To meet economic growth targets and the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) targets, to realize regional and national environmental goals, to decrease poverty and to improve overall well-being requires that Africa maximize the opportunities available to it.
The New Economic Partnership for African Development seeks to position Africa to take advantage of the opportunities presented by changing global trade by promoting good governance, allocating resources efficiently and exploring partnerships with the private sector and within key political fora. It seeks to balance the neoliberal economic reforms it is promoting with support for social services, particularly health and education.
At the sub-regional level, economic communities have been developed, including the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS), the East African Community (EAC), the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) and the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU). Many of these initiatives focus on increasing opportunities offered by the natural resource base and stimulating inter-African trade by reducing restrictions on the movement of people, goods and services. Some initiatives, such as the Spatial Development Initiatives (SDI) in Southern Africa, provide for joint development and planning in contiguous regions, some of which straddle international borders. Several SDIs seek to harness the under-utilized potential for economic growth by promoting tourism, and other natural resource-based activities, thus increasing investment and lending, infrastructural development and opportunities for local livelihoods, particularly the development of local small and microenterprises.
In addition, policies have clearly identified the need to look at the opportunities industry and technological development can bring. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) focuses specifically on the need to strengthen the contribution of industrial development to poverty eradication and sustainable natural resource management. This includes actions, at all levels, to mobilize resources to enhance productivity, increase income-generating employment activities, financial and technical support to rural communities, the development of small and micro-enterprises, and the support for natural resource management to create sustainable rural livelihoods. The commercialization of wild resources, such as medicinal plants, fruits and resins, can offer important livelihood opportunities. Figure 1 looks at the benefits the commercialization of seaweed has brought to poor people in Tanzania. Intellectual property rights of those engaged in product development and poor control of genetic resources potentially undercut the extent of benefits that can be earned.
An integrated approach to development
Sustainable environmental management requires recognizing the interlinkages between different aspects of the environment, as well as the complex interactions between factors in human society causing change to the environment. Given this, there is a need to deal with environment and development issues in a holistic, comprehensive and integrated manner.
The need for integrated approaches has been recognized in the Stockholm Convention, and in 1987 the Brundtland Commission identified it as the basis of sustainable development strategies. This approach was further developed in the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21 and the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) conventions. The WSSD Johannesburg Plan of Implementation draws attention to the ways in which such an approach may create better opportunities for water resource and energy management as well as for the identification and development of alternative technologies.
In the 1990s, many African countries broke with the narrow sectoral approach that had been inherited from the colonial era and which was founded on command and control-based systems and were the forte of their environmental management systems, to develop more integrated approaches. In this period, most countries adopted national environmental action plans; many also began to reform the natural resource management legislation, giving it a stronger rights and opportunities content. Most African countries also adopted environmental provisions in their constitutions, in many cases echoing the commitment in the African Charter on Human Rights and Peoples Rights recognizing environmental rights.
The New Partnership for Africa's Development-Environment Action Plan (NEPAD-EAP), adopted in 2003, takes an integrated approach to the environment and development with full consideration of economic growth, income distribution, poverty eradication, social equity and better governance as part and parcel of Africa’s environmental sustainability agenda. The African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (ACCNNR) also commits to such an approach and calls on parties to integrate development and environmental concerns by treating both as an integral part of national and local development plans, and to give full consideration to ecological, social, economic and cultural factors in their development.
Developmental cooperation at multiple levels
A striking feature of recent policy initiatives is the priority given to improving opportunities for cooperation at the global, regional, sub-regional and national levels.
Regional initiatives which create new levels of cooperation have taken place: many of these emphasize the commonness of Africa’s problems and the opportunity collaboration brings to solving these problems. The NEPAD-EAP is one such initiative. It was prepared through a consultative and participatory process under the leadership of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). It sought to identify the root causes of environmental degradation and the most effective projects from an environmental, institutional and financial perspective. The plan takes a long-term perspective and identifies eight program areas and actions that African countries should adopt to maintain the integrity of the environment and ensure the sustainable use of their natural resources. It responds to some of the challenges of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – particularly goals Number 1 on eradicating poverty, Number 7 on environmental sustainability and Number 8 on developing a partnership for development, as well as to the general principles of Agenda 21.
At the sub-regional level, collaboration has also been an important policy focus. In some instances this is between countries, whereas in others it focuses on cooperation within a given country. Sub-regional cooperation is evident in a range of areas, from transboundary natural resource management to disaster responsiveness and early warning systems. The East African Community (EAC) Development Strategy emphasizes economic cooperation and development with a strong focus on the social dimension, and the role of the private sector and civil society is considered as central and crucial to regional development.
There are several sub-regional initiatives that deal with monitoring and early warning. In the EAC the Regional Environment Assessment Guidelines for Shared Ecosystems of East Africa has been initiated. This builds on an earlier initiative by the then East African Cooperation, where the Committee on Environment and Natural Resources made specific recommendations on shared ecosystems, including developing regional environmental assessment procedures and guidelines for shared ecosystems. These assessment guidelines will form a basis for valuating activities in or near shared ecosystems that are likely to cause significant ecological, environmental, health and social impacts. Collaborative initiatives around food security and drought warning have been other areas of sub-regional collaboration, particularly in the SADC region.
Partnerships with the global community
Although sustainable development is primarily a national responsibility, many of the major challenges facing African countries have a global dimension. Thus, developed countries have some responsibility in the international pursuit of sustainable development, particularly in view of the pressures their societies place on the global environment and of the technologies and financial resources they command.
The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) noted that Africa’s efforts to achieve sustainable development have been hindered by conflicts, insufficient investment, limited market access opportunities and supply side constraints, unsustainable debt burdens, historically declining levels of official development assistance and the impact of HIV/AIDS. The developed world has, through private enterprise, benefited from the use of natural resources, particularly diamonds and forest resources, in conflict areas. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations Security Council found that over 100 private companies, foreign and multinational, were involved in illegal extraction. Such conflicts have displaced hundreds of thousands of people and had a negative impact on forest resources as a result of settlement, uncontrolled logging and fire. At the WSSD, developing countries reiterated their acknowledgement of the responsibility they bear in the international pursuit of sustainable development.
However, Africa must be the driver of its own future. Africa recognizes, as the WSSD did, that effective global cooperation requires the creation of an enabling environment at the regional, sub-regional, national and local levels which supports sustained economic growth and sustainable development, promotes peace, stability and security, and establishes good governance, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. The New Partnership for Africa’s Development seeks to create such an environment and sets the basis for global collaboration. Among other things, it has developed a peer review process. A meeting of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) Inter-Agency Technical Committee (IATC) in 2004 called for the peer review mechanism process to be expanded to include environmental criteria.
There are a number of areas in which global collaboration is seen as important. Numerous policy agreements have acknowledged the vital role developed countries can play in creating access to new technologies, enhancing technological and other capacities, securing access to new financial resources and creating a fairer global trade system. The WSSD commits parties to implement the outcomes of the Doha Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organization (WTO), further strengthen trade-related technical assistance and capacity-building and ensure the meaningful, effective and full participation of developing countries in multilateral trade negotiations by placing their needs and interests at the heart of the WTO work program. At the WSSD, the developed countries specifically committed to supporting Africa in a number of areas including industrial development and opportunity, water and energy management, health and technology.
In various fora the global community has agreed to development goals, including those in Agenda 21, WSSD and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These global policy processes have also acknowledged that realizing these goals will require access to new and additional financial resources, improved trade opportunities, access to and transfer of environmentally-sound technologies, education and awareness-raising, capacity-building, information for decision-making and improved scientific capabilities. In the case of the MDGs, defined targets in these areas need to be met within the agreed time frame. Eradicating the debt burden, as well as improving flows of foreign direct investment (FDI) and development aid, will create new opportunities for developing countries.
Peace, development and environmental cooperation
Conflict situations have negative impacts on the environment and consequently on human well-being. The 2005 World Summit drew attention to the need for peace as the foundation for human well-being. Over 30 African countries have been involved in wars in the last five years, and many more experience local resource conflicts. Despite this, Africa has an impressive record on the collaborative management of environmental resources. This cooperation has promoted peace and stability in most parts of the region. Important areas of collaboration include the management of water resources and shared river basins as well as more general transboundary natural resource management.
In many parts of Africa, river basin organizations have been established to regulate the rights and responsibilities of the different riparian states. The South African Development Community (SADC) region has adopted a Protocol on Shared Watercourse Systems which creates a regional approach to management based on river basins. In the Northern and Eastern Africa sub-regions, the Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) seeks to enhance management and to take concrete steps to realize the development potential of the Nile. Launched in February 1999, the NBI provides a basin-wide framework to fight poverty and promote socioeconomic development through the equitable utilization of and benefit sharing from the Nile Basin water resources. Over the past 30 years, various groupings of countries in the Nile Basin have engaged in cooperative activities. However, the inclusion of all countries in a joint dialogue opens up new opportunities for realizing win-win solutions. It also holds the promise for potential greater regional integration, economically and politically, with benefits far exceeding those derived from the river itself.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) action plan seeks to promote a regional cooperation framework for integrated water resource management, including harmonizing policies and legislation on water resources, facilitating the exchange of experiences, reviving consultation between riparian countries on coordinated management of shared or transborder water basins, and strengthening partnership with all stakeholders. Similarly, the East African Community (EAC) has cooperative water management initiatives, including the revitalized Lake Victoria Development Programme (LVDP), which has developed a common vision for the Lake Victoria Basin development, agriculture, food security, energy, tourism, civil aviation safety, lake resource conflict management, telecommunications and meteorological and inter-university cooperation.
Policies and laws have been developed in several sub-regions to support sustainable transboundary natural resource management including for wildlife, forests, marine resources and mountainous environments. The EAC has transboundary ecosystem management on Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Elgon. The East Africa Cross Border Biodiversity Project, funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and executed by the three governments in the Eastern African sub-region, sought to identify and promote systemic national and regional policies and administrative measures to ensure sustainable management of cross-border biodiversity (ecosystems) and to reduce biodiversity loss at crossborder sites in east Africa. The project has generated information on the status of the cross-border sites and detailed policy analyses of forest policies in the three countries, identifying convergences and divergences, which can be used to inform interventions within the EAC strategy.
Social conflict and wars have had a high human and environmental cost. Large numbers of people have been displaced as a result of war, placing new burdens on the natural resource base. In conflict situations, effective management, monitoring and enforcement are not always possible. Such conflict also has adverse consequences for natural resources management, as the collapse of effective government results in indiscriminate harvesting and utilization of natural resources. The revival of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) will hopefully help strengthen environmental governance in Central Africa. This underscores the linkage between environmental resource management and conflict. As long as there is conflict, environmental resource management initiatives, such as those anticipated in the treaty establishing ECCAS, will remain unimplemented as the member states concentrate on the more immediate issues relating to the conflict.
Strengthening institutions and empowering people
The lack of capacity, in terms of skills and opportunity, to manage environmental resources undermines the potential for sustainable development – consequently, strengthening institutions and empowering people are important strategies.
The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) conventions recognized this and these, along with the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (ACCNNR), have focused on the value of procedural rights, research, education and information, as well as respect for local knowledge and value systems to achieve this. The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) has also drawn attention to the close relationship between well-being and empowerment. It is increasingly recognized that in enhancing capabilities and opportunities for people to participate in decisions that affect their well-being and livelihoods, health services and education must be improved, and sufficient and potable water, shelter, and adequate and nutritious food ensured. WSSD looks specifically at how these aspects of human well-being can be improved, and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set out targets related to these aspects, to be achieved by 2015.
Most policy initiatives recognize that rights of access to environmental information, participation, recourse to a court of law as well as fair, transparent and accountable processes are important procedural rights needed to support people as effective players in environmental policy and decision making. The United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) recognized the potential of users to be effective resource managers – by giving users a direct stake in the resource, the incentive to manage efficiently is increased. Achieving this includes strengthening tenure rights and promoting civil participation in policy development, decision making and environmental management. In addition, the WSSD’s Johannesburg Plan of Implementation identified the need to specifically promote women’s equal access to and full participation in decision making, on the basis of equality with men. It recognized that this needs to be complemented by mainstreaming gender perspectives in all policies and strategies, eliminating all forms of violence and discrimination against women and improving the status, health and economic welfare of women and girls through full and equal access to economic opportunity, land, credit, education and health-care services.
At the regional and sub-regional levels, empowerment has also been identified as key for sustainable development, although in many countries the development of laws and programmes to make this a reality are still lacking. The African Union (AU) has, through the creation of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC), sought to increase opportunities for meaningful dialogue with civil society, as discussed in Figure 6. At the sub-regional level, economic and development communities are also trying to empower the public. In 2001, the East African Community (EAC) launched the EAC Court of Justice and the EAC Legislative Assembly. The Legislative Assembly has seven standing committees, which include one on Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources.
In most policy initiatives, developing skills and capacity of resource users, as well as of national institutions, is seen as essential. This issue is an important focus in the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21, several Multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) including the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and WSSD, and the NEPAD-EAP. The NEPAD-EAP focuses on building Africa’s capacity to implement global and regional MEAs. In order to achieve this, eight activities are identified, including human resource development, public education and awareness, strengthening institutions and improving coordination, supporting the development of information systems, mobilizing and strengthening the role of scientific and technical communities, and promoting south-south cooperation and sharing of expertise.
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