Q&A: Why Africa is the priority for the Global Center on Adaptation

Patrick Verkooijen, chief executive officer of the Global Center on Adaptation. Photo by: CIFOR / Neil Palmer (IWMI) / CC BY-NC-ND

GABORONE, Botswana — On Sept. 16, African leaders and development partners came together for a virtual meeting to inaugurate the Africa office of the Global Center on Adaptation, which will be hosted by the African Development Bank in Abidjan, Côte d'Ivoire.

“When we look at the African continent, we don’t emit a lot of greenhouse gases, which means we don’t contribute that much to the phenomenon of climate change, but it impacts heavily on us,” said Anthony Nyong, AfDB’s director for climate change and green growth, explaining the bank’s interest in hosting the GCA regional office. “This means what we need most is not efforts to cut down emissions; we need to pay more attention to adaptation.”

Headquartered in the Netherlands, GCA describes itself as “a solutions broker to accelerate action and support for adaptation solutions ... in partnership with the public and private sector.” It aims to establish a network of regional offices, starting with hubs in China, South Asia, and now Africa.

With the establishment of GCA Africa still in the early stages, Devex spoke with Patrick Verkooijen, chief executive officer at GCA and previously special representative for climate change at the World Bank Group, about the significance of the relationship with AfDB and the mandate of the GCA Africa office.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell us about GCA and the work that you do?

GCA was established two years ago by the Netherlands government as a new international organization. … The realization is that the climate is spinning out of control and climate impacts are increasing over time. … [So the goal is] to support governments, cities, the private sector, youth communities, and civil society to implement adaptation action at scale and speed.

“You cannot develop properly without taking climate into consideration.”

— Patrick V. Verkooijen, chief executive officer, Global Center on Adaptation

Why did you decide to set up an Africa regional office, and what does this mean for the continent?

For me and our board chair Ban Ki-moon, Africa was a no-brainer, the reason being Africa is the continent that is most vulnerable to climate change. The economic sectors in the continent are the most dependent on climate variation and have the least capacity to adapt. At the same time, Africa’s contribution to the climate crisis is also the least. This is a fundamental injustice in the system. So the adaptation challenge for Africa is extraordinary. And for us, although the adaptation challenge is a global agenda, our priority is Africa.

We have our headquarters in the Netherlands, but we want to be very close to where the demand is. Over the last two years, we have been approached by many African leaders, civil society organizations, and development partners from the continent asking for support and collaboration. That is why we decided to establish an office in the heart of Africa, being hosted by AfDB.

What are the short- and long-term objectives for the GCA Africa office?

The short-term objective, in terms of the programs, is to make sure that when these COVID-19 support packages are developed — and they are being developed in real time by the IMF [International Monetary Fund] and other partners — they have resilience or adaptation action embedded in them.

Let me give an example. As part of the recovery package in Africa and other continents, there is a lot of investment in infrastructure. We want to make sure that these investments have climate risk embedded in their design and hence in their implementation and maintenance. We don’t want to build infrastructure anymore which will be destroyed when the next floods are coming. …

For us there is a very simple business case, over and above a moral argument, that investing in adaptation is good economics. … We think that it is absolutely vital that, in the development of these new infrastructure projects or agriculture projects, that the climate lens is being applied consistently, and that is what we are planning to do in Africa long-term. We are developing tools, guidelines, methodologies, and innovation programs for governments and development partners to do precisely that.

You cannot develop properly without taking climate into consideration. There is this integrated approach that is not always being applied, not only in Africa but across the globe. That is what we will work on.

Will you have a team stationed at AfDB?

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We are being hosted by the AfDB, which means that we will have our office there but we are independent. We are not the AfDB, but we work very closely with them. When we developed our work program, we got input from the AfDB and other development partners and also of course governments on the continent. So we have a sort of multipartner system while maintaining our independence.

We launched our office last week, and we have an interim team available, which is planning to go to Africa as soon as possible, COVID notwithstanding. We are also recruiting permanent staff in Africa, and there will be a GCA director in Africa from the continent.

However, our business model is like this: It doesn’t make sense to have a GCA China office and a South Asia office and a headquarters without talking to each other. Our rationale is that solutions that may work in South Asia could potentially also be translated to Africa and vice versa.

That is why we have a matrix structure. We want to make sure, those solutions which we develop in one part of the world, we replicate and scale them up in other parts of the world, so you have this sort of [amplifying] effect by these offices working together. So it’s not that only these folks working in Africa are working on Africa, but we all work on Africa, given it’s our top priority.

What role do you see Africa playing in terms of the global adaptation agenda?

Sometimes, Africa is portrayed as the victim of climate change, and to some extent that is true, but Africa is also a leader. … African leaders have a very clear vision forward on how to develop in a low-carbon, resilient way. This is the only way to develop that makes moral sense, human sense, and economic sense.

About the author

  • Rumbi Chakamba

    Rumbi Chakamba is an Associate Editor at Devex based in Botswana, who has worked with regional and international publications including News Deeply, The Zambezian, Outriders Network, and Global Sisters Report. She holds a bachelor's degree in international relations from the University of South Africa.