By Jean-Louis Moulot *, Mayor of Grand-Bassam (Ivory Coast).
As we know, Africa contributes less than five percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the regions of the world most affected by climate change. The ocean whose rise is almost imperceptible, coastal erosion, the scarcity of fishery resources, are time bombs for coastal populations, and more generally for the economies of our countries. All projections show that African coastlines will be increasingly populated in the years to come.
Each year, behind these few extra millimeters of water on our coasts, behind these few tenths of a degree more on our continent, it is indeed the potential destruction of environmental, economic and social fabrics, which is in question. It is displacement of populations, poverty and multifaceted insecurity that we are talking about. The living conditions of hundreds of millions of Africans are at stake. According to all studies, crop yields in Africa could decline by ten to twenty percent within a quarter of a century, while at the same time the population growth will explode.
The time is therefore no longer for resolutions at the end of conferences, for unfulfilled declarations, and even less for resignation. Africa has understood this well, and in the face of the threat it is mobilizing. Today, it is possible to act and find lasting solutions. Economic development and the fight against global warming are not mutually exclusive.
Grand-Bassam, the first historical capital of Côte d’Ivoire, a city classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and a lagoon and seaside city of which I am the mayor, is faced, like the entire coast of the Gulf of Guinea, with rising waters . We are at the forefront of the fight, and we are taking action. Without going into technical considerations, actions are underway to stop the erosion of the Bassamois coastline and euthrophication of the lagoon. We will thus conserve and develop the fishery resource, intelligently manage our ecosystem, create jobs, making our municipality one of the success stories in terms of sustainable development and action against climate change. All this in consultation with all the players, without noise and without fuss.
This example of a “bottom-up” struggle – fortunately there are others along the Gulf of Guinea – shows that action can be taken if three conditions are met.
First of all, Africa needs strong willed leaders and strong voices. Without real political will, without tackling the problem head-on by overcoming artificial divisions, nothing can be done. Our leaders therefore have a vital role to play. Some have really become aware of this, whether in Senegal, Rwanda, Gabon, for example, or in my country Côte d’Ivoire. However, the question does not arise at the level of a country but at a continental level, and it is regrettable that our supranational institutions are too timid on this point in view of the scale of the challenges. Indeed, the sun, the rains and the waves, know no borders.
The same goes for the great African opinion leaders, we need strong voices from civil society who carry our collective struggles. The countries of the South, and Africa in particular, are waiting for their Greta Thunbergs, capable of carrying loud and clear the specificities of our continent in terms of environmental development.
Then we must all work together. Private and public actors, national and international, ministries and administrations concerned, populations. It cannot be left to the state alone. Without the mobilization of private actors we will not succeed. Many African private sector leaders are well aware of this, and with them we can implement the necessary investments and innovations. Entrepreneurs, large and small, are full of ideas for initiatives to adapt our production methods to the challenges of the future. And all of them are fully aware of the problem. Farmers or fishermen already know what it is like to see resources become more uncertain …
Finally, all this cannot be done if we do not engage the populations in the fight, if we do not explain the ins and outs to them, if we do not educate them. As mayor of Grand-Bassam, with my teams, I tirelessly walk the streets of my town, I discuss with all my constituents explaining to them the actions taken in this area. And always, I receive a favorable reception because everyone sees the benefits they can derive from it: the first being to no longer see their city and their homes regularly flooded. Africans, even more perhaps than the inhabitants of the old countries of the North, are receptive and are aware of the stakes.
In Côte d’Ivoire, where the government is taking determined action in terms of adapting our agriculture and our infrastructure, reforestation and sanitation, to take only these few themes, all the players are mobilizing around innovative projects. Just one example: tomorrow, via a network of digital sensors, we will be able to accurately predict flooding and therefore better anticipate responses and response. All these actions, all these projects also create jobs for our youth. The same is true, I repeat, in many other countries of the continent where we are no longer content to tinker with the means at hand, calmly waiting for the big donors to release the promised aid. No, we work hard and cooperate each at our level for a common goal through structured policies and a clear agenda. And it works.
Saint-Louis of Senegal is not doomed to lose its shores, Abidjan or Grand Bassam their lagoon, Lomé is not doomed to end up under water, nor the Sahel in the sands.
Do not be afraid to be ambitious, we have the means.
Jean-Louis Moulot, former deputy chief of staff and special advisor to the President of the Republic of Côte d’Ivoire from 2010 to 2019, is the Mayor of the historic and tourist town of Grand-Bassam. He is also Managing Director of Sodexam.