This newsletter gives you highlights of selected sustainability insights that were, perhaps, too long (you) didn’t read (TLDR) or there’s just too much out there to read. The highlights presented cover insights gleaned from a global, regional (African), and national (Kenyan) perspective. Happy reading!

GLOBAL: State of Climate Action 2023

All eyes are on the COP28 in Dubai. It is a critical one – well they all are, but this COP also delivers the (official) 1st global stock take report on the Paris Agreement, the factual review of the our global progress on limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C and what needs to be done to keep 1.5 degrees C limit within our reach.

Not surprisingly, because I think we know it, we are so off track; that if we actually want to keep the 1.5 limit, we will need a ‘twofold acceleration’ on nearly all indicators between now and 2030.

The World Resource Institute (WRI) State of Climate Action 2023 report, gives a couple of great visuals that provide a useful summary of what needs to be done and in which sectors:

Credit: The State of Climate Action 2023 report

My two-cents: Because it is COP28 week, I am keeping this short – there will be plenty information flooding your senses during this time. The outcomes of COP28 will of course be super important, but more so will be the underlying question on whether we will actually take the action needed or not – as countries, industries, citizens? We reap what we sow. 

Global Plastics Treaty Talks

Photo by Leonid Danilov from Pexels

In March 2022, world leaders at the UN Environment Assembly, committed to end plastic pollution and have an internationally legally binding agreement on this by 2024. Plastic production was about 348 million tonnes in 2017, a global industry valued at US$522.6 billion, and it is expected to double in capacity by 2040. Nearly every piece of plastic is derived from fossil fuels.

To reach the globally binding agreement by 2024, Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC) began negotiations in 2022 onwards. In mid-November the INC and stakeholders met in Nairobi to further negotiate progress towards the global commitment to end plastic pollution.

At the end of November INC talks, not much progress had been made. The UNEP expressed that there had been forward motion towards a treaty; but many member states and stakeholders found that progress was stalled by the influence countries with low ambitions and lobbying industry (business) in the process. The next round of talks will be in April 2024, if member states aren’t careful; constructive negotiations and a treaty won’t see the light of day.

My two-cents: Perhaps those at the negotiating table are too far removed from the plastic pollution problem – in their cities, neighbourhoods, streets, rivers and oceans. Perhaps balance of power, role of government for the people, and the role of industry; has changed more significantly than we care to admit.

AFRICA: A Fair and Transparent International Tax Cooperation

Image by Michael Steinberg from Pexels

African countries pushed for change in global tax cooperation at the UN and the vote was passed.

The resolution titled “Promotion of inclusive and effective international tax cooperation at the United Nations, presents opportunity for fostering tax equity and strengthening tax systems. Presently, the OECD is the platform where global tax matters are discussed – obviously, African countries, and many other continents and their countries are not part of nor represented in the OECD. Majority of what makes up the globe, isn’t part of the global tax discussion…

The African Union hopes better international tax cooperation will lead to more level playing field, reducing tax evasion and avoidance by the global North; and more ability to mobilise domestic resources for development for the global South.

In 2022, the OECD introduced the global minimum corporate tax, to ensure that multinational companies (MNCs) are subject to a minimum 15% tax rate in every country of operation as from 2023, thus preventing situations where these multinational companies take advantage of differing tax regimes to avoid paying tax.

KPMG insight talks to tax in 2030: citizens will demand more from companies on their role in society. Companies will have come to accept this role and as a result will demand more from governments to keep their social contracts through taxes paid. Globalisation will still thrive thanks to global tax transparency as it grows in leaps and bounds; and taxes will spur on much-needed innovation in countries. And just 6 years from now, taxes will be a key lever driving sustainable development.

My two-cents: This UN vote was like the ‘Plebeians versus Patricians’, a Roman comparison I use cheekily for the ‘have-nots’ versus the ‘haves’. Although it all sounds so promising in 2030 – we are not there, and aspiration and reality are very different. The global South has won the 1st set at the UN; but the global tax transparency and equity game is far from over. The AU should learn to always sleep with one eye open.

Africa and COP28 – Climate & Development

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels

In November 2023, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation published Africa on the road to COP28: reconciling climate and development. The report builds on the Nairobi Declaration from the Africa Climate Summit, and sets the scene for what Africa (the continent and its peoples) need from COP28. Importantly the report states, ‘Achieving development goals in Africa, whether the UN’s SDGs or the AU’s Agenda 2063, will not be possible without a massive increase in energy use and energy access for all on the continent, as it is already the case in developed countries. There can be no trade-off between climate and development goals, no saving the planet at the expense of almost one fifth of its people. But this does not mean Africa will follow the historical carbon-intensive development path seen in the Global North.’ This to me, nails the challenge and the opportunity at hand (love it!).

The African continent needs 3 key priorities addressed conclusively at COP28:

  1. Focus on adaptation – for its low emissions contribution to the global climate crisis, Africa’s most pressing issue is adaptation rather than mitigation.
  2. Unlocking and leveraging Africa’s green assets – prioritizing local value addition, global ecosystem services and stronger governance so that African development actually happens rather than historical extraction and export.
  3. Driving the agenda to reform the global financial architecture – unfavourable borrowing terms, risks assessments, skewed tax regimes, climate loss and damage; keep Africa’s opportunities to break the debt cycle and grow domestic revenues.

Here are some additional interesting insights from the report:

  • Africa is the least developed continent economically, least responsible for climate change, and least resilient to the impacts of climate change – because it is the least economically developed. Example: The US’s budget for disaster response is twice the GDP of Malawi.
  • Economic development is Africa’s priority – energy, infrastructure, housing and food security. Example: 41/54 countries are food net importers.
  • The African continent has vital green assets, resources and critical minerals for sustainable development – for its own development and to keep the world on track for 1.5 degrees C. Example: the continent has 40% global solar potential with only approx. 1% installed capacity.

My two-cents: The report provides insightful facts, figures and examples to really land its points. What Africa needs out of COP28 and the continent’s potential is evident. It’s responsible leadership and governance that’ll make or break our continent and the rest of the world.

KENYA: 15 Billion Trees Grown by 2032

Image by Rotsee2

On 13th November, the government instituted a national public holiday for Kenyan citizens and residents to grow trees and our national forest cover.

In May 2022, former President Uhuru Kenyatta set the ambitious target to increase Kenya’s tree cover by 30% by 2050. In December 2022, under the leadership of President Ruto, Kenya upped its game and committed to growing 15 billion trees achieving 30% tree cover by 2032 currently Kenya’s forest cover is about 6% and tree cover is about 12% (Kenya REDD+ report 2020).

Important distinction on descriptions

  • Forest cover – land spanning more than 0.5 hectares with trees higher than 5 meters and a canopy cover of more than 10 percent, typically land not under agriculture or urban use.
  • Tree cover – all vegetation greater than five meters in height and may take the form of natural forests or plantations across a range of canopy densities. Tree gain does not necessarily mean restoration.

Kenya has 3 types of forests: a) public forests gazetted and managed by KFS; b) community forests on community lands and make up nearly 50% of Kenya’s forest cover; and c) private forests grown on private lands.

The 15bn target has been shared across key national stakeholders:

  • Public institutions – grow 10bn trees (approx. 63%) of the total target
  • County governments – 3.5bn trees (approx. 22%) of the total target
  • Private sector – grow 2.3bn trees (approx. 14%)

Championed by the Ministry of Environment, Climate Change and Forestry; the government’s 15Bn tree growing strategy aims to:

  • Increase national tree cover, enhance community livelihoods, promote sustainable land management, improve forest sector governance and establish sustainable finance mechanisms and private sector investment in forest and rangeland restoration.

Attaining the 2032 target will be tracked and reported using a digital app, JazaMiti App developed in partnership by the Ministries of Environment, ICT and Safaricom. The app helps one select tree species based on location, find tree planting events, monitor growth, etc. The App is available on both Google Play Store and on IOS.

My two-cents: It’s great that there’s a concerted effort to engage all stakeholders – including citizens’ and residents. I’m a little wary of the distinction between tree cover and forest cover; as forests are what tackle climate change, provide ecosystem services and biodiversity. So let’s be careful not to: miss seeing the forest for the trees (and misunderstand the bigger picture); at the same time it is also about progress not perfection.