UNEP’s Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth


Africa Environment Outlook 2 – Our Environment, Our Wealth (AEO-2) is a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) publication. Published in 2006, the predominant theme of this text is environment for development. AEO-2 is inspired by two landmark documents of the United Nations (UN) – the Brundtland Commission’s report, Our Common Future and Agenda 21 – and Africa’s own vision of renaissance. In 1987, the Brundtland Commission advised that:

"The downward spiral of poverty and environmental degradation is a waste of opportunities and of resources. What is needed now is a new era of economic growth – growth that is forceful and at the same time socially and environmentally sustainable."

Echoing this approach the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), in its environmental program of action, Agenda 21 reaffirmed the links between environment and development, drawing attention to the fundamental connection between environmental goods and services and human well-being:

"Integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future".

Building on this vision, Africa Environment Outlook 2 – Our Environment, Our Wealth profiles Africa’s environmental resources as an asset for the region’s development. The assessment highlights the opportunities presented by the natural resource base to support development and the objectives of the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). The report reaffirms the need for sustainable livelihoods, and the importance of environmental initiatives in supporting them. The emphasis is put on what should and can be done with existing (remaining) environmental assets, in the context of identified constraints (issues), rather than focusing on what has been (already) lost. The following are particularly illustrated:

  • adding value to the resource that still exists (or remains);
  • using natural resources efficiently (and sustainably) to derive maximum benefit;
  • mitigating the constraints and negative effects;
  • maximizing the total value of Africa’s natural assets;
  • making a case for safeguarding and improving the remaining assets; and
  • converting the current environmental challenges into opportunities for development.

The AEO-2 process


caption Figure 2: AEO sub-regions and collaborating centres (Source: UNEP 2006)


The Africa Environment Outlook (AEO) reporting process was initiated in 2000 by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). The first report, AEO-1, was launched during AMCEN’s 9th session in Kampala in July 2002, where it was acknowledged as a flagship publication. This report has continued to inspire dialogue in the region and has been used as the primary background document in the preparation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development-Environment Action Plan (NEPAD-EAP) – showing strong links between environmental assessment and policy making. The 10th AMCEN session, in June 2004, reaffirmed its endorsement of the AEO process as a valuable monitoring and reporting tool for sustainable environmental management and to provide a framework for national, sub-regional and regional integrated environmental assessment and reporting in Africa.

During the 22nd session of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, held in February 2003 in Nairobi, the AMCEN decision on the AEO process was endorsed under decision GC 22/9, which recommended that UNEP continue to support the process. In May 2003, UNEP’s Division of Early Warning and Assessment (DEWA) launched the process of preparing the second report, Africa Environment Outlook 2 – Our Environment, Our Wealth (AEO-2).

The AEO-2 process has been participatory, with inputs by scientists and other experts from national and sub-regional institutions in Africa. The Collaborating Centres (see Figure 2), using their national networks and capacities built through the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) process, coordinated inputs and the peer reviews in their sub-regions. Capacity-building is an integral part of the AEO process. Through collaboration with experts and stakeholders at multiple levels, the process has enhanced ability at the national level to undertake effective state of the environment assessments, in a way that is policy relevant.

Throughout the process, the AMCEN Inter-Agency Technical Committee (IATC) provided policy guidance. The committee reviewed and approved the proposed structure of the report in March 2004. In February 2005, IATC endorsed the draft recommendations of the report for approval by the AMCEN special session which met in Dakar in March 2005. The final draft report was presented to IATC for a final review and approval for publication in November 2005.


AEO-2 provides a comprehensive assessment of environmental state-and-trends, and the implications of this for human well-being and development. The assessment includes an analysis of policy responses and the opportunities available to policymakers to maximize the benefits offered by the environment. It addresses five consecutive and inter-related questions:

  • How and why is the environment important from a human perspective?
  • How is the environment changing, and why, and what opportunities does it hold?
  • Are there special issues, which affect the environment and development, that require immediate attention and new approaches?
  • How will different policy choices affect the future?
  • What can be done to ensure that environmental value is retained and the lives of people are improved?

To answer these questions the report is divided into five sections:

  • Section 1: Environment for Development sets the overall context for the analysis, in particular highlighting the human well-being in the environment-human nexus.
  • Section 2: Environmental State-and-Trends: 20-Year Retrospective provides an integrated assessment of environmental change, and its relationship to development opportunities.
  • Section 3: Emerging Challenges analyses four important issues, that emerge from Section 2 as policy challenges, with wide-reaching implications for human well-being, development and the state of the environment.
  • Section 4: Outlook considers, through scenario analysis, how different policy choices can shape future outcomes.
  • Section 5: Policy Opportunities identifies policy options, directly related to sections 2 and 3, which might be adopted in order to achieve Africa’s environmental and development objectives.


Section 1: Environment for Development provides the setting for the assessment and analysis in AEO-2. Chapter 1: The Human Dimension explores the linkages between environmental goods-and-services, development and human well-being. The departure point for the chapter is that people and livelihoods are at the center of the concern for sustainable development and that, consistent with Africa’s policy and environmental law, people are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature. The chapter’s main message is that the environment offers a multitude of opportunities for fundamentally reshaping well-being and development, in a way that is consistent with Africa’s priorities.

In demonstrating this, the chapter has three distinct focuses. First, it considers the relationship between human well-being and development, and environmental change. Second, the success of policy in supporting sustainable livelihoods and development is evaluated. And third, the opportunities for enlarging and enhancing the range of available and sustainable development options are discussed.

In examining the relationship between sustainable development and human opportunities, a broad view of the livelihoods concept is taken. Livelihoods are considered to extend from those in which people are wholly dependent on natural resource systems, for subsistence, to those based entirely on wage earning or trade. The chapter begins by discussing the main human drivers of environmental change and considers how these impact on human well-being and development. It looks specifically at demographic change; social change including gender and the division of labor, health, education, knowledge and information, and poverty; economic change including production and consumption patterns; and technological change. This analysis of the environment-human nexus is brought together in a discussion about the concept of livelihoods, and the multiple values associated with environmental goods-and-services and their role in the achievement of sustainable livelihoods. These values may be broadly divided into use and non-use values. Use values include direct use of environmental goods, such as their use as food, energy and economic goods, and indirect uses including the many services the environment provides, such as flood regulation. Non-use values are often not as clearly acknowledged or accounted for. These values may be closely associated with cultural values or securing future options. In some societies in Africa, not only are natural resources important, as economic assets, but they often are an important part of social identity. The integrated and multidimensional discussion of livelihoods and environmental value sets the basis for evaluating and determining policy.

In discussing the different policy initiatives, which have been adopted in response, focus is placed on how these have influenced the environment-human nexus at regional, sub-regional, national and local levels. The Brundtland Commission Report, UNCED, the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), the NEPAD-EAP, and the AU’s Africa Convention on Nature and Natural Resources (ACCNNR) are used to identify the policy priorities of Africa and to evaluate the progress made, or lack of it, and the lessons learnt. Key focal points in the analysis include approaches to participation and the changing role of civil society, environment for development, poverty and inequity, and achieving development targets.

Finally, consideration is given to how the opportunities for improving livelihoods and development, while ensuring environmental sustainability, may be more effectively harnessed. Issues of integrated management, equity, improved governance, technology and research, and infrastructure are given prominence.


Section 2: Environmental State-and-Trends: 20-Year Retrospective reviews the state of the environment, and identifies opportunities for development.

Abrief synthesis of the state of the environment is given using the main themes in AEO-1 as the baseline, but discussing this within the context of the Brundtland report and the program areas of NEPAD-EAP. Where appropriate, the general regional situation has been placed in the global context. Six thematic areas, forming the basis of the chapters, have been used in the analysis – Atmosphere, Land, Freshwater, Forests and Woodlands, Coastal and Marine Environments, and Biodiversity. For all these areas, human settlements are closely related to patterns of environmental change, and thus in each chapter human settlements are discussed briefly as they relate to specific aspects of environmental change. Chapter 12: Environment for Peace and Regional Cooperation (in Section 3) also examines some of the challenges related to human settlements. In addition, a technical paper has been published on this subject as a complementary report of AEO-2. The state of the resource endowment has been looked at in the context of opportunities for development, and how to move towards looking at “Our Environment” as “Our Wealth.”

Under each theme, the focus has been on identifying opportunities for sustainably deriving benefits from the available resources and for improving environmental management. The chapters focus on adding value to what exists (or remains) to derive maximum benefit to eradicate poverty and promote development. Diversifying the range of activities and improving efficiency are two important aspects of this. The multiple values of the resources are identified and this serves as an important motivation for safeguarding and improving the remaining assets, not only in terms of their environmental quality but also as important economic and social goods.

The concluding Chapter 8: Interlinkages: The Environment and Policy Web demonstrates the complex relationships that exist not only between the different environmental sectors but also between the different development objectives, and between environment and development. By taking both a horizontal (linking the different resources) and a vertical (linking the different policy responses as well as socioeconomic factors) approach to interlinkages, a comprehensive picture of the complex environment-policy web is presented. Specific cases are used to demonstrate the interlinkages between major environmental and development challenges and the implications of these for policy and technological responses. Best practice examples highlight some opportunities. Finally, the chapter looks specifically at environment and development approaches that can be used to more effectively implement an interlinkages approach that supports win-win solutions at multiple levels.


Section 3: Emerging Challenges examines four important environmental challenges that the region faces. This is an essential part of the environmental assessment process. One of the functions of AEO, as a monitoring tool, is to keep track of environmental problems (or solutions) that may affect key objectives and targets, and to bring these to the attention of policymakers. Emerging issues are not necessarily new issues; they may be old issues which because of changing circumstances present new challenges or new opportunities. For example, changes in knowledge or changes in the state of the environment may fundamentally reshape opportunities. The section focuses on four emerging issues of regional significance: Genetically Modified Crops, Invasive Alien Species (IAS), Chemicals, and Environment for Peace and Regional Cooperation – each discussed in a separate chapter. All four chapters are concerned with ensuring an enabling context for sustainable development which contributes to improving human well-being, economic performance and environmental sustainability. The opportunities for achieving this vary in the four areas under consideration, but to a large extent all chapters speak to two key policy areas: improving sound environmental management and enlarging the opportunities for development through, among other things, promoting peace and stability. These policy concerns lie at the heart of the NEPAD and the UN agendas.

Three chapters – Genetically Modified (GM) Crops, Invasive Alien Species (IAS) and Chemicals – focus on how to deal with problems of uncertainty about impacts of new scientific and technological advances or new economic uses on the environment and on people. These chapters highlight the opportunities that arise from new approaches to policy making and environmental management. The chapters explicitly consider the opportunities that integrated policy processes – bringing together policymakers, the scientific community and the public – offer for more informed choices. In all these areas, the importance of strong links between science and management for ensuring sound environmental management is critical. The need to go beyond policy statements and to adopt measures for effectively implementing policy, through improved institutions including laws and management tools, is emphasized.

In the three chapters (GM crops, IAS and chemicals), an overview of the state-and-trends is given in the context of Africa’s development, highlighting, with specific examples, the potential benefits and negative impacts on the environment. An assessment is also made of policy responses at the national and regional levels in the specific areas. This includes the mitigation of environmental impacts. Best practice examples and lessons learned are presented.

Chapter 12: Environment for Peace and Regional Cooperation looks at how existing trends of cooperation can be enhanced to improve opportunities for human well-being and development while ensuring sustainable environmental management. The thrust of the chapter – which contains both regional and sub-regional perspectives – is to promote peace and cooperation, and consequently to enhance human security and widen the scope for development. It focuses on the opportunities presented by regional cooperation rather than the losses of armed conflict. It also highlights the impact of conflicts on human settlements, giving examples of urban and other settlements.

The legal and institutional context, including good governance and democracy, is explicitly considered. Attention is drawn to the positive role of institutions at the:

  • Sub-regional level, including, for example the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD), Economic Commission of West African States (ECOWAS), and Southern African Development Community (SADC) Organ on Peace and Security;
  • Regional level, including the AU Constitutive Act and the NEPAD African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM); and
  • International level, including the UN Charter and the important role of the UN Security Council.

The value of collaborative approaches for environmental management and development, such as river basin commissions (RBC) and transboundary natural resource management (TBNRM) areas, has also been factored in the analysis. The chapter highlights that the environment in Africa presents many opportunities for transboundary and regional cooperation and specifically how this has contributed to new innovative institutional and management approaches, and win-win situations for development and the environment.


Section 4: Outlook gives four visions for the future. Its one chapter, Chapter 13: The Future Today, looks at the future through the lens of four scenarios: Market Forces, Policy Reform, Fortress World, and Great Transitions. For continuity and assessment purposes these scenarios are the same as those used in AEO-1. The scenario analysis takes place in the context of the overall theme of AEO-2 – Environment for Development.

The chapter reviews how the scenarios in AEO-1 have played out since its launch in July 2002 and uses this to reformulate the assumptions. The objectives of the Environment Initiative of NEPAD and the MDG goals, and the environmental thematic areas discussed in Section 2 have been used to frame the discussions.The region and sub-regions constitute the spatial boundaries for the analysis. The temporal dimension is 2005 to 2025 – ten years prior to the MDG target date and ten years after it. In developing the narratives the following driving forces are seen as central: demographics, health, economics, social issues, culture, technology, institutions and governance, peace and conflict, and natural disasters and climate change.

The scenario analysis provides a coherent framework for understanding how various issues or sectors impinge on one another and interact. Additionally, it can play a valuable role in fostering creativity, stimulating discussion, focusing attention on specific points of interest for policy on environment and development, and for analysing future problems. At the end of each thematic focal point there is a brief presentation of the policy implications of the scenarios.


Section 5: Policy Opportunities has one chapter –Chapter 14: Back to Our Common Future: A Renaissance for the Environment – which identifies actions Africa’s leaders may take to ensure that the African environment contributes more effectively to the realization of the MDGs and the NEPAD objectives. Options for action related to the themes in Section 2: Environmental State-and-Trends: A 20-Year Retrospective and Section 3: Emerging Challenges are specifically identified. In addition, issues identified by policymakers in the region as being of priority policy focus are highlighted, including the special position of Africa’s Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Medium-term outlooks on the issues are presented as a basis for specifying the policy actions that could be taken. The chapter presents a policy menu, covering a range of policy responses to the policy gaps, and promising strategies for further progress. It also covers some aspects of implementation, including the roles of various stakeholders and target dates.

The actions proposed focus on curbing ongoing environmental degradation and seizing the development opportunities offered by Africa’s environmental wealth. This involves going beyond traditional poverty eradication approaches and enhancing the capacity of people and institutions to more effectively use the available opportunities. The actions identified emphasize the need for investment in human, social, economic and environmental capital if Africa is to prosper – and the political will to make Africa’s dream a reality.

Analytical approach


caption Figure 1: DPSIR Framework (Source: UNEP 2006)


The AEO-2 report uses the Opportunities Framework for analysis – this is adapted from the drivers-pressures state-impact-response (DPSIR) conceptual framework (Figure 1) – focusing the assessment on the available resource base, which provides opportunities for sustainable development and enhanced human wellbeing. The environmental resources, including goods and services, are taken as the asset base available to help reduce human vulnerability to environmental change. The AEO-2 analysis highlights the opportunities and potential (current and future) of the resources to address sustainable development, alleviate extreme poverty and reduce vulnerability, and enhance environmental sustainability. The pressure dimension is used for trend analysis to show the demands or pressures placed upon the resources and their impacts.

The opportunities framework methodology addresses the following questions:

  • What resources are available at the regional and subregional levels (resources)?
  • What is the value of these resources ecologically, socially and economically (value/opportunities and potential)?
  • What are the demands/pressures (human and natural) to the sustainable management of these resources (demands/pressures)?
  • What will happen if we don’t act now (outlook)?
  • What are we doing to enhance opportunities and what should we do to reduce such pressures and sustainably maximize on the potential, including rehabilitation (policy actions which highlight both institutions (law and policy) and governance)?

The framework emphasizes the more positive indicators, highlighting among others, services delivery, increased livelihood options, adaptability and reduced vulnerability. The Opportunities Framework emphasizes hope over despair, resolution over regret, and strategic response over reaction.


This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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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. (2012). UNEP’s Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth. Retrieved from http://www.eoearth.org/view/article/156756


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