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Women in Climate Change 5 – Mulima Nyambe-Mubanga

Mulima Nyambe-Mubanga is a Research Fellow at the Zambia Institute for Policy Analysis and Research (ZIPAR). She works on climate policy, sustainable development, energy and climate change-related issues, aiming to inform and influence policy-making and public discourse in Zambia and beyond. She has over nine years of experience in the research industry, and her background has given her a keen interest in the intersection of trade, law, and environment.

I am delighted to talk about my role as Co-investigator for the CCG project we’re working on.  It’s about the Transition Pathways towards inclusive climate compatible growth in Zambia (TRAP-ZM) and we are now in the last phase of two. This is a timely project because when you look at the impact of climate change on the country, we have challenges relating to water, energy and food security. Challenges in these climate-sensitive sectors may affect the economic stability of the country and people’s livelihoods.

The project builds on the research work undertaken on the COVID-19: Greening the Social and Economic Recovery in Zambia project that started in 2020 through to 2022. The transition pathways project has four interconnected components: the economic, energy and land use modelling, participatory scenarios and decision-making. We also looked at the industrial circular economy, as well as capacity building in energy modelling, and influencing policy and decision-making. Through an integrated programme of activities that comprise modelling, participatory scenarios, decision making and capacity building, TRAP-ZM2 aims to provide an overarching understanding of the framework within which CCG analysis can support transitions to climate compatible development.  All of these provide evidence and build institutional capacities critical towards contributing to the low-carbon development pathway that Zambia is trying to pursue.

How is the project progressing?

So far, so good.  The Integrated Resource Plan guiding Zambia’s sustainable energy future for the next 30 years was recently launched.  Under the TRAP-ZM project, we had workshops to develop and embed modelling using the OSeMOSYS Zambia and ANTARES models to support long-term energy planning. Energy modelling is vital to demonstrate how this strategy can be operationalised. Capacity building for our technocrats is also essential, to ensure that they undertake climate compatible growth analysis to support the transition for the country. For this, their teams need training in the energy modelling tools available from the OpTIMUS community. We want to help them understand how this growth analysis can be leveraged to strengthen the policy and regulatory framework.

Participatory scenarios are important to broaden the participation of stakeholders in identifying pathways to consider in decision-making. We have had several engagements with stakeholders to identify possible pathways under two scenarios – centralised and decentralised, in the realisation of Zambia’s green growth agenda. It’s quite exciting for me and we’re ending the project in March this year. 

The aspects speaking to the circular economy objective are critical.  As Zambia transitions to a green economy, it is important to have strategies around sustainable resource use, waste reduction and material efficiency. We have already started engaging stakeholders in that sector, as well as industry players, talking about industrial waste being reused.

Which sectors are you focusing on?

We are looking at greening critical sectors of the economy: so, energy and agriculture. The modelling and capacity building help provide the necessary skills and knowledge required to influence decision-making and overall policy. For example, some experts have an understanding of what’s happening in the mining and energy sectors, and we need to communicate that to the policy makers so that their understanding of the whole situation becomes more complete, and they change policies accordingly.

What else did you explore?

The other component that the project is trying to address is to enhance the mobilization of financial resources particularly for the energy sector.  There’s always the challenge of bankability for new energy projects, so this is something that we looked at in phase one of the Transition Pathways project. This is a conversation which is gaining traction in the country.

One of the key pillars of the green growth agenda is social inclusion. We want to ensure that as many people as possible benefit from the transition. We were therefore deliberate in mapping the sectors that are vulnerable to climate shocks. This way the participants for the capacity building workshop were purposefully selected to be equipped with knowledge and skills on know how to communicate and influence policy.   We also made sure that we had female participation.  

Tell me more about that
I sit on the technical working group tasked to draft the Zambia green growth strategy and there are four pillars for the strategy: resilience and climate compatible growth; resource efficiency; enhanced natural capital; and improved inclusivity. The Transition Pathways project seeks to speak to some of these aspects, and the findings may be useful in informing climate compatible pathways policy direction for consideration in the transition to a green economy.  The strategy is scheduled to be launched soon.

Tell me a little bit more about inclusivity. What about communities that maybe missed out in previous policy making, so rural communities or women or people with disabilities, have you managed to include those in your consultation this time?

We must look at sustainable livelihoods.  Some communities depend on natural resources as a source of livelihood. We have communities that rely on fuelwood as a source of livelihood, and we need to manage a transition to clean cooking and at the same time provide alternative livelihoods. These aspects were considered in the consultations.

Also, we are investigating access to basic services. We want to ensure that we increase access to electricity in rural areas because the majority are not connected to the grid.  That will also expand access to quality sustainable health because, as you know, with flash floods and the increase in temperatures, we have an increase in waterborne diseases, malaria and so on.

We met with the gender division from the Cabinet Office and an organization which speaks for people with disabilities to ensure that when we’re talking about infrastructure like buildings or roads, we make sure that people with disabilities are also considered.

I wanted to ask you about your career. You have a masters in trade policy and trade law and you had previous roles in trade and with a rural focus. What did you learn from your time in those sectors?

I am a trade expert and a public policy analyst. So, what I learnt from my time in the trade portfolio is that many times, countries will be protectionist. Therefore, it’s important as a country to work on striking a balance between facilitating trade and boosting domestic trade. A landlocked country like Zambia needs to leverage market opportunities in the region and the rest of the world. Thus, the promotion of industrialisation calls for concerted efforts by all stakeholders to develop agricultural value chains and grow the manufacturing sector. My experience working in this sector has now got me thinking about how we need to start linking trade to climate change. Take for instance, that the EU has issued their cross-border adjustment mechanism for certain imports that are considered carbon-intensive goods. How will this impact countries like Zambia?  If you’re talking about trade and the goods moving from Africa to the EU, we may be disadvantaged if we don’t have the conversation now.

Why and how did you make the move from trade and into focussing on the climate?

Well, there was an opening in the unit that deals with climate change and sustainable development. So, I was moved there.  Climate change was a new concept for me, being a social scientist. I started taking online courses to understand the basics of climate change to help me execute my work. My supervisor was helpful and hand-held me during the transition from trade to climate change-related issues. I am glad that I made the move because I am now able to look at trade-related issues with a climate change lens.

For example, we want to scale up copper production to 3,000,000 tonnes in the next five years. How do we green the mining sector to ensure that we minimise environmental impact?  Of course, this applies to the existing mines and the ones coming up. As for the agriculture sector, we need to go beyond just climate-smart agricultural practices to climate-smart technologies. This is something that the Government is promoting.

What strengths do you feel you bring as a professional woman into moving forward the green economy in your country?

I have had opportunities to work in diverse environments and portfolios which allows me to analyse and advise on low-carbon development pathways to consider in the transition to a green economy. I have also grown a big network comprising line ministries, CSOs, NGOs, Donors and the private sector which is critical to champion the green growth agenda. I believe my work experience in different sectors will position me to champion the transition to a low carbon economy.

Do you find in your daily work that you are the single female voice, or are there other women in your team or in your interactions?

That’s a very good question. In the beginning, I was one of only a few female voices articulating climate change-related issues. Now, this has changed and other women are operating in the climate change space. It’s gratifying to find more female voices speaking out on climate change-related issues, particularly in the energy, transport and agriculture sectors.

Of course, there are times when I meet people in other professions, who don’t have a clear understanding of climate change and more so, the green growth agenda and what that implies for the sector they are operating in.  We need to find a way of packaging the information regarding climate compatible growth pathways for Zambia so that there is buy-in. The sad reality is that some communities or even countries, don’t think that climate change is real.  One of the things that I   endeavour to do is, identify and understand the audience, and package the information in a manner that will enable me to communicate effectively.

Dealing with policymakers can be like this. You have to present and unpack the information in a manner that is relatable, while at the same time providing the evidence base to allow them to make decisions. This is why this CCG project is good because we emphasize the evidence base in influencing policy, and you can’t argue with that.

Have you experienced times when men won’t listen to you or don’t want you in the meeting?
Yes, it happens sometimes.  However, things are changing now. I believe that there are now more females operating in the climate policy space, therefore, when I am invited to speak at or facilitate events, the men are receptive and accommodating. There have been some instances where men find me intimidating and tend to be indifferent.

And how do you get them interested? What’s the secret?

Preparation!  Over time, I have found that when I am well-prepared on the subject matter, the audience is receptive and eager to learn. It is also important to package the information to the extent that it is relatable in their professional space. For instance, after the policy influence capacity building workshops conducted under the TRAP-ZM project, we have had some stakeholders eager to collaborate with us. It’s quite exciting.

So, your patience paid off in the end. 

Yes, and they understand now that, when you’re talking about climate change-related issues, communication is important and we need to make sure that everyone is on the same page.

Definitely, that seems to be one of your great skills. To me, you sound like a very well-informed professional woman, very articulate with a lot of energy and very engaging. Have you always been like that?

I have not always been like this. You will not believe this, but I tend to think of myself as a shy person. I was not one to contribute to conversations or discussions, even if I had the right response. I always shied away because I was worried about saying the wrong thing. I actually preferred to communicate in writing.

Through this project and others, my capacity has been developed. Now I can stand before an audience. My line of work has exposed me to diverse persons and networks including vulnerable persons, and experts, and I have learned that I need to contribute to conversations in the public policy space.  I have told UCL and CCG colleagues Julia, Nick, Jim, Yacob, Steve, Jen and the others: ‘You guys don’t understand how much of my capacity you have built’. Through my interaction with them, I got to understand the different perspectives relating to climate change. It’s been an exciting journey thus far. I am no longer shy and I am passionate about my work.

 In terms of your professional life, what is your support network?

My support network is on two fronts, personal and professional. My husband, Benny Mubanga is my number one cheerleader. He is quite tolerant of me.   My work is quite demanding. He’s very supportive and understands the demands of my work.  The UCL team is also very supportive in my professional journey in the climate change space. Bernard Tembo has also been instrumental in my professional progression. He was my supervisor when I was moved to the unit that deals with climate change-related issues at ZIPAR. of course, the ZIPAR staff are also supportive.

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