Dr. Richard Munang is currently the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Africa Regional Climate Change Programme Coordinator responsible for guiding the actualization of UNEP’s climate resilient development strategy for Africa through coordinating implementation of diverse projects in adaption and mitigation in key economic sectors especially agriculture, and energy as well as informing strategy and policy development from project lessons. He is also the UNEP Ecosystem Based Adaptation (EbA) for Food Security Focal Person currently coordinating and guiding the roll-out of the UNEP-Africa Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly in over 40 countries. Previously he was the Policy & Programme Coordinator for the UNEP/UNDP Africa Climate Change Adaptation Development programme.

EBAFOSA is also supporting country governments to domesticate SDGs, the Paris COP21 agreement and AU Agenda 2063-across all regions and linguistic jurisdictions as well as fomenting partnerships for policy and concrete actions, resulting in its mainstreaming into national budgets, environmental and agricultural policies to actualize the SDGs. At the 6th AMCEN special session in Cairo Egypt, EBAFOSA was adopted as the continental policy framework and implementation platform for adaptation and food security in Africa- through policy and technical solutions aimed at optimizing highly catalytic natural capital based sectors – Ecosystems Driven agriculture and its linkage to clean energy, to spur rural sustainable industries, towards achieving the SDGs.
He also coordinated the Africa Low Emission Development Strategies (LEDS) project bringing together African countries within five regions (Central, Eastern, Northern, Southern, and Western Africa) to share lessons and solutions to LEDS planning, modeling, and implementation and actualize their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC with aim for job creation, climate resilience, and achievement of low emissions development.

He has been involved in shaping continental level strategic environmental policy position through technical support for the Africa Ministerial Conference for the Environment (AMCEN), as well as informing a coherent continental strategic climate policy position that prioritizes continental priorities at global forums through scientific research and publishing. For instance, he pioneered the Africa Adaptation Gap report series, a scientific analysis in the order of and informed by the UNFCCC IPCC reports, which have helped to galvanize a coherent continental strategic climate policy position. This resulted in the elevation of adaptation to a par with mitigation, an AMCEN priority and provision for voluntary domestic resource mobilization in the COP21, as informed by the 2nd Africa Adaptation Gap Report.

He has been involved in enhancing human and institutional capacity building skills, as well as mentoring and empowering young professionals through the EBAFOSA country-driven model, allowing national stakeholders and institutions to lead in policy and ground actions, transferring continentally and globally sourced best practices to countries which in the processes has helped built both human and institutional capacities.
He is the 2016 recipient of UNEP’s recognition highest award, the Baobab staff awards for Programme Innovation for enhancing the efficiency and efficacy with which UNEP work on EBA policy integration is being upscaled nationally and regionally. He has also worked as a Research Fellow at Trinity College, University of Dublin, and a Lecturer at Nottingham University. He has participated in a wide variety of research projects and has published over 200 articles in both international peer-reviewed journal and magazines. He holds a PhD in Environmental Change & Policy from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom.

We are so honoured and humbled to have this sustainability expert and true African son on our platform this week. Read his very interesting interview below:

Kindly let us in on what a day’s work looks like for you?

As the Africa Regional Climate Change Coordinator, I am responsible for guiding the actualization of UNEP’s climate resilient development strategy in Africa through coordinating implementation of diverse projects in adaption, mitigation in key economic sectors especially agriculture, and energy as well as informing UNEP strategy development from project  and policy lessons. Given the threat of climate change on the agriculture sector, critical to Africa’s socio-economic growth, I am also the ecosystems based adaptation for food security focal person where I coordinate the development and decentralization, of food security and climate resilient development policy and technical solutions to over 35 countries across all African regions to actualize climate-resilient food systems through the UNEP Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA).

Actualizing the above entails networking both internally and externally with partners across the continent and globe, through substantive participation in high-level events within the UN, global and regional forums, government and private sector; researching; publishing; and office management responsibilities of overseeing staff and resources.

As a young person, did you ever see yourself attaining the heights that you have reached now?

I have always wanted to see things done and I have my  mother to thank for this. She taught me the value of hard work and dedication from an early age. In her words, I could be anything I wished to become if I am prepared to put in the hard work, dedication, humility and discipline.

If you were to focus on one particular sustainability issue in Africa, what would it be?

Climate proofing and optimizing food systems in Africa. I say so because optimizing food systems in the continent automatically means creating jobs and inclusive development opportunities, and combating poverty given agriculture growth can reduce poverty 2-4 times faster than growth in any other sector, employs an average of 64% in the continent and women who are marginalized from economic opportunities produce 80% of the food. A fully optimized and industrialized agro-sector is capable of generating up to 17million jobs annually and adding up to $1trillion to Africa’s economies by 2030 to finance other areas like healthcare and education. With all this potential, the sector is highly vulnerable to climate change which threatens to reduce yields by up to 40% by 2050, with accompanying farmer income and economic losses and lost potential. Hence, urgent action to climate proof agriculture essentially means to a large extent, climate-proofing Africa’s socio-economic development. Hence, targeting it is catalytic.  

Why do you think Africa has been termed a “Poor” continent?

Failure to take opportunities. Africa has 65% of the world’s cultivable land and 10% of its fresh water resources. Enough to feed the globe yet we have 25% or 240million people who go to bed hungry. Africa has vast renewable energy resources – solar (0.3% of the sun in sub-Saharan Africa & Middle East can light the whole of Europe); hydro in excess of 1800 Twh (while exploiting just 10%); 15,000MW geothermal potential (leading country Kenya ranked 8th globally only exploiting 579Mw); on wind power, SSA has estimated 1300GW wind potential against total deployed capacity of 190MW. With all this potential yet 621million people over 60% in Africa are without electricity, and the total number is rising, some 10 million medium-sized enterprises lack access to electricity, frequent power cuts cost 1-4% of GDP annually etc. But all this is set to change. Global and regional high-level climate and development policy positions – the COP21, the Agenda 2030 and SDGs at global level and the AU Agenda 2063 at regional level provide the basis to mobilize capacity and partnerships to exploit this potential for socio-economic development. For instance, the Paris deal secured commitments by a global alliance to mobilize up to $1 trillion to finance renewable energy development. Within the frame of COP21, Africa can leverage Article 11 to mobilize these finances, including the Green Climate fund (para 59, section III), appropriate technology and capacity building to support in exploiting its renewable energy potential to bridge the energy gap and power sustainable agro-industrialization that can potentially create jobs, contribute to economies, while ensuring food security.    

Recognition is always a great way to encourage good works, how did winning the UNEP’ s recognition highest award for Programme Innovation for enhancing the efficiency and efficacy make you feel?

To me, the award represents something bigger than the individual who is myself. It represents the faceless, nameless, people who have been working with nature and not against nature but just need an idea an innovative approach to ensure they expand what they do to unleash opportunities as well as enhance ecological productivity. It represents the strength of an Africa united to develop sustainably.If this award stands for anything, its stands for the united spirit in all of us even though it has my name on it. I achieve because we achieve and we achieve because we meet the challenges together.

Read about the awards here

What has been your biggest secret for success ?

Really the secret if any is hard work and humility. To be successful, you have to put in the hard work and be dedicated to what you do, while remaining humble in the process – always ready to learn and respectful. Never assume anything. Those who are disciplined enough to embrace the aforementioned always succeed in their respective vocations, no matter what. In summary, I say the 3ps – Passion, Perseverance and Patience out of humility. 

In your opinion, do you think an environmental expert requires education in the sustainability field to practice best?

The environment is an intervening sector and it cuts across all major sectors critical to Africa’s development – medicare, agriculture, energy, water, infrastructure etc. primarily because climate change threatens to impact all these foundational sectors. The point then becomes that all these disciplines and sectors need to integrate climate resilience into their strategic level policies and plans to maximize productivity and effectively serve Africa’s development. Hence experts in these disciplines need to be trained on integrating climate resilience into decision making and operational modalities. 

What are your favourite SDGs and why?

SDGs 2 on food security, 3 on health, 4 on education, 5 on gender parity, 7 on clean energy, 13 on climate action, 14 & 15 on the health of both marine and terrestrial ecosystems, and 17 on partnerships for implementation. To me, these are the corner stones on which all the other SDGs are built towards actualizing sustainable inclusive societies and economies. Achieving food security, health, education and gender parity translates to extending opportunities for inclusive economic growth to a majority in the continent. Energy is a crucial requirement to power economic growth. Enhancing access through clean energy translates to enhancing development without emissions hence sustainability. Climate change threatens to reverse productivity of key sectors like agriculture with up to 40% reduction in yields of major staples, energy through high temperatures that impact on functioning of thermal generating systems, which represent up to 80% electricity generation in the continent, water through water enhanced moisture stress, healthcare through shifting in disease vectors etc. Hence taking climate action (SDG13) translates to safeguarding future economic growth. Healthy ecosystems (SDG14 & 15) produce goods and services like hydrologic regulation, soil stability, pollinators etc., that underpin productivity of crucial economic sectors like agriculture, energy & water (through safeguarding water towers for  hydro-power), tourism through bio-diversity etc. Hence enhancing safety and health of ecosystems translates to protecting the productivity of these economic sectors, and takes us steps closer to sustainable inclusive, poverty-reducing growth. Finally, partnerships are needed to mobilize the crucial means of implementation – finances, technical capacity, technology, enabling policies needed to actualize all the SDGs (SDG17)

Do you believe these SDGs are achievable? And more importantly, how can young people become more involved?

Absolutely yes they are achievable through prioritized partnerships among policy makers, the private sector, academia & researchers, development partners etc., aimed at mobilizing crucial means of implementation. How they can get involved is first, leveraging ubiquitous internet connectivity for skills and knowledge development, to enhance their knowledge on the challenges facing the continent and potential workable solutions to them, as well as enhance and learn new skills. Secondly, youths need to engage through available policy-action frameworks across the continent for structured engagements towards developing solutions to the development challenges in the continent. For instance, the UNEP Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) is the first inclusive pan-Africa policy framework and implementation platform that is leveraging cross-cutting stakeholder partnerships, including youth stakeholders, to actualize policy and technical solutions towards optimizing agro-value chains in Africa and achieving sustainable agro-industrialization powered by clean energy. EBAFOSA provides the much-needed policy platform through which policy ideals and ideas can be converted to actionable reality and I encourage all youth to register here and learn more about this continental but country-driven initiative and the opportunities including business networking, professional mentorship & internships, and employment that they can benefit.  

We imagine you have so much work to do on a daily basis, how do you relax?

Reading widely on Africa’s development. I have subscribed to a number of continental and global development magazines that keep me busy when not in the office. I love dancing. I also spend time unwinding with my family.

 Is it just us or are you always wearing a green tie?

Green is the colour of life and vibrancy. It represents the richness and abundance of our heritage, our forests, and ecosystems, the fertility of our lands in terms of potential to grow enough food to feed ourselves and the world. We need to remind ourselves that it is these ecosystems that underpin productivity of our economic sectors. To this extent, green is my favourite colour, and yes you are likely to find me in a green tie.   

How can people reach you and know more about your work?

Country driven development, aligned to country priorities is what will transform Africa and for this, all people must get involved. The UNEP Ecosystems Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly (EBAFOSA) is an inclusive policy-action framework that convenes multiple stakeholders – individual and institutional be it policy-makers, private sector, academia, development partners NGOs etc.,  in a country to form mutual partnerships in developing policy and ground solutions to actualize sustainable agro-industrial zones powered by clean energy in Africa. This is to simultaneously take much-needed climate action while solving food security, challenges and creating income and job opportunities. I call upon all to register on EBAFOSA, after which we will contact them on how they can be part of this solutions process in their respective countries. 

Our Susty Person of the week can also be reached on twitter via @RichardMunang.

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