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Climate change is Africa’s biggest risk

Climate change is Africa’s biggest risk

Jun 5, 2015

By Kathy Gibson at the World Economic Forum on Africa in Cape Town

It’s vital to balance Africa’s immediate needs with an eye on the future – and this means being climate-smart while growing. Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, quotes a Spanish proverb that translates roughly as “bread today, starving tomorrow”, and urges African leaders to ensure this doesn’t happen on the continent.

“Sustainable development goals very important,” he says. “The biggest risk to the continent is climate change, which will put people back at a faster rate than they realise.

“The cost of not acting on the issue is now higher than the cost of acting. We need clear discussions around the fact that you can only get healthy growth if you address climate change.”

Sustainable agriculture is vital to feed people while preventing deforestation, Polman says. “Deforestation because of the quest for food accounts for about one-third of global warming.”

He is encouraged that young people have rallied around sustainable development goals. “The youth is half of Africa’s population – and they understand that they are 100% of the population tomorrow.”

Polman stresses that environmental concerns mustn’t detract from growth. “Africa has done well and grown consistently, but it needs to carry on growing if we want to get to where we want to get. Only economic development can achieve the continent’s goals; and increasingly it’s not going to come from development aid.”

He believes that the continent’s leaders need to ensure the right resources are on hand for economic growth. These are energy, infrastructure and financial services. “And, importantly, human capital – leaders who take charge of what happens.

“We have to enable markets, otherwise food security will become an issue.

“The more efficiently the markets function, the better businesses can prosper.

“And we have to inspire creativity. The continent has more young entrepreneurs than anywhere else in the world. How can we harness that? Because it gives Africa the potential to lead on innovation.”

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