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Djibouti is preparing to host an Environmental Risks and Opportunities (ERO) Summit from 2 to 4 May 2015 specifically addressing East African nations. Government representatives, scientists, as well as private and public sector leaders are expected to come up with impactful and viable ideas that can be used to tackle the challenges of climate change. Participants are also expected to give shape to the extensive climate change resilience and adaptation dialogue African countries have been tied in by trimming the dialogues to specific regional situations and needs.
Capital’s Teguest Yilma talked to the Djiboutian Minister of Higher Education, Dr. Nabil Mohamed Ahmed, who oversees preparations of the summit, following his insightful address at the opening of the Road to Paris Regional Dialogue held in Addis Ababa on April 7.
Capital: Tell us about the summit scheduled to be held on 2-4 May. What is the objective and what outcomes are you expecting?
Dr. Nabil Mohamed Ahmed: When planning this summit, we started from a point that all countries have their concerns and problems regarding climate change. I think we can bring solutions to these problems through initiating and setting up platforms in the region as well as the rest of Africa where we can speak with one voice and negotiate.
Many people ask why I am involved in the issues of the environment because I am the Minister of Higher Education and Research. I believe that as long as we have not mastered the use of technology, whatever kind of progress we make, we would not be able to succeed. We need to master the technology and we need to collect and organize data. With these ideas, I spoke to people at Yale University; I explained to them what I wanted to do and then we decided to hold the conference in Djibouti.
During the conference, one of the main discussion points will be the establishment of an expert committee, a task force that will be based in Djibouti “East Africa Task Force for Climate Change.” Nothing like this has ever existed before.
For this, we will work with different western universities starting with Yale, a university that has already implemented this model for over 100 years. The question is how we can adopt this model which deals with a number of issues that vary from sociology to health. I think, with the support of Yale, implementing this model will be beneficial for the East African region.
The second element is the need for numeric platforms that can be used to evaluate all the measures and actions taken with regards to conserving the environment and also come up with an index to measure the good and the bad as well as ways to improve.
For example, let’s say an investor wants to come and invest in the region in the area of renewable energy. The investor will ask for a guarantee he would have within the country of the planned investment.
So for that, we can create a legal document that will be carried throughout Eastern Africa or through the IGAD region. For instance, to define laws on which we all agree to say that when a product arrives at the port of Djibouti, it needs to meet a certain kind of criteria. And all of these rules will need to be applied in all the countries of the region.
Another point of discussion at the conference will be the corridors between Djibouti and Ethiopia. How can we implement a follow up system regarding health and how to stop diseases transmission will be the main areas of concern.
Ethiopia and Djibouti were lucky enough not to have an Ebola crisis. But if we have had that crisis in our own countries, the repercussions would have been terrible.
So we can work on a project that will enable us to follow up on epidemics, and ways on how to deal with them and have the capacity to intervene as fast as possible within the scope of the ever changing climate.
Capital: Can you elaborate on the relationship between climate change issues and the other points you just mentioned: health, data and the Ethio-Djibouti corridor?
Dr. Nabil: You know, with climate change sometimes diseases such as Malaria will become common. And these diseases can move to different regions where they never existed before, due to the climate change effect. In recent times, some diseases have been observed in Djibouti that were not there before. There have been similar occurrences in the Ethiopian side as well.
How can we prevent such kinds of diseases? is the big question now. Today, people move a lot which becomes a high risk factor so we need to agree on what needs to be done to decrease such chance with regards to setting up laboratories and implementing follow up measures.
The idea is to use all possible techniques, for energy or for health, which can help us move forward. We have to fill the numerical gap[data gap]. I think today climate change is an opportunity for us to develop a win-win system with universities and industries from western countries. They have the technology and know-how, we want that technology and know-how. So the discussion will be how can we have a win-win situation through climate change and have real programs or projects for which we can look for funding later.
The other element is renewable energy. You can have as many technologies as possible in your country, but, as long as you don’t have trained technicians, you will never succeed. We have facilities, but we also need to master those technologies, make them evolve. This is why we need capacity building all over the region.
I’m sure many people during the Road to Paris meeting will come with different ideas as well. The idea is for the participants to leave the conference confident with the intent to keep on working until the next conference.
Capital: You say that you would like to have an East African climate change institution that will handle the follow up. There are institutions that already exist. So, why do you think this one would be better or any different than the others?
Dr. Nabil: What is happening today is that our scientists are working by themselves and they may not be as trained as they should be.
I can give you an example. I come from the technical area, we were seeing what the carbon consumption was like in Djibouti and people came to train us on that. But we were never able to give reliable results. I think if we implement a real expert committee, for once, there will be experts in East Africa who work together and share data, because scientists have to share data and work with the same method.
If participating countries agree with this model that will be presented during the conference in Djibouti, in my opinion, it would be a great opportunity and a great step forward. And we can find a way to make it evolve, through this exchange we will have with western and American universities.
Capital: Do you think Africa is able to receive financing from the ‘Green Climate Fund’ and work on those issues today? It is said that there will be a 10 billion dollars financing by 2015 from Western governments, but Africa hasn’t proposed any project. .
Dr. Nabil: First of all, the 10 billion dollars is not really available now; Western governments are collecting it.
We are talking about the high growth rate in our country, and we are very proud of that rate. So why can’t we use that growth to work on these programs once we’ve agreed? I think if we start to work on that, the others will follow.
Let’s show the world what we are able to do by ourselves. I was saying that in Africa I individually meet people who are amazing. Why don’t we work to bring these individuals together to share their talent and experience so that they can suggest something reliable for all of us. Time is short, if we are waiting for ideas to come from outside, it will not be good.
When we thought about the Djibouti Summit, we decided we needed to talk about opportunities. Climate change has risks, but it also has opportunities, with job creation, for example. I was talking about recycling, why don’t we recycle? I know it has started in Ethiopia, why not amplify this kind of knowledge, have more technologies and make them evolve? You know Asian countries are smart; they first started to copy and then went further. I think we need to start to do something or else, in 20 years, we will still talk about the same problems and situations.
Capital: You said that we need to include the youth in the next scheme. How can we do that?
Dr. Nabil: In Africa, many young people have dropped out from school with no possibility of going back. What we can do for those young people is give them technical trainings which will enable them to create or get a job such as recycling and using irrigation techniques or computing skills.
There are those that are on a second level, the ones who graduated and go to universities, you know anyone can go to university, but not all of them have the capacity. How can we orient them like they do in Germany to technical trainings? If those trainings have nothing to do with the occupations, there is still going to be unemployment, so those trainings have to be in selected sectors such as irrigation or solar panel maintenance etc…
The third one is for the pupil who will go further in their studies, and we have to give them the means to get involved in this strategy of using all technologies through PhD and Masters programs. Then we can really be prepared to handle the climate changes.
Capital: Concretely, what do you think African leaders have to do to protect the environment?
Dr. Nabil: First is to speak with one voice. If we gather and agree to speak with one voice, it is a big step forward, but if we can’t agree to speak the same language, it is useless.
I like the saying “Aim big, start small, scale up fast.” This is why I wanted to think in the first place on how we, East Africans, can work together. I am sure that if it works for us, a lot of people will follow that model and come to us, and we will be able to multiply our knowledge and strategies, and technologies.
But it won’t be done until we have a common project to do that. Today, we have the expertise and well trained people in Ethiopia, as well as other countries such as Sudan. There is a possibility to make those people work together and involve the African private sector, the private sector will be the first beneficiary from it.
As long as we are not able to attract the private sector, we can’t go further. I think it’s sad that the private sector in Africa has not yet understood that the future highly depends on adaptation to climate change, and that the new technologies are to their benefit, and that they have to invest in the professional trainings and by acquiring those technologies, instead of waiting for the help to come from outside, I am sure that we can do it.
Capital: What are the outcomes you expect from the Djibouti conference and what will it bring to the COP 21 Paris conference?
Dr. Nabil: What I am expecting from the Djibouti conference is for people to come with innovative and new ideas, not with the same scheme, this is the first thing.
And once those ideas are discussed, to be able to reach a point of agreement and common stand where leaders will be able to go to the Paris conference and defend the common stand and show that East Africa is a good example of moving forward together.