EXCLUSIVE: Idris and Sabrina Elba join EPA on Africa trip to combat climate issues

The Elbas will join Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan on a U.S. delegation to Ghana and Sierra Leone.

Editor’s note: Since the publication of this report, EPA Administrator Micheal Regan has postponed his trip to Africa due to his department’s emergency response to the train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, which has caused environmental concerns for its residents.

Actor and humanitarian Idris Elba and his wife Sabrina Elba will accompany Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Michael Regan on Saturday to sub-Saharan Africa, theGrio exclusively reports.

The NAACP and Golden Globe award-winning star, Mrs. Elba and Regan will travel to Ghana and Sierra Leone to focus on the issue of climate change and ways to combat its devastating ripple effects around the globe.

British actor Idris Elba (L) with his wife US model and activist Sabrina Dhowre Elba answer during an interview with AFP at the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, on January 16, 2023. (Photo by Fabrice COFFRINI / AFP) (Photo by FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)

The EPA trip comes weeks before Vice President Kamala Harris’s anticipated Africa trip in late March. Several stops are expected; however, no specific destinations on the continent for the vice president have been confirmed as of yet.  

Idris Elba applauds Harris’s upcoming trip to Africa, telling theGrio, “She’s a very powerful woman [and] respected across the continent by other very powerful women on the continent. So I think it will be a great trip for her.”

Elba himself has close ties to the African continent; his mother is from Ghana, and his father is from Sierra Leone. Sabrina Elba’s mother is from Somalia.

Sierra Leone is newly added to the roster of African countries actively engaged by the EPA on climate due to Elba’s advocacy. The Hollywood star approached Administrator Regan in December during President Joe Biden’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington, where the Biden-Harris administration announced several upcoming trips by senior officials in 2023.

Regan said Elba challenged his department to be more inclusive of African nations that are less visited traditionally by the U.S. government.

Environmental Protection Agency administrator Michael S. Regan talks too reporters during a visit to Saco’s wastewater treatment facility, which is struggling with rising sea water. (Staff photo by Ben McCanna/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)

Acknowledging Regan’s role as the first African-American man to head the EPA, Sabrina Elba said she and her husband “connected with his ethos” about climate and Africa and “the good work that he’s doing and the plan he’s developed.

She added: “If we felt this was going to be just a photo op or just a trip for the press … we wouldn’t have done this.”

When announcing his 2023 budget in March of last year, President Biden pledged $11 billion in international aid to help poorer countries combat their climate challenges and build a greener infrastructure. 

Rosa Whitaker, the former U.S. African trade representative during the Clinton administration, told theGrio that the country’s commitments to Africa are “largely dependent” on Biden’s ability to deliver on his pledge. However, the president’s budget has to be approved by the United States Congress, which is currently divided politically. 

“There are a lot of wild cards. So a lot will depend on the follow-up,” said Whitaker.

The Elbas and the administrator made clear that while aid is one way to help Africa, what’s most important is going beyond the “traditional models of aid” and empowering Africa through trade and investment.

“There is a time and a place for aid,” said Elba. “We are human beings. We aid each other by nature … but when it comes to Africa and strengthening relationships, I think the partnership to have solutions where there’s beneficial teaching and learning is incredibly important.”

International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) Goodwill Ambassadors English actor Idris Elba (R) and his Canadian actress and activist wife, Sabrina Elba, take part in a session at the COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow on November 6, 2021. (Photo by Paul ELLIS / AFP) (Photo by PAUL ELLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

One of the greatest challenges in Africa caused by climate change is its chronic food supply shortage, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. Idris Elba notes that the farming industry has been negatively impacted the most.

“Farmers, especially smallholder farmers – who provide almost 80% of the world’s food – are affected by climate the most. They are the least contributing to the climate debate, but the most affected,” he said. 

Sabrina Elba, who is a United Nations Goodwill ambassador, said, “climate change is inequitable.” She added, “There are people who are neglected, who are forgotten.”

Mrs. Elba said young people are of particular concern as Africa – which has more than 1.2 billion people on its continent – has the youngest population in the world.

“[They’re] going to need job security very soon. Agriculture is an amazing way to enable young people to have entrepreneurship, to give them security,” said Sabrina Elba. “It’s only a matter of time before they’re of age. It’s something that we really need to think about when we’re talking about issues of migration when we’re talking about issues of gender … it’s all interlinked.

Serena Stepanovic, associate vice president of Food Security & Livelihoods at World Vision USA, notes that “human-made drivers” are what led to the world’s urgent climate issues. She said it will take “political will” for governments to respond at this moment and “move the needle on climate, which is a significant driver of outcomes where people are starving.” 

Several climate-related issues will be on the agenda for the EPA and Elbas trip to Africa, including air pollution, which Regan said impacts women and young girls the most. Through a cookstoves initiative led by the Elbas, the EPA will help leaders and communities look at alternative energy sources. The administrator described it as an “exchange of ideas around technology” to advance cooking techniques beyond deforestation and using wood from mangroves to generate energy.

Idris Elba pointed out that deforestation is especially prevalent in Sierra Leone, which has “some of the oldest mangroves in the world.”

Mountains stand near a river just outside Freetown on November 28, 2006 near Freetown, Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone was ravaged by a decade long civil war but peace was declared in 2002 and the country has struggled to get back on its feet. Reconstruction continues and travellers are beginning to trickle in. However, life is still hard for many of the residents and it was recently ranked second last in the UN’s most recent Human Development Index. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

The EPA administrator said deforestation in Africa isn’t just harming the region, but the entire globe and the international movement to mitigate the devastating – and deadly – impacts of climate change.

”[Mangroves] have some of the largest sources of sequestering carbon in the world. So we’re looking at the deforestation impacting our ability to mitigate against climate change,” said Regan.

While the Elbas are focused on climate change during this trip, the famous couple is also planning to build a network of film studios across the continent of Africa. Idris Elba said his goal is to use the power of movies to change the narrative and world image of Africa, as well as create “jobs and opportunity” for Africans.

EPA Administrator Regan said that during the trip to Ghana and Sierre Leone, his department will issue several announcements.

“They’re going to be serious investments. And it’s all based on the president’s leadership,” he said. “We know that we can’t solve our national security problems, our climate problems, our economic challenges if we don’t have this globalized solution that the Elbas and the EPA are working on.”

In addition to the upcoming EPA trip, President Biden will also travel to Africa later this year. It will mark the first such visit by a U.S. president to the continent since former President Barack Obama’s last trip in 2015.

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku and Android TV. Also, please download theGrio mobile apps today!