities to mobilise capital and expertise to promote the Green Transition in Africa and in Europe.
Events and virtual meetings will take place across Africa and Europe, beginning on 24 March and culminating on 23 April, with the High-Level Green Investment Forum which will bring together African and European political leaders, policy makers and business representatives to discuss partnership and practical solutions to accelerate sustainable development, green investment and post pandemic recovery on both continents.
As we enter the final decade to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), bold ambitions are needed to deliver on climate action. Ramping up innovation, investment and partnership between Africa and Europe opens the door to a multitude of opportunities to address the challenges facing both continents. Now more than ever, enhancing women’s participation and leadership in climate action at all levels will be critical to securing a healthy, prosperous and sustainable future for all.
The unique constellation of strategic milestones in 2021 and 2022 (including the UN Food Systems Summit, the UN High-Level Political Dialogue on Energy, the UN Conference on Biodiversity, COP26 in the United Kingdom and COP27 in an African nation) provides the much-needed momentum for the Africa-Europe partnership to pivot efforts to fight climate change towards not only a fresh a new narrative, but a gutsy strategic rethink, with greater emphasis on women’s leadership, the centrality of cities, civil society and youth.
Women climate protagonists on both continents have an opportunity to work together, share practices and learn from each other on issues such as biodiversity, desertification, food systems transformation and sustainable energy. Investing in a just and inclusive transition with women, cities, civil society and youth on the forefront could deliver many of the jobs and the long-term prosperity that Africa and Europe need to achieve their visions for Agenda 2063 and the Green Deal.
Questions to be discussed include:
- How are women uniquely positioned to be agents of change to fight against the climate crisis?
- Who are the women and girls at the forefront of spearheading the sustainable transition in Africa and Europe?
- How should both continents support intergenerational dialogue with women, civil society and youth to capitalise on the burgeoning strength of their vision for the future?
- What best practices and lessons can be shared from local and city level experiences to maximise the implementation and impact of the commitments in the upcoming political calendar?
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr OBE
Mayor of Freetown, Member of the Africa Europe Foundation, High-Level Group of Personalities and Vice Chair of the C40 Cities Steering Committee
Founding Partner and CEO of Regenopolis and 2018 European Young Leader (EYL40)
Maria Madalena Lobo Carvalho Fischer
Director-General for Foreign Policy at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Portugal
Nadia Gullestrup Christensen
Climate Activist and Denmark's Youth Delegate to the UN for COP26
Director of African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD)
Partner at Dalberg Global Development Advisors and Member of the Africa Europe Foundation’s Women Leaders Network
Director, Asia, Peace, Security & Defense, Digital & Chief spokesperson
Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr has served as Mayor of Freetown since May 2018. Driven by her commitment to transform the city, the three-year Transform Freetown plan adopts an inclusive and data-driven approach to tackle a variety of issues, including environmental degradation. She is a chartered accountant and finance professional with over 25 years of private sector experience in strategic planning, risk management consulting, and project management.
Diane Binder is a business executive and social entrepreneur, with extensive experience in developing public-private alliances which promote urban resilience, climate adaptation and mitigation. She is a Founding Partner and CEO of Regenopolis, an initiative for regenerative cities in Africa. In addition to serving as a member of the French Presidential Council for Africa, Diane is also the President and Co-Founder of Action Emploi Réfugiés. She previously worked at SUEZ, a leader in water supply and waste management services.
Madalena Carvalho Fischer is an experienced diplomat, having previously served as the ambassador of Portugal in Cairo, non-resident ambassador to Eritrea, Jordan and Sudan, as well as observer to the League of Arab States. She was also diplomatic advisor to the President of the Portuguese Parliament and head of the office of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and the Deputy Prime Minister. Carvalho Fischer has been posted at the embassies in Bonn, Berlin and Islamabad and served as head of division in the Directorate for Common Foreign and Security Policy (CFSP) and the Office of the Secretary-General.
Nadia Gullestrup Christen is a climate activist and student of environmental economics, who currently serves as the Danish Youth Delegate to the UN for climate and environment. She is also an elected member of the Danish Youth Council, represents 600,000 Danish young people, and an SDG ambassador, in which her role involves educating and engaging young people around the sustainable development goals. Previously, Gullestrup Christen was a spokesman for climate and environment in the Danish social liberal youth party.
Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg has received widespread recognition for her work in women’s empowerment. Before becoming Director of AWARD, she founded and served as the former executive director of Akili Dada, an award-winning leadership incubator, which contributes to the transformation of African women leadership. She previously served as an assistant professor and lecturer, focusing on topics from gender to the role of technology in social activism.
Madji Sock is a Partner at Dalberg’s Senegal office. With over 20 years of experience in the implementation and management of development projects, her work currently focuses on strengthening government ownership of development sector programmes. Sock is also the Co-Founder of the Women’s Investment Club Senegal (WIC), which offers women-led businesses privileged access to financial instruments. Previously, she worked for Deloitte, promoting black economic empowerment in South Africa’s agricultural sector.
Prior to joining Friends of Europe, Dharmendra Kanani was director of policy at the European Foundation Centre (EFC). He was the England director at the Big Lottery Fund, the largest independent funder in the UK and fourth largest in the world. Dharmendra has held senior positions in the public and voluntary sector and advisor to numerous ministerial policy initiatives across the UK.
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