Conference Climate Change, Biodiversity & Economic Outlook

Published: 30/11/2023

Climate change, biodiversity & economic outlook

On the 22nd of November 2023, the 8th conference of Entrepreneurs for Entrepreneurs (OVO) took place at the auditorium of BNP Paribas Fortis in Brussels.  The theme of the event was wide-ranging and quite ambitious: climate change, biodiversity and economic prospects. 

 

After his welcome speech moderator Freddy De Mulder, volunteer, board member and investor at OVO, introduced he first speaker: Max Jadot, chairman of the bank's board of directors and thus host of the event. He was very outspoken. Yes, the problems are big. The economic situation, the wars, the fast technological (r)evolution and the large gap between North and South are not exactly reasons for extreme optimism. Nevertheless, he was optimistic and referred to OVO that focuses on solutions in Africa. He pointed out that the theme of the conference was appropriate in the bank's climate-neutral building. He finished with the positively received message that BNP Paribas will continue to support OVO's operations. 

 

Climate-friendly Growth

Following the chairman of BNP Paribas Luc Bonte, chairman of OVO, gave an overview of OVO’s activities (selection, coaching, financing and monitoring promising African enterprises). He quickly moved to Africa’s big challenge how can the continent grow without following the same unsustainable paths of industrialisation as the West? In other words: How can we improve the life of the African people without negative effects on climate and biodiversity? Africa contributed little or nothing to the climate crisis but is suffering from the consequences. There are two directions in the economic debate. On one hand ‘de-growth’ that stands for reduction of energy consumption; on the other hand, ‘corporate responsibility’ where companies act as agents of positive change.

De-growth is not the solution to help Africa move forward.

In order to enable a smooth transition, the right choices have to be made.  

Luc Bonte insisted on a dialogue regarding climate change and African growth.

He finished asking a minute of silence for all those suffering from violence in the world.

 

Africa is not the Problem, but the Solution

Frank Bekaert, senior partner at McKinsey & Company, immediately got straight to the point. There is not only climate change, but also decline in biodiversity (an underestimated problem), food and water pollution, and plastic pollution. For most we are already in the red zone and things are not improving. Fortunately, there are solutions although they’re complex. He for example referred to the impressive improvements in battery technology and the upswing of hydrogen as an energy source. According to him, hydrogen is becoming bigger than oil, although the challenges might still be big. But he ended on a positive note for the African continent: Africa is not part of the problem; it is part of the solution. There is the huge potential for renewable energy (green hydrogen), and the underground is particularly rich in critical resources such as cobalt, copper and uranium.

 

Africa, the mining Powerhouse

Patricia Bingoto-Maeder, Senior Expert Mckinsey & Company, shared the opinion of the previous speaker. Indeed, Africa is not the problem: since 1990, average GDP per capita in Africa has been only 1.1%, while being accompanied by explosive population growth. According to her, the opportunities for solar and wind energy in Africa are huge. She cited the example of green hydrogen possibly creating 4 million jobs on the continent by 2025. Regarding raw materials, Africa might be considered as "the mining powerhouse". There is already a strong growth in copper, cobalt (75% of the world supply!), manganite and bauxite, but there is still room for improvement. Investments in infrastructure, regulations, sustainability and training of miners are much needed. Finally, she also gave 10 practical tips to improve productivity, economic vitality and the lives of Africans. Embracing digital technology, developing African talent, improving urban infrastructure are just a few of them. 

Turning Climate Challenge into Opportunity

Kristof Eggermont is Senior Consultant Econopolis and also co-author of the book 'De klimaatschok', described by the publisher as an "inspiring book for anyone not familiar with the technicalities of climate problems".  He described the climate problem as very complex, but opening many opportunities, especially for Africa. They are responsible for only 4% of global CO2 emissions but can contribute to a range of solutions. He cited two: one well-known and one perhaps a little less familiar. First, the conservation of the rainforest, the natural store for CO2. The vast Congo rainforest, the largest after the Amazon, is particularly important here. Its conservation could become an economic activity. Less known is geothermal or geothermal energy, especially in the Great Rift Valley also known as the Great Rift in East Africa. Kenya already derives 40 per cent of its electricity needs from geothermal energy. This and other forms of renewable energy are so important that in time Africa could become an exporter of green energy.

 

Panel Discussion Points to positive Developments

Following the keynote speakers there was a panel discussion with six invitees. We will limit ourselves to a few quotes.

Alain Bernard, Consultant DEME Group: "Africa offers unique opportunities in energy and raw materials. Young Africans immediately embrace new technologies".

Hans Maertens, Managing Director VOKA: "Africa is the growth continent with a quarter of the world's population living there by 2050. Not partnering with African companies is a mistake. Africa is the future for businesses.

Lieve Fransen MD, PHD, director and policy advisor Wits University, South Africa: "Africa is the largest free trade area, has a young population and can lead the way in the energy transition. The world needs to work with Africa to tackle the big issues."

Peter Tom Jones, Director Institute Sustainable Metals and Minerals, KU Leuven: "30% of all critical raw materials needed for the neutral climate transition are in Africa. The problem is that China is usually ahead of Europe. The issue is developing a partnership between Europe and Africa for the extraction of minerals."

Wouter Ghyoot, Vice President Government Affairs Umicore: "We have been supporting OVO since 2006 because of the principles of the organisations.

Based on those same principles, we do business in Africa. Africa can act completely different from Europe and the US with much less CO2 emissions."

Werner Sels, Founder & General Director Lignaverda: "We want to promote biodiversity by planting trees. Our newly planted forests have a socio-economic impact, amongst other things by providing food security. We already have 14,000 ha in Senegal and Burkina Faso. Now we are aiming for 100,000 ha in Namibia.”

 

The panel discussion was followed by another round of questions. The conference ended with a reception, an ideal opportunity for the ± 160 attendees to network.

 

Marc Van de Velde

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