The productivity and sustainability of Africa’s environment is heavily dependent on how this asset is managed. This, in turn, can affect the availability, stocks and functioning of the remaining assets, either enhancing opportunities or putting livelihoods at risk. The range of livelihoods, with its opportunities for human development and alleviating extreme poverty and hunger, extends from total dependence on natural resource systems either for subsistence or as part of business, to total dependence on wage earnings, from trade or industry.
National and local aspirations for sustainable development are linked to the integrity of natural resources and the environment. It is, therefore, critical to conserve and sustainably use the region’s environmental assets, not only from an environmental perspective but also as a sustainable resource to support human well-being and development and as a sink for wastes from production processes. Over 70 percent of Africa’s population is rural and depends directly on the land and the natural environment for its livelihoods and well-being (IFAD 2001). Thus, how environmental goods-and-services are used will have practical consequences for alleviating poverty, improving human well-being, and ensuring sustained economic development.
The environment and human development are the principal focuses of sustainable development. The challenges faced by African governments are many and complex. Governments must reduce human vulnerability to environmental change and hazards, improve standards of living and generally enhance human well-being. They have to provide social services and security, ensure adequate functioning of infrastructure, provide a climate conducive to investment, economic growth and employment generation, as well as pay their debts while at the same time ensuring that the environment which supports much of its economy and livelihoods is used sustainably. The challenges of meeting the needs of the present generation must be realized without compromising those of future generations. Successfully delivering on all these fronts requires not only good national and regional policies but also supportive global policies and practices. How Africa positions itself globally is critical: it must capture the benefits associated with globalization while at the same time trying to minimize the negative impacts of inequitable relations. Globalization is bringing with it both new opportunities and risks. In the health sector, diseases, such as SARS and avian flu, have the potential through the increased movement of people and goods to impact on already stretched health services. Africa will need to increase its preparedness to respond to such risks. The complex relationship between different sectors – including health, transportation, human resources, technology, water, forests – and their multiple implications for poverty, well-being and development will need to be faced head-on.
Over the past two decades, African countries have sought to consolidate their efforts towards sustainable development despite the economic difficulties the region has experienced. Many countries have embraced access to a clean and productive environment as a fundamental human right for their citizens. At the regional and sub-regional level, Africa has also adopted forward-looking responses. A healthy environment is seen as critical to the success of Africa’s development agenda, and to achieving the various goals and targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the World summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and its Environmental Action Plan (NEPAD-EAP).
New efforts have been made to reconcile economic development and environmental sustainability. The Brundtland Commission in 1987 noted that:
“The downward spiral of poverty and environmental degradation is a waste of opportunities and of resources. What is needed is a new era of economic growth – growth that is forceful and at the same time socially and environmentally sustainable.” (WCED 1987)
Five years later, the Earth Summit reinforced the Brundtland Commission’s measure of the interdependence of environment and development, stating in Agenda 21:
“Integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future.” (UN 1992)
This message remains important and its challenges are being confronted head-on by Africa.
Through the African Union (AU) and NEPAD – the region’s response to tackle poverty and hunger, underdevelopment, governance problems and environmental degradation – African leaders have recognized that a healthy and productive environment is a prerequisite for the successful implementation of its programs. The environment is considered as one of the central building blocks of the NEPAD agenda from two important perspectives. First, African leaders recognize that underdevelopment itself constitutes a serious threat to the conservation of the environment. Second, and perhaps more importantly in the context of a development agenda, African leaders recognize the inherent challenge to nurture environmental assets and to use them for the development of the region while, at the same time, preserving them for future generations.
The core objectives of the NEPAD-EAP are to combat poverty and to contribute to socioeconomic development. New developments in science and technology, including in information and communication technology (ICT), have been recognized as potentially beneficial. The challenge lies in being able to apply these new developments to Africa’s social and economic reality, to avoid risks to the environment and to seize the opportunities for human development. Against the backdrop of today’s information-driven and increasingly globalized economy, the contribution of the environment to the realization of Africa’s development goals, as reflected in initiatives such as NEPAD, will not only be from the use of the resource base but also from the ability to leverage the total value of these environmental assets.
In natural resource valuation, value is not necessarily derived only from the use of the resources or commoditization, but also takes into account intrinsic and non-use values. Non-use values include existence values (the value derived from the knowledge of the continued existence of the resource or service), bequest values (the value of leaving use and non-use options available for future generations) and option values (the value derived from having available future direct and indirect use values). Use values include consumptive use as well as indirect use derived from the environmental services, such as carbon sequestration.
The future of Africa’s development is closely tied to the integrity of its natural resources base. How the region benefits from its stock of natural resources will depend on how strategically it places itself at the global negotiating tables, how it markets these assets and the extent to which it is able to maximize benefits and opportunities for its people.
There are improved opportunities on all these levels. Viable fora for meeting these challenges have been created through NEPAD and AU. The different initiatives being pursued by Africa underscore the interconnectedness of the development process and the need for holistic development planning. Indeed a sector by sector approach to environmental resources management is being replaced by integrated management policies. Similarly, territorial boundaries no longer bar sustainable management of resources, and transboundary cooperation is becoming more common. On another level, there is also growing recognition that human well-being depends on ecosystem services. Governments and development partners are increasingly involving civil society and the private sector in the fashioning and implementation of the different initiatives. What now needs to be urgently addressed is the commitment of adequate resources for the institutions mandated to implement the initiatives to carry out the tasks effectively.
It is important for Africa to comprehensively take stock and value of what it has in terms of natural resources and use them optimally to sustain decent livelihoods.
- IFAD, 2001. Rural Poverty Report 2001:The Challenge of Ending Rural Poverty. International Fund for Agricultural Development. Oxford University Press, New York.
- UN, 1992. Agenda 21. Proceedings of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 3-14 June. United Nations.
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2, Annexes
- UNEP and the Millennium Development Goals, UNEP.
- WCED, 1987. Our Common Future.World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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