Eco-innovation is critical to solving Africa’s climate challenges

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Researchers and academics from institutions of higher learning in Africa have been challenged to step out of their comfort zones and provide practical solutions to climate change.

Speakers at the Eco-Innovation Strategies for Tackling Climate Change in Africa meeting on Monday, December 9 at the ongoing Paris climate conference (COP21) noted that for Africa to tackle climate change challenges, collaborative efforts among universities, the community and business owners is crucial.

Tumusiime Rhoda Peace, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission (AUC), called on all stakeholders to work together to find scientifically proven measures to address climate change in the region.

“We have to tow a clean path to protect our environment. Our universities should adopt the Malabo Declaration that urges agriculture improvement through science and innovation to build farmers’ resilience,” she said.

She called on African governments to strengthen centres of research by providing funds and a conducive environment for innovation.

“The AUC and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations are providing technical support for the Sahel and Horn of Africa regions, which are dry and vulnerable to shocks of climate change. We should tap into this knowledge base to address poverty, hunger and population growth,” the AU Commissioner said.

“Innovation is key to reducing carbon emissions and all players including the private sector, which pollutes the environment more, should lead the way for cleaner energy innovations,” she said.

Tim Clarke, Strategic Advisor for the Centre for Global Eco-Innovation at Lancaster University in the UK, faulted the Malabo Declaration, noting that though the document supports agriculture, it says nothing of innovation.

“Innovation is recognized in Europe and America, but not Africa. It is only through innovation that we can empower rural communities to manage their resources, like water and energy, to change their lives,” Clarke said.

“The rural communities need political and technical support. We need to create innovative hubs in Africa to find solutions to their problems,” he said.

Nigel Paul, Director of the Centre for Global Eco-innovation at Lancaster University, urged the academia, governments and the private sector to work together to solve society’s problems.

“Let the academia not stay in their offices in the universities. They need to come out and work with the communities so that their research translates into tangible solutions to the problems faced by human beings,” Paul said.

He called on the private sector to provide internships to university students for hands-on practical skills.

“For sustainable eco-growth, we need to give the youth tools to manage their future as this will lead to high-level skills for employment and success in the green economy,” Paul said.

Gareth Phillips, Chief Climate and Green Growth Officer with the African Development Bank (AfDB), said there are opportunities in eco-innovation that call for diverse expertise.

“We need solutions from universities. We are signing agreements here, but we need solutions to implement these agreements. We need to develop competitive advantage through new skills to access new markets in eco-innovations,” Phillips said.