Africa's renaissance for the environment- policy interlinkages

December 20, 2010, 10:08 am


The global environment, in its entirety, is composed of complex, interrelated ecosystems. To protect and preserve this complex environment requires a holistic approach that better integrates environmental problem-solving at the local, national and international levels. The human and environment systems are intricately connected. On the one hand the human system is dependent on the environment for its survival, and on the other the environment is constantly changing from anthropogenic activities. Within the human system itself, a set of interconnections also exist between the social, economic and political needs and aspirations of a population. Furthermore, in a rapidly globalizing world, policy responses at the international level have ripple effects at the regional, sub-regional, national and local levels.


Sustainably managing water resources - for energy, social needs and biodiversity – requires interlinkages between environment and development sectors. Nyanga, Zimbabwe. (Source: Y. Katerere)


Because of these interlinkages between the environment and human systems, and within each, it is imperative that the implications for the environment of all policy responses, whether in environmental or nonenvironmental sectors, are given due consideration. For example, macro-economic reforms undertaken by a government may impact on the effectiveness of policies governing the environment and social services. Similarly, as environmental policies are being developed or modified, their implications for policies in other sectors must also be considered. The objective in doing so is to enable a country or the region to reap the benefits of policy convergence and synergies and reduce policy conflicts.

The same holds true at the international level. It is important to consider how multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) relate to and impact on the objectives of each other. The case of the three Rio Conventions is illustrative. The common objectives and implementation requirements of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) constitute a clear case of interlinkages, which if carefully considered can enable a more synergistic approach to the implementation of these conventions. The issue of biodiversity, for instance, is not only important in terms of the CBD but also for the UNCCD, regarding the impact of desertification on biodiversity, and the UNFCCC in terms of the relationship between biodiversity loss and climate change. For Africa, all three conventions directly relate to the issue of local livelihoods and their sustainability:

  • The CBD in addressing issues of biodiversity links the need for conservation directly to sustainable use, and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of biological resources.
  • The UNCCD addresses processes of desertification and land degradation, which are directly related to the ability of people to meet their material needs, including food security.
  • The UNFCCC addresses climate change and its impacts. Climate change and variability potentially impact on freshwater resources, food production and both household and national food security.

The similar requirements of these conventions on monitoring, reporting and assessment provide an excellent opportunity for common data collection. Synergistic approaches to the implementation of these conventions will help reduce transaction costs and avoid overstretching the limited institutional capacities in developing countries (Blaikie and Simo 2000). Such an approach can, however, be undermined by the machinery of governments, especially bureaucratic arrangements and the fragmentation of environmental functions across ministries and other institutions. These institutional arrangements, although intended to enhance efficiency, encourage policy responses that tend to overlook collaboration. Often a policy response in a given sector, such as water, is taken without due consideration of its consequences for policy performance and outcomes in other sectors, such as land, agriculture and industry. In the absence of mechanisms that foster inter-sectoral collaboration in policy development and policy implementation, interlinkages cannot be developed, and the benefits associated with an interlinkages approach will not be realized. Interlinkages create opportunities for minimizing policy conflicts, creating synergies and sharing costs. Some countries have made progress in instituting inter-sectoral collaboration in policy development and implementation.


The medium term outlook is both encouraging and challenging. While the issue of policy interlinkages is gaining greater currency in development dialogue and practice in Africa, the capacity for such integrated policy analysis is a constraint. This is being addressed at various levels. The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), for example, emphasizes the need for evidence-based policy making as well as capacity development for policy analysis. The increasing recognition of the usefulness of intersectoral approaches, based on multi-stakeholder involvement, augurs well for more effective environmental decisions and management. The growing interest in rationalization and harmonization of policies at the sub-regional and regional levels also makes the outlook more positive. Nonetheless, the identification and management of synergies and conflicts among the various policy responses at the different scales and over time will continue to be a challenge. In the short run, it may be prudent to limit this effort to polices that have direct impact on the environment such as economic, fiscal, trade, industry, agriculture, energy and minerals policies.


Governments and their ministries and departments are key players in this area. Regional and sub-regional organizations as well as the UN organizations can play an important role in facilitating interaction and action. The private sector and civil society also have a critical role to play.

Result and target date

The result would be greater understanding of the interlinkages of human development and environmental sustainability in the context of issues such as poverty and hunger, consumption and obesity, land degradation and desertification, climate change and freshwater stress and scarcity, agricultural production and food security as well as legal and institutional frameworks. The results should be evident from 2010 onwards.


The actions that could be taken in the short to medium term are:

  • Institutionalize an inter-sectoral and inclusive approach to policy development.
  • Strengthen the data and information systems in the various sectors, including development of indicators, so that they are available for understanding the nature and impact of policy interlinkages.
  • Strengthen the national capacity for policy analysis, so that stakeholders have ready access to information on the critical policy interlinkages in order for them to make better-informed decisions at both the national and sub-regional levels.
  • Use the Africa Finance Ministers’ Forum, that is periodically organized by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), to hold a joint session with the AMCEN Ministers on economic, financial and environmental policy linkages.
  • Support a limited number of case studies that demonstrate the national-regional-global policy interlinkages between trade and sectors such agriculture and fisheries.

Further reading

  • AMCEN, 1985. Resolution adopted by the conference at its first session. African Ministerial Conference on the Environment. UNEP/AEC 1/2: Proceedings of the First Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, Cairo, Egypt, 16-18 December.
  • Markowitz, K., Michalak, K. and Reeves, M., 2005. Improving Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Thought Performance Measurement:The INECE Indictor Project. In Making Law Work: Environmental Compliance and Sustainable Development (eds. Zaelke, D, Kaniaru, D, and Kru_íková, E.). Cameron May, London.
  • Raustiala, K., 2001. Reporting and Review Institutions in 10 Multilateral Environmental Agreements. United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi.
  • Stahl, M., 2005. Using Indicators to Lead Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Programs. In Making Law Work: Environmental Compliance and Sustainable Development (eds. Zaelke, D., Kaniaru, D., and Kru_íková, E.). Cameron May, London.
  • UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2. Nairobi, Kenya.


This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
Previous: Africa's renaissance for the environment: vulnerability of Small Island Developing States  |  Table of Contents  |  Next: Africa's renaissance for the environment: conclusion

Disclaimer: This article is taken wholly from, or contains information that was originally published by, the United Nations Environment Programme. Topic editors and authors for the Encyclopedia of Earth may have edited its content or added new information. The use of information from the United Nations Environment Programme should not be construed as support for or endorsement by that organization for any new information added by EoE personnel, or for any editing of the original content.




Programme, U. (2010). Africa's renaissance for the environment- policy interlinkages. Retrieved from


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