The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Saliem Fakir, Executive Director of the African Climate Foundation.
I was at the University of Witwatersrand, studying genetic engineering, and given my political activities I increasingly become interested in social justice issues. At this time, South Africa was moving out of apartheid into the post-apartheid era. These social justice issues also arouse my curiosity on how economies work. What’s the role of the state in the economy? What’s the role of the private sector? How do we create inclusive economies? How do we build an economic approach that is really beneficial to citizens?
I also became interested in interlinkages between environmental and economic issues. Later, I worked on biodiversity issues, and leading a government process on the South African national biodiversity policy process. Historically, conservation tended to be a focus of a narrow group of people in South Africa, who were largely the white constituency.
The National Biodiversity Policy and strategies, post-apartheid, were re-orientated to serve a more inclusive vision for biodiversity and spoke to more than the white community. It was a privilege to be involved in shaping that new vision, including things like community-based natural resource management were pioneering areas of work in conservation.
Energy and climate
Later on in life I began to focus a lot more on the importance of the energy sector. Not just energy but the power it has to create democratised societies and uplift people’s wellbeing.
I began to see that if we could find ways to build more equitable access to energy at cheaper cost, and layer that with a climate objective, things would start falling into place.
The Africa Climate Foundation (ACF) is a very new foundation focused on delivering climate solutions on the African continent. The most recent has been to support the work we have done in South Africa in the background that’s led to a political outcome – the Just Energy Transition Partnership (JETP) and growing ecosystem on the just transition.
Rooted in Africa
I’m really proud of two things. One is that by working with our partners, in government and outside of government, we managed to pull off the JETP in a context that most people observing from outside would have thought impossible. There is still a lot of work to be done.
The second is how we’ve been able to set up the ACF and build a team in three years. We have a huge responsibility to reflect the issues of the continent – not just on climate but also on addressing debt and economic development. Our philosophy is that we can’t do it alone. We’re very open-minded, and we engage with everybody.
I also want to give credit to many philanthropies for setting up ACF, with special thanks to IKEA Foundation also coming on board, as an organisation that is rooted and governed on the continent, and has developed networks and legitimacy. This has given us the ability to develop our mandate organically and without intrusion. They have conferred true autonomy to any African led and based institution.
Climate and development
In the next 10 years, we want to build ACF as an institution that is self-sustaining, strong, and can continue to have an impact in the different domains it’s working in.
Secondly, we must change the narrative of how we view the climate issue. It needs to be interlinked very strongly to the development needs of the African constituency. It must be seen not as something from outside, but from something within. We need to be champions of our own causes.
And thirdly, we need to find ways for countries to resolve the effects of climate as a systemic risk on the major economic sectors. We must create opportunities for them to see climate not only as as a threat, but also a positive thing that’s hard-wired to the development agenda. An opportunity for increased investments in the energy sector, clean energy, electric mobility, better land use and agriculture.
Africa as an opportunity
If I could speak on the main stage at COP28, I would remind delegates that adaptation and mitigation are interlinked. If a country is consistently subject to climate risk, it has an impact not only on local communities but also on the government’s ability to invest in the energy transition. There shouldn’t be an artificial separation and fragmentation of these two issues.
I’d add that the African continent is going to be the most important continent going forward, given the doubling of its population size. It will have the most youthful population in the world and its workforce and natural resources will be vital in contributing to global wealth- but that cannot happen at the expense of Africans.
One should not see Africa only as a place where you can get natural resources but also as a place with the most talented minds and young people who want to contribute creatively to solving their own problmes. They’re the next political leadership on the continent. People should not see Africa as a risk, but as an opportunity.
I hope that by setting the stage for the ACF and the whole team effort, including our partners, we can build a platform that delivers outcomes both for Africa and for a global community of people who are passionate about solving climate challenges on the continent.
This job is about learning by doing. It’s not about learning by theorising. You go out there, you do something, and you learn from other people. And, just keep doing.
Saliem Fakir is Executive Director of the African Climate Foundation (ACF). Set up in 2020, the ACF is the first African-led strategic grant-maker and think-tank working at the nexus of climate change and development. It works with countries across the continent on energy transitions, agriculture and land use, and adaptation and resilience.
The IKEA Foundation supports the African Climate Foundation because we believe that sustainable development and tackling climate change must go hand in hand – helping families improve their livelihoods while protecting the planet.
Recently, Saliem co-authored an op-ed with our Chief Programmes Officer Marilia Bezerra, you can read here: