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Climate fight must 'bring science to those in power' - former Mauritian president

A man stands among engineless boats which lie idle at the dried inland Lake Chilwa's Chisi Island harbour in Zomba District, eastern Malawi. AMOS GUMULIRA / AFP

Bridging the gap between science and policymaking is critical if the world is to effectively tackle climate change – and Africa is at the forefront of this challenge – renowned scientist and former Mauritian president Ameenah Gurib-Fakim has warned.

Speaking to RFI at a sustainability conference at Paris’s ESCP business school, where she gave the keynote address, Gurib-Fakim said the world needs real policies for properly communicating science – adding that decisive action was needed to ensure development planning was inclusive of climate change solutions.

“By 2035, Africa will be the best supplier of human talent and capital to the world,” she says. “The continent has all the resources needed to make a dent with respect to sustainable development … and we need to think about how Africa can address its challenges through its human capital.”

The heating and increasing acidification of the oceans can no longer be tackled by national governments; it needs to be done through collaboration that includes the big players.

Women, marginalized communities and – not least – young people are identified as central to human capital.

In April, the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Africa said climate change stands to seriously hurt Africa’s goal of achieving all 17 of the UN sustainable development goals – agreed in 2015 – which address challenges such as poverty, inequality, environmental degradation, prosperity and peace.

Call to fund institutions

With time running out to take the necessary measures that will limit global warming to 1.5C above pre-industrial levels, as agreed under the Paris climate deal, Gurib-Fakim wants to see more money being poured into institutions who can fund innovation projects and make sure that researchers are given the opportunities to turn their ideas into reality.

Beyond that, it’s time to forge global alliances. “The heating and increasing acidification of the oceans can no longer be tackled by national governments; it needs to be done through collaboration that includes the big players,” Gurib-Fakim says.

“This is where we talk about a shift to more intense participation with big countries that still have the capacity, the potential and the means to lead.”

Interview: Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, scientist and former president of Mauritius 29/05/2019 Listen

The circular economy concept has emerged as a new buzz phrase for sustainable growth. It’s about recycling, repairing and reusing goods, and essentially finding a valuable use for waste.

However, a recent study by London’s Chatham House thinktank found that, while Europe and China have adopted long-term circular-economy strategies as part of efforts to become carbon-neutral, Africa is being left behind out because of a lack of investment.

This is because Africa needs to be higher up the agenda, says Gurib-Fakim. “In speeches by world leaders, we don’t see Africa being flagged up enough – and yet Africa will remain at the epicenter of many of these challenges,” she adds.

“We need to engage with Africa – and African leaders need to engage with their own institutions and their own people so that the circular economy, which has tremendous potential for development, becomes key.”