African Business meets Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale in Libreville only hours after he has finalised what he calls Africa’s most ambitious climate law yet – far-reaching legislation that helps Gabon on its mission to cut its carbon emissions by at least half by 2025.
“What we want is our economy not to be dependent on oil and instead, dependent on forests and agriculture. This is really a transition that we need, and this law will help with that,” says Gahouma-Bekale, permanent secretary of Gabon’s climate council and special adviser to President Ali Bongo.
The new legislation sends a clarion call to the private sector – imploring businesses to help Gabon commit to zero deforestation and no more fossil fuel activities, including gas flaring. Gahouma-Bekale says Gabon looks to achieve this goal by 2030. Under the new law, companies operating in Gabon will have to obtain a climate mitigation permit and respect its objectives, or face additional taxes.
Gabon is already one of the world’s few “carbon negative” countries, meaning it absorbs more carbon that it emits. This is due to its sprawling rainforest, which covers 88% of the country and makes up part of the Congo Basin.
Gahouma-Bekale hopes Gabon’s approach to the climate crisis can be used as an example for other nations to follow when he travels to the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (Cop26) in Glasgow not only as Gabon’s negotiator, but the main official tasked with defending Africa’s position as chair of the African Group of Negotiators on Climate Change.
He believes Africa is in a unique situation when it comes to the climate crisis, because “we are vulnerable, we have a lot of potential, and we are not responsible for the situation”.
“Africa is about 4% of the total greenhouse gas emissions,” he says. “Africa will have in maybe 10 years, half of the active population of the world, because our population is very young. We are not responsible for climate change, and we have a lot of potential to fight it with hydroelectricity, with solar, with smart agriculture and so on.”
Asia is by far the biggest polluter – accounting for 53% of global emissions, according to the Global Carbon Project. North America follows, accounting for 18%, while Europe comes third emitting 17%.
“But Africa is really vulnerable to climate change because we have a lot of small farmers – they don’t have access to technology and they are especially vulnerable to heavy rain,” he adds.
Many of the continent’s capital cities lie on the coast, like Dakar, Lagos, Libreville and Maputo, which are all under threat by rising sea levels.
As Africa has such a small carbon footprint compared with other continents due to its low industrialisation, Gahouma-Bekale says African states should not have to allocate as much of their gross domestic product towards climate initiatives compared to developed nations.
“We are not developed countries; we cannot use this money because this money is for development, it’s for food, it’s for education, it’s for a lot of things, not to fight against a situation that we are not responsible for.”
More funding is needed
African climate negotiators have urged developed countries to increase climate financing to $100bn by 2020 for developing countries, in line with the 2010 Cancún commitment. However, OECD figures in September showed that wealthy countries had fallen short of the $100bn promised.
“Since this commitment has been made, we have no proof that we can achieve this goal. One of the main things in the [Cop26] negotiations that we want is to ensure transparency in that,” says Gahouma-Bekale.
“We want to create a framework of transparency – some tables for example, where we can track this money. So when a country puts $1m in the World Bank, we need to know which country this money will go to, and for what project.”
Gahouma-Bekale says that the $100bn figure should be higher, to cover the real cost of climate adaptation in developing countries, and he dismisses the $100bn as just “a political commitment”.
“This is something new that we will negotiate in Glasgow: we think that in Africa, based on our studies, that the new goal on finance needs to be $700bn per year, not $100bn per year.”
Gahouma-Bekale sees Cop26 as a make-or-break conference for the planet. The last UN Climate Change Conference “wasn’t a success”, he says, as the countries couldn’t finalise the rules laid out in the pivotal 2015 Paris Agreement.
Does he believe countries can cast aside their political differences at Cop26 and work towards a common goal? “We already lost one deadline. This is a new one and because of Covid, we have delayed this Cop so now the last Cop was two years ago. If we cannot meet this new deadline, we will lose in our agenda against climate change.”
If there’s no progress, the consequences for Africa will be dire. The landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that was released in August warned that climate change could exacerbate or multiply existing threats to human security including food, health, and economic insecurity. Many of these threats are drivers of conflict and war.
Finalising the Paris rulebook
Gahouma-Bekale remains optimistic, but says the world must be prepared for the first Global Stocktake in 2023, which will monitor the carbon in the atmosphere and test the success of the Paris Agreement. If all goes according to plan, it will help each country work out its climate objectives and how to finance them.
“We need to be ready for that but we need to start planning now at this Cop,” Gahouma-Bekale says. “The last IPCC report says that we have until 2030 to make all the effort against climate change, so it’s possible we can win this fight.
“But at this Cop, we need to finalise the rulebook of the Paris Agreement. We still have the main issue, which is the Article Six mechanism.”
While Article Six is not a priority for Africa, it is for many richer countries as it will allow them to transact in carbon credits. Gahouma-Bekale says that Article Six needs to be improved to increase mitigation action, but also finance adaptation measures.
Improving the rules
For Africa, finance and adaptation challenges will be high on the agenda at the climate summit. One aspect related to adaptation is the REDD+ (reducing emissions from deforestation and degradation) system. The system involves paying countries for actions that prevent forest lost or degradation so that they can curb CO2 emissions. At Cop26, Gahouma-Bekale will argue that the system doesn’t work for many African countries.
Asked why, he says: “When the Amazon burned two years ago, all the world said that we need to preserve this forest; the world wanted to send money to protect the Amazon. But when the Congo Basin is still alive and in good health, nobody wants to put money into that because they say just it’s a natural process, it’s a natural ecosystem and so on. And they want all the Congo Basin to apply to the REDD+ process, but REDD+ is about reduction of deforestation.”
Gahouma-Bekale argues REDD+ would not be useful for developing African countries like Gabon – which has less than 0.08% or around 9,000 hectares deforestation per year and more than 20m hectares of rainforest alive and sequestering carbon.
“If we reduce this 9,000 [hectares] to 7,000, to 5,000, we cannot develop ourselves, because the country is about 90% forest. If you want to build roads, if you want to do agriculture, if you want to do anything, we need to get some trees,” he says.
Gahouma-Bekale believes that the REDD+ process leaves highly-forested African countries such as Gabon, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of Congo with “peanuts”, not enough for them to develop sustainably. He points out that many of the world’s richest countries have had to deforest to allow for development.
Role of the private sector
Gahouma-Bekale wants the private sector to be part of the climate negotiations too. His $700bn a year figure isn’t just for African countries; it’s also to “send signals to the private sector” that they can easily find the money and support to invest in green solutions.
“This is the job of the Green Climate Fund. We want to increase the job of the fund and add more money for climate projects. We want to ensure that the private sector can find the support they need to go into this new direction.”
There have been some innovative partnerships that give cause for hope. Gabon in June became the first African country to receive payment for reducing carbon emissions and protecting its rainforest. It is the first part of a deal that covers up to $150m in conservation financing and was brokered by the Central African Forest Initiative on behalf of the Norwegian government.
“We want to sit with our partners – like Norway for example – and say ‘what is the best strategy to preserve this natural capital?’ Because it’s for the world, it’s not just for us.”