Dr Richard Munang is the Africa Regional Climate Change Coordinator at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

He holds a Ph.D. in Environmental Change and Policy from the University of Nottingham and an Executive Certificate in Climate Change and Energy: Policymaking for the Long term from Harvard University – Kennedy School of Government.

He also boasts a Master of Science in Environmental Science from the University of Nottingham and a Bachelor of Science (Hons) in Physics and Education from the University of Yaoundé.

The 43-year-old shares his career path with Sunday Nation.

Tell us about your childhood and family life.

I was born 43 years ago in a small village called Jinkfuin in the north-western part of Cameroon. Mine was a humble background by all accounts – walking long distances to school without shoes, bearing the brunt of crop failures from time to time, studying under trees at times – challenges that many other families across Africa face.

But one thing that was an anchor during those times was the immediate sense of community. Our families extended beyond blood relatives to include community. No one would go hungry when there was food in a neighbour’s house. This sense of community should be embraced in driving solutions to climate-resilient economic growth. We must look at how anything we do can open multiple socioeconomic opportunities for many others in everything we do. Not look at benefiting alone.

Educational background

I hold a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree in Environmental Change and Policy from University of Nottingham, United Kingdom and an Executive Certificate in Climate Change and Energy: Policymaking for the Long term from Harvard University – Kennedy School of Government. My other degrees include a Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Environmental Science from the University of Nottingham and a Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) (Hons) in Physics and Education from the University of Yaoundé, Cameroon.

Share with us your career journey.

I started as an unpaid volunteer in a very small NGO in Cameroon soon after my undergraduate studies. My primary focus back then was to enhance my skills and problem-solving skills. It was to strengthen my ability to work and do delightful work. It was an opportunity to put my capacity for selflessness to the test. This volunteering experience was what I used as part of my application for a scholarship for my Master’s degree that gave way to PhD studies.

During my Ph.D. studies, my course tutor gave me some of his classes to teach as a part-time lecturer, and this opened another door for me to become a research fellow in a different university. During all this time, I taught and managed students and published widely, focusing on new knowledge to drive solutions to the changing climate. These formed the basis with which I applied for a position at the Unep – which started as a few-month contract.

What is the most memorable thing about your career journey? 

Impact. The lives that have been touched by what I do. These are my best memories, and I intend to gather as many of them as is humanly possible.

Tell us about your career progression over the years.

I have more than 16 years of relevant and progressive working experiences targeting critical regional and global issues of climate change policy, environmental management, sustainable development, especially poverty reduction, clean energy, resource efficiency and food security from the lens of accelerated economic growth in Africa.

These are being undertaken through research, strategic planning and coordination, programme leadership and representation, programme development, management of resources, and knowledge generation and capacity development.

In the last 12 years, my career has primarily focused on policy guidance, research, and project formulation and implementation on climate change policy and action and environmental sustainability, particularly innovative enablers for effectively and efficiently upscaling climate actions that unlock tangible, prioritized socioeconomic co-benefits.

These have included innovative financing, market incentives, driving climate action through clean energy and sustainable agriculture, ICT, and cross-sectorial policy coherence. These enablers have cumulatively been instrumental in positioning climate action as a solution, an area for investment prioritization with emphasis on gender and minority groups in Africa.

Your current role and scope of role?

I am currently the Africa Regional Climate Change Coordinator at the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). I am responsible for providing technical backstopping and leadership to guide the implementation of Unep’s climate-resilient development strategy at national and regional levels in a manner that ensures human wellbeing.

This includes ensuring that the science and new knowledge that Unep generates optimally inform country development and investment policies and implementation across society towards justly transitioning the continent to the low emissions development pathway. I am also responsible for ensuring that the lessons arising from work in countries across the continent and the priorities of countries are feedback to inform Unep’s global-wide prioritisation of support.

The scope is primarily all the countries in Africa. Still, since the region does not exist in isolation, this also overlaps to cover the global scope as well, eg through lessons and experiences sharing as well as support.

What has been a key driver of your career growth?

Two key aspects – perspective and attitude. On perspective, my understanding of “career progression” is not about changing jobs, organization, positions, promotions alone etc, what is commonly called “climbing the career ladder”. Far from it. The real progression, in my view, is measured in the impact one makes in terms of touching lives. In my view, the more lives you touch, the more you are ascending the “career ladder”. So, the focus should not be on getting promotions alone, but rather on continually applying oneself to unlock opportunities for the many.

On attitude, it is vital always to see challenges as disguised opportunities and work to devise solutions. Then self-appoint yourself to be that solutions provider. Don’t look at what others are doing or not doing but focus on your input to the solutions process. Always focus on doing the best with what is at hand using what is within one’s control. And never worry about what is beyond one’s control. Always do the best in such a way that touches many lives. Always be selfless. Don’t act to benefit self alone but do that which turns challenges into opportunities for the many.

Key decisions you might have taken along your career?

Choosing to be selfless and focus on doing that which benefits many; choosing to do the best with what is in my control; not worrying about what is beyond my control.

What would you tell your younger self?

Nothing that I have not told myself already. The essential thing in life is determining one’s purpose, which is tied to answering a straightforward question: What am I useful for?. “How can my abilities – skills, talents, aptitudes, ongoing work etc be applied in such a way that they turn Africa’s challenges into opportunities that touch many lives?” This is something I answered pretty early.

What would you advise the youth in Kenya and Africa today?

Find your purpose. And this purpose should be tied to answering a straightforward question – “how can my abilities – skills, talents, aptitudes, ongoing work etc be applied in such a way that they turn Africa’s challenges into opportunities that touch many lives?”.

Always be selfless. Don’t act to benefit self alone but do that which turns challenges to opportunities for the many.

Future plans?

Continue the same path I am on.

What do you fear in life?

This is a funny one. I have heard that the two biggest causes of premature deaths globally are called “worry” and “fear”. If anyone has any semblance of decency and self-respect, they will know that they did not just appear on this earth by purpose and that each day they see is sanctioned by the creator who commands us not to worry or fear. So, I focus on applying myself to touch many lives using what is within my control. Not fear.