< Go Back

Pandemic-type restriction to reduce our emissions

Featured interview with Belvana Abeli, green economy investment portfolio manager, Wesgro, who supports businesses and investors to remove barriers to establishment and growth. Belvana manages a pipeline of projects related to various green economy sectors, including renewable energy, water, circular economy, sustainable agriculture and green finance. 

Let’s start with some background on you.

My name is Belvana Abeli. I have combined experience in marketing and investment promotion functions. I currently manage the Green Economy Investment Portfolio at Wesgro, whereby I support businesses and investors in the green economy to remove barriers to establishment and growth. My role entails providing local companies or investors with the following support services to help them grow in the Western Cape: access to funding, linking them to government initiatives or incentives, reducing red tape, doing strategic matchmaking policy advocacy, assisting with market entry facilitation and more. And this is particularly in the Western Cape, because Wesgro is mandated to promote trade and tourism and investment for the Western Cape Province.

Which sectors do you focus on?

I focus mainly on the green economy. I manage a pipeline of multiple projects related to various green economy sectors, including renewable energy, water, circular economy, sustainable agriculture, green transportation, green buildings, green finance, anything green, but renewable energy has really been keeping me quite busy lately, just because we do have an energy crisis to solve. 

What are the main barriers to establishment and growth that businesses in the green economy experience?

I would say it’s mainly access to finance. The uptake of the green economy and just initiatives in the green economy are quite new. I’m not saying that the green economy on its own is new, but I think the uptake of it is new. People are only now really starting to take it quite seriously. So I find that there are barriers between funding mechanisms that exist, and you know, the language that certain technology owners are speaking. So we just need to kind of marry the two. There’s also a lot to navigate through in terms of policy and advocacy. Especially in South Africa that tends to be a bit of a challenge. 

But I also do think that each sub sector has its own unique set of challenges. For example, with green hydrogen, it’s not just access to finance that’s a barrier, it’s also access to offtakers. 

In South Africa, particularly renewable energy, such as solar and wind, also face challenges, like grid capacity issues, and some waste to energy technologies are still not clear to certain municipalities and certain people. So, every kind of sub sector has its own unique challenges. But if I had to name one shared challenge, it would definitely be access to finance. 

You mentioned that green energy is keeping you busy. Any specific projects that you are working on that you are particularly excited about? How will this change people’s lives?

With renewable energy, the green hydrogen projects are what really make me quite excited for two reasons: I see them as catalytic in nature because they really hold the potential in getting us to net zero faster and also help us to decarbonise the hard-to-abate sectors, like the oil and gas, transportation and agricultural sectors, which also tend to be the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.  

I know that sceptics will say that green hydrogen also has its challenges and it does, such as the high cost of producing green hydrogen, the fact that its production is quite energy intensive, the amount of infrastructure required, as well, can be quite capital intensive.  

But I also think that we just need to understand the magnitude of what we’re trying to do here. I was listening to a podcast a while back which said that we need to get from annual emissions of 51 billion tonnes of greenhouse gases to zero by 2050. Now, to put that into perspective, during the pandemic, with lockdown restrictions, we were able to reduce our emissions by 7%. So, we almost need a pandemic-type restriction year on year to reduce our emissions by 2050. 

So it’s quite a big task. It’s not easy. So every time I hear about an initiative like green hydrogen that has a catalytic potential, I get a bit hopeful. So, it does excite me to get behind the green hydrogen projects, the renewable energy projects, so solar and wind as well, they also help me get hope that we can reach our targets by 2050. 

How do you see the role of women in the green economy? It is well known that you cannot have sustainability without equality.

It’s true, we really cannot have sustainability without equality. And that is also why gender equality and empowering women and girls is one of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. 

Gender equality is not only a fundamental human rights, but it’s a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. The role women play is the same role that men can play, or anybody else would play, I don’t think it should be conditioned. And we really cannot afford to exclude anybody, it is imperative that we harness the talents, the skills and the ideas of all members of society equally. 

I think it’s a time for everybody to get involved, it’s all hands on deck. And we need it, we cannot afford to exclude certain people from this. 

What are the main challenges in your view?

The main challenge for me has always been kind of righting the wrongs of the past. Where women were prohibited to do certain things. Women were getting paid less, women were being marginalised, you couldn’t do this, you couldn’t do that. So there’s a lot of catching up to do. 

And that’s for me has always been the biggest barrier, catching up and getting to a society where women are equal. And it’s sad that there are still societies, companies or people out there that marginalise women. So, that makes it even harder. But we have got to keep pushing forward. 

You mentioned access to finance earlier. Do you see a definite movement of investors wanting to finance greener and more sustainable projects?

Yes, I think more and more financial institutions are seeing the need to support greener initiatives, businesses and projects. Obviously, we are at a very crucial time: it’s do or die, we either decarbonise and reach net zero, or we don’t have a planet to live in. So I think everybody, including financial institutions, are behind it, and finance is a very important resource to make sure that these projects take place. And I know that the big development finance corporations are also really putting pressure on companies to be responsible, to show that they are really taking the ESG factors into account and that there is sustainable spending of funds. So, green finance is a thing, and the way we spend money is also being looked at in terms of greening our economy. It’s in all spheres of business really, and finance is no exception. 

Which African countries are doing the right things in your opinion in terms of establishing a greener economy for the future and improving sustainability practices?

I think we really are faced with a global challenge and Africa is no exception. Some African countries have made progress in implementing, for example, renewable energy projects, because the energy crisis is not unique to South Africa. For example, Morocco has invested in one of the world’s largest concentrated solar power plants. 

Kenya’s geothermal resources have been harnessed to produce a significant portion of electricity. South Africa has a mix of efforts in renewable energy, including solar and wind power projects. The country’s REIPPP programme (Renewable Energy Independent Public Procurement Programme) has attracted substantial investment in renewable energy and is contributing to a greener economy. And then there are countries like Uganda that have implemented plastic bans and have made strides in reforestation efforts. Angola, for example, just announced it will get funding for two major solar PV energy plants. 

And then Egypt has several large solar projects and is also working to increase its share of renewable energy in its energy mix. Countries like Ghana and Senegal have also been investing in sustainable and environmental conservation. So, there’s a lot happening in Africa, and it makes me quite proud to see how we are putting efforts behind this, especially if you consider that we probably are not the biggest contributors to global warming. 

Every year, Africa celebrates Women’s Day on 31 July. What is your message to people of all genders in Africa regarding the role of women when it comes to economic sustainability and equality?

I always say there’s a reason why we have so many occasions celebrating women, because we really are a force to be reckoned with (laughs). But all jokes aside, I think as we celebrate Women’s Day, we should look at this as an opportunity to reflect on the crucial roles that women play in fostering economic sustainability and promoting equality in our societies.  

Women are powerful agents of change and their contribution to the economy and society is essential for achieving a more sustainable, inclusive and prosperous Africa. First and foremost, we need to recognise and appreciate the accomplishments and the resilience of women in all walks of life, from entrepreneurs, scientists, to farmers, community leaders, women have really been driving positive change and making significant strides in various fields, including related to environmental and green initiatives.  

To achieve true economic sustainability and equality, it is essential that we break down those barriers that hinder women’s full participation and empowerment. We must actively challenge and dismantle gender norms and biases that limit women to have access to things like education, employment, technology, engineering and maths, all of the STEM fields, as well as sustainable industries that will harness their untapped potential and force the innovation for a greener and prosperous Africa.  

We encourage and support women’s entrepreneurships and also encourage access to finance for women businesses. Women entrepreneurs play a crucial role in driving sustainable businesses and green initiatives, and by providing them with access to capital and resources and providing mentorship, we can unlock the full potential as agents of positive change in the green economy. 

What keeps you excited about this industry?

I get excited for a variety of reasons, such as the continuous technological advancements and innovations that are coming out of the green economy and how dynamic and fascinating it is. The potential for job creation and economic growth is also exciting for many individuals and communities. Also, the global collaboration, because this is a global problem; the green economy is a global endeavour that requires collaboration and cooperation among countries and organisations. The green economy also presents significant business opportunities for entrepreneurs and companies.  

But I think the most important for me, is just improving quality of life, especially for future generations. The green economy is a legacy for future generations. Many people are driven by the desire to leave behind positive and sustainable wealth for their children and their children’s children. And I think that’s really what gets me excited; doing the things that will leave this planet a better one for our future kids. 

You are a member of the advisory board for Africa’s Green Economy Summit in 2024. How important is such an event for the continent in your view?

I think the role of conferences like Africa’s Green Economy Summit or AGES, as I know, it, is that of convening people to talk about the greater good. It plays a critical role in fostering collaboration, knowledge exchange and advocacy. 

Conferences like AGES provide a platform for diverse stakeholders to come together to share their insights and collectively work in building a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future. Through AGES, or Africa’s Green Economy Summit, we get to really highlight what Africa is doing in the green economy space, and I think that’s invaluable and it’s very exciting. So, I’m looking forward to it.

What is your message for the upcoming event?

Think this is going to sound a bit cheesy, you know, but it really does speak volumes. There is no planet B, this is it. This is our one planet that we have to save. And we must really continue to build upon this momentum, and continue to accelerate the transition towards a greener, more resilient world. We need to seize opportunities presented by events like Africa’s Green Economy Summit to create lasting change that benefits people and that benefits our planet. And like I said, it all sounds very cheesy, but you know, just think about it like this: it’s do or die. Like I said, there is no Plan B, we have to get it right. We cannot afford to not get it right. 

Anything you would like to add?

I’m just looking forward to AGES 2024. And I think if there’s one event to not miss, it’s this one. I did attend this year’s event and it was really quite well-attended for an inaugural event, and I know that next year will probably be bigger and better. So, don’t miss out, and I look forward to seeing you all there. Thank you. 

About the author

VUKA Group
Staff Writer
VUKA Group is a business with a purpose. We are deeply engrained in the fabric of Africa and the emerging industries therein. As the parent company of leading conferences and media publications in various industries across Africa, VUKA Group serves as the central hub for all key sectors. With 20 years of experience operating in the African market, VUKA Group has become an ...
Contact Us

Want to Generate Opportunities?

VUKA is the trusted media partner to key professionals, policy makers, suppliers and
manufacturers. We provide unparalleled opportunities for industry-wide connection.