When I was appointed UN Resident Coordinator of Gabon one year ago, I could have jumped to the ceiling with excitement. It was the dream position in a country known as the ‘last garden of Eden’ due to its strong history of environmental conservation and longstanding political commitment to preserving the country’s untouched natural environment. Today Gabon is setting an example to other nations and becoming a green powerhouse which must be supported globally.
Despite the progress Gabon has made over the last several decades to scale up its environmental protection measures and reduce carbon emissions, the overall global outlook for the climate remains dire. Water levels in rivers and lakes around the world have now reached historic lows. Europe, North America, Asia, and the Middle East have experienced unprecedented heatwaves this summer as well as devastating and longer lasting wildfires. Glaciers are melting at a pace never seen before, and deforestation continues around the world. The African continent continues to be most affected by the impacts of climate change, yet its people have contributed very little to the issue.
The Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres has warned world leaders that without immediate action to reduce carbon emissions, the world risks “sleepwalking to climate catastrophe”.
Yet amid this environmental emergency, there are some countries, including Gabon which are providing a source of hope and leadership in the fight against climate change.
As one of the few countries in the world which absorbs more carbon than it emits, Gabon’s environmental conservation efforts and rich natural capital are an example to us all.
It is not surprising therefore that Libreville, the capital of Gabon was chosen to host the 2022 edition of Africa Climate Week, taking place this week, 29 August-2 September. The event brings together over 1300 environmental and climate experts as well as high-level international and national leaders, representatives of civil society, multilateral organizations and academia. It is hosted by the Government of Gabon and co-organised with the United Nations under the leadership of the UNFCCC, UNDP, UNEP and the World Bank Group and other partners.
This week, as these high-level discussions take place here in Libreville, I reflect on the significant results that we, the UN Team in Gabon together with the government and other partners on the ground have achieved in scaling up climate action.
Our climate initiatives in Gabon aim build upon the country’s already exemplary efforts to reduce its carbon footprint and keep within the 1.5 degrees of warming target set by the Paris Agreement.
Supporting Gabon’s transition from a brown economy, primarily based on the extraction of oil, to a green economy has been a key part of these efforts and one of our main strategic objectives set out in the new UN Sustainable Country Development Plan (2023-2027), in alignment with national priorities. The aim of this transition is to accelerate the diversification of the economy while promoting a sustainable use of natural resources and creating new green jobs, particularly for women and young people, who have the highest unemployment rates.
A key part of my role as Resident Coordinator in Gabon is to bring different UN agencies together and ensure that we are working in an effective, coordinated way towards our common climate goals. Together we are strongly supporting the country’s advocacy efforts to attract development financing to help accelerate Gabon’s green transition and economic diversification.
We have already implemented a number of joint UN programmes, including the Integrated National Financing Framework (INFF) which helps align investments with national development priorities in line with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This initiative, spearheaded by UNDP, UNECA and UNEP with a US$ 1 million budget, helped map financial flows across Gabon. It reveals that in 2020 only 4.5 % of the overall investments in the country were directed towards enhancing the green economy. The project helped identify financing bottlenecks, redirect investments towards sustainable development initiatives, and develop more innovative sources of green financing.
In Gabon, we are working to ensure that the whole population, especially young people and women, participate in the sustainable management of the country’s natural resources and benefit from the fruits of a controlled transition to a sustainable and resilient green economy.
One of the pilot programmes, funded by the UN Sustainable Development Fund in Gabon, focused on engaging young unemployed urban dwellers affected by the COVID-19 crisis in agricultural production. As part of the project, 300 young people, two thirds of which were women, received technical training and financial assistance in green value chains. They also learnt how to grow their own crops, as a result were able to feed their families during lockdowns. Once crops grew and production increased, they were able to commercialize their agricultural products, placing them in on the local market, including in supermarkets. The project, which started in 2021, was so successful it is already being replicated in other three provinces.
The Youth Connect Initiative is another key example of how we are bringing the whole UN system in Gabon together to expand local partnerships and scale up climate action. In collaboration with the National Investment Fund and local incubators, the initiative provides funding to support small and medium size enterprises on the 2nd and 3rd transformation of timber, helping to develop a sustainable and diverse timber sector across the country.
Through these efforts, we work closely with local communities and civil society to promote a variety of grassroot initiatives which help regenerate the environment and place the needs of the local community at the centre.