Earth Day Reminds Africa To Grow In Harmony With Environment

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Earth Day, which was celebrated around the world on Friday, 22 April 22, was a reminder to Africa to grow in harmony with the environment, writes Tshidi Ramogase

Earth Day poses important questions for the African continent as it seeks to balance the need for sustained economic growth to improve the quality of life of its people, on the one hand, while protecting the environment, on the other. 

This means balancing the important Ps, namely People, Profit and our Planet – Earth.

Africa is a continent of extraordinary potential, expected to enjoy the second-fastest economic growth in the world over the next ten years – faster than North America, Latin America, Europe and the global average. 

It also has the fastest-growing population, with Africa expected to account for 47% of the world’s population growth over the next 10 years, and 53% of the growth in the global working-age population.

When these demographic fundamentals are combined with the continent’s abundance of natural resources and improving governance, it is easy to see how Africa, under the right conditions, could match the economic transformation of China in the coming decades.

Yet Africa, while contributing the least to global greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, is also expected to be among the worst-affected regions.

According to projections from the Sixth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Africa faces an increase in life-threatening temperatures above 40°C, from 10 to 140 days a year, depending on the scenario and region. 

Conditions will be drier in most regions, and there will be more droughts, but also more flooding.

A current 1-in-100-year flood event could become 1-in-10 or -20 years by 2050, and 1-in-5 years to annually by 2100, even under moderate warming.

Much of Africa is already water-stressed, at current temperature levels. 

To make matters worse, a recent report from the UN University noted that little of Africa’s wastewater is treated, and access to water for drinking and hand-washing is worsening for hundreds of millions of people.

It is clear that to both stimulate the economic growth required to offer dignity and prosperity for all its people, and to do so in a manner that is environmentally sustainable, Africa must find ways to decouple economic growth from over-exploitation of natural resources like water and reduce the use of fossil fuels.

These are complex and far-reaching challenges requiring a whole-of-society response that is not subject to fickle economic or political cycles. 

Fortunately, Africa has adopted and is making steady if uneven progress towards implementation of, Agenda 2063, which includes Goal 7: Environmentally Sustainable, Climate Resilient Economies and Communities, as well as the UN Sustainable Development Goals, which are designed to be a blueprint to achieve a better and sustainable future for all.

While governments can contribute to creating an enabling environment, the private sector and communities themselves have a critical role to play.

This is among the reasons that Coca-Cola Beverages Africa (CCBA) has made sustainability integral to its business strategy – so much so that it has been incorporated into the short and long-term incentives of our leadership. 

We understand that our business can flourish only if our continent flourishes too.

The CCBA Group is committed to reducing carbon emissions in line with the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement. 

We are also contributing to The Coca-Cola Company’s global ambition of reducing absolute carbon emissions and decoupling growth from increased greenhouse gas emissions. 

This is an absolute target, meaning it will apply regardless of our volume growth and reflects an ambitious decoupling of our greenhouse gas emissions from our sales growth.

The biggest contributions to our carbon footprint reduction will come from investing in renewable energy to improve energy efficiency in our plants, rethinking our packaging by making it more recyclable and increasing the use of recycled material, shifting to energy-efficient cooler systems, rethinking how and where we source our ingredients, and also improved fuel efficiency in our fleet. 

Our efforts in waste management and water replenishment also contribute significantly to reducing our overall footprint across the value chain. 

Water Stewardship is another integral focus area for us, and we are aligned with The Coca-Cola Company’s Water Strategy 2030. 

Broadly, the strategy ensures that we have regenerative operations, healthy watersheds and enhanced community resilience. 

In 2020, we achieved a replenishment rate of 76%, and aim to get to 100% over the long term. 

In all our operations, we aim to improve water usage efficiency by at least 2 percent annually, treat our wastewater, and re-use or recycle treated wastewater for other beneficial uses.

We are prioritising investment in water replenishment initiatives in our plants that are located in high water security risk regions, with clear plans to increase water use efficiency in all our plants. 

Importantly in Africa, we also have a keen focus on water access, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) projects to give communities access to clean water.  

The Coca-Cola Foundation’s Replenish Africa Initiative (RAIN) benefited 6 million people in Africa through various water access and sanitation projects, while delivering additional health, climate and empowerment benefits. 

Over 3 million of those who benefitted from RAIN are in countries where CCBA operates. 

Through Coca-Cola’s global World Without Waste initiative, we have also committed to recover the equivalent of every can and every bottle that we sell for recycling and reuse by 2030. 

The recyclability of our packaging is already at more than 95%, tracking ahead of The Coca-Cola Company’s global target of 100% by 2025.

We are improving the recyclability of our packs through a strong emphasis on shifting to homogeneous and clear bottles and have made significant progress on this already. 

Over 20% of our revenues are already coming from returnable or refillable packs. We are strategically looking to increase the use of homogenous returnable packs in our portfolio – which has the added benefit of being more economical for our consumers to help drive affordability, and also more economical for ourselves. 

We have already made significant progress towards our collection and recycling rate of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. 

Our biggest challenge on recycling is accelerating the collection of plastic bottles to increase PET bottles feedstock for recycled PET supply to enable higher recycled content in our bottles. 

To date, in South Africa we are at 17% recycled PET content, and we have 15% recycled PET content in 2 litre bottles in Namibia, Mozambique, Botswana and Zambia. 

One example of how we are getting communities involved is in Kenya. 

Here we leveraged our partnerships to launch the Recycling PET Bottles initiative, getting 400 schools to participate in the collection of PET bottles. 

More than 4.5 million PET bottles weighing about 90 000kg were collected and recycled as a result of this initiative.

We know we cannot change the world alone and are therefore working in partnership with fellow producers, retailers, consumers and governments so that, together, we create an environment that ensures we can achieve more.

*Tshidi Ramogase is the CCBA Group Public Affairs, Communications and Sustainability Director