NAIROBI, Kenya (Landscape News) – As the world pays tribute and honors the life of Kofi Annan, many will remember the global leader first and foremost as the first black African to serve as U.N. secretary general and as a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
But Annan, who died on Saturday at the age of 80 in Switzerland, was also a crusader for climate action and strongly supported reforestation, protection, restoration and conservation of the global environment.
“He stood for respect and dignity in global politics, and of the spirit of dynamic, positive multilateralism,” tweeted Erik Solheim, executive director of UN Environment. “He was also a true champion of the environment, advancing the push for climate action at a crucial moment.”
Annan emphatically believed Africa could play a leading role in efforts to tackle the effects of climate change and “accelerate progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).”
In a 2016 speech delivered at an event hosted by Netherlands’ Nyenrode Business University and Form Ghana, a forest and land management company, Annan said: “Africa has the largest (forest) restoration opportunity of any continent in the world – an area nearly the size of Australia,” and only through effective advocacy and leadership can “climate-smart solutions” be found.
He shared personal observations of land degradation, describing an adulthood visit to the village of Kumasi in Ghana where he was born.
“As a young boy, growing up in Kumasi, I used to travel with my parents to Accra or Cape Coast. During those long journeys, forests were all around us; providing clean air and water, and local communities with food, shelter and livelihoods,” Annan said.
“Many years later, when I took my wife, who is Swedish, to Ghana, I was telling her about all those forests. We were all excited; but when we arrived, my wife asked me: ‘Where are all the forests?’ It was a sobering moment. I was speechless; most of the forests were indeed gone.”
Although his view of the world was that we are approaching a “tipping point beyond which climate change may become irreversible,” he was still optimistic and believed if everyone collaborated from ordinary citizens to world bodies, this could be a lucrative opportunity rather than a disaster – he said in an interview with the Guardian in 2015.
“Climate change is an unprecedented opportunity for governments, investors, firms and citizens to work together to develop and deploy low-carbon technologies, which can sustain growth within our planetary boundaries. Shifting towards low-carbon energy systems can avert climate catastrophe while creating new opportunities for investment, growth and employment,” he said.
In December 2017, in his capacity as chair of the Elders an independent group of global leaders supporting peace and human rights, Annan expressed his concern over a lack of global unity over the withdrawal of the outlier United States from the 2015 U.N. Paris Agreement on climate change.
in an exclusive interview with Agence France Presse after President Donald Trump’s announcement that the country would leave the pact, Annan said, “Honestly speaking, we are in a mess,“ adding, “Today, leaders are going in the wrong direction.”
Antonio Guterres, the current U.N. Secretary General, expressed his sadness over Annan’s death on Twitter.
“Kofi Annan was a guiding force for good,” he tweeted. “In these turbulent and trying times, his legacy as a global champion for peace will remain a true inspiration for us all.”
Among various efforts, the Kofi Annan Foundation advocates for the transformation of African agriculture to ensure food and nutrition security is met by the continent’s own farmers.
“There can be no peace and security without development. And there can be no long-term development without peace and security. And no society can long prosper without respect for the rule of law and fundamental human rights.
By working together – starting here in Africa – we can build a more sustainable future for all founded on these pillars of progress,” Annan said.