(a) Brief presentations by representatives of Convention secretariats and other agencies
10. A representative of the secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity gave a presentation on how African countries could enhance their participation in activities organized under the Convention and its Protocol on Biosafety. It was in the interest of African countries to become parties to the Protocol for at least three reasons. First, it would allow them to impose restrictions on imports of living organisms modified through modern biotechnology on the basis of suspected risks or socio-economic considerations without fear of trade sanctions. Second, it contained provision for assistance and access to relevant technology and know-how. Third, it provided for international cooperation in cases of emergency.
11. Of particular relevance to Africa were activities under the Convention in the areas of marine and coastal biodiversity, inland waters and forests, which AMCEN could integrate into its medium-term programme. It should be remembered that funds could be available under the Global Environment Facility for biodiversity-related projects.
12. In a major innovation, the Conference of the Parties to the Convention had adopted an ecosystem approach as the primary framework for implementation, and it was crucial that AMCEN should reflect that approach in its programme. A further step that African countries should take was to hold regional and subregional meetings and workshops to prepare for participation in meetings under the Convention and build capacity for negotiations, project funding, the review of legislation, and so on.
13. A representative of the secretariat of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification pointed out that desertification was not confined within the affected countries, but had worldwide ramifications as a problem of sustainable development centred around poverty and human well-being. In response to that scourge, the Convention, which had now been ratified by 163 countries, was a significant achievement that offered a tool to help reduce the vulnerability of affected populations. It combined a commitment by affected countries to prepare and implement action programmes to combat desertification with an obligation on the part of developed countries to support their efforts. Specific areas in which Africa had made significant strides included the drawing up of national action programmes, the establishment of national focal points, the creation of frameworks at the subregional level for action to address transboundary issues, and the conclusion of a regional action programme to deal with issues of continent-wide scope, under which a Regional Coordinating Unit was already operational.
Finally, he stressed the need for AMCEN to support the development of synergies between the three "Rio generation" conventions and pointed out that the next Conference of the Parties would be held in Australia in September-October 2000.
14. A representative of the Environmental Law Institute spoke on developing an African voice on emerging international environmental norms relating to access to information, public participation, and access to justice.
15. Those procedural principles had started with general declarations and, more recently, had been incorporated into the Rio Declaration, Agenda 21, the Convention on Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification. The 1998 Aarhus Convention (developed under the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe) and the 2000 Inter-American Strategy on Public Participation (developed under the Organization for American States) included detailed provisions for ensuring access to information, participation, and justice.
16. The speaker added that Africa still had the opportunity while those norms were taking shape to highlight its experiences for the rest of the world and to ensure that the emerging norms took African countries into account and were relevant to Africa.
17. African nations could develop a common voice by incorporating participatory principles into domestic laws and institutions; acceding to an existing environmental governance convention; developing African or subregional declarations or conventions; or participating in the development of a global convention. Additionally, conventions such as the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources might be revisited to incorporate environmental governance principles, for example by means of a protocol. Ultimately, a combination of those activities would be important to protect the African environment.
18. A representative of the secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change highlighted the issues of major relevance to Africa at the forthcoming sixth Conference of the Parties - the need to design a Clean Development Mechanism from which African countries could draw maximum benefit; a clearly defined process for the transfer of environmentally sound technologies; active participation in regional and international climate observation programmes; and development of national and regional capabilities to understand climate issues, prepare national communications, incorporate climate change issues into development plans and participate fully in Clean Development Mechanism projects and climate observation.
19. Success at the Conference of the Parties was vital if the targets set in the Kyoto Protocol were to be met, international cooperation to address climate change was to continue, and early action by the developed countries was to be stimulated to make progress towards the Kyoto Protocol targets.
20. A representative of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) described
GEF's role as a partnership between the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UNEP and the World Bank in providing new and additional grant and concessionary funding to meet agreed incremental costs of activities to achieve global environmental objectives in the field of biological diversity, climate change, international waters, protection of the ozone layer and, in certain circumstances, land degradation. Its activities were divided between operational programmes, enabling activities and short-term response measures. The representative enumerated various UNEP/GEF projects under the operational programmes in biodiversity, climate change and international waters, as well as enabling activities in Africa. A Land and Water Initiative for Africa was also being pursued. UNEP and GEF were fully committed to enhancing support to Africa, one of UNEP's five priorities, and the revitalization of AMCEN would make a major contribution to the promotion of sustainable development in Africa.
21. A representative of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) remarked that ECA had been following with interest the important initiatives of UNEP to strengthen the role of UNEP in dealing with current and emerging environmental problems. ECA recognized that environmental problems were multidimensional and complex. Noting that the natural resource base and ecological integrity of Africa were fast deteriorating, she emphasized that the most pressing problem was the high rate of loss of vegetation cover.
22. Land degradation and soil loss threatened the livelihood of millions of people and future food security, with implications for water resources and the conservation of biological diversity. There was therefore an urgent need to define ways of combating and reversing the accelerating trend of soil degradation. ECA, in response to the imminent threat to food security and sustainable development, had established a Food Security and Sustainable Development Division whose mission was to ensure food security and sustainable development in ECA member States. That would be achieved through, inter alia, the planning and implementation of a programme to make policy makers aware of the urgency of food, population and environmental concerns in development planning.
23. A representative of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) noted that FAO and UNEP had collaborated over a long period of time in many areas such as forestry resources management, deforestation and land degradation as well as criteria and indicators of sustainable forest management in dry areas. The Inter-agency Task Force on Forests (ITFF) had been established in the context of that collaboration.
24. The machinery for cooperation in Africa included the African Forestry and Wildlife Commission, the highest-level forestry forum in Africa, which was currently strengthening collaboration with subregional organizations working in forestry and related fields such as the African Timber Organization and the Permanent Inter-State Committee on Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS). In addition, the Working Party on the Management of Wildlife and Protected Areas planned to develop an inter-sessional network to be added to the networks on forestry research and forest genetic resources which FAO had helped to set up.
25. A representative of the Africa Regional Office of the World Health Organization (WHO) outlined the functions of the new WHO Division of Healthy Environments in Sustainable Development. She noted that the creation of the division had been based on the principle that improvement of the physical, economic and social environment could considerably improve health. The division's task consisted of developing and promoting activities in the African region aimed at assisting countries in identifying and combating environmental conditions that had harmful effects on human health.
26. One of the main functions of the division was to help countries improve the organization and management of national environmental health services and put health in the sustainable development perspective. Another was the development of a framework for data collection and analysis, long-term planning of health development and the circulation of strategic information likely to influence the prospects of improvement of people's health in the region.
27. A representative of the League of Arab States pointed out that 10 members of the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Environment (CAMRE) were also members of AMCEN and experienced the same environmental problems such as land degradation and pollution. The Council was looking forward to cooperation and coordination with AMCEN, particularly in the run-up to the second Earth Summit. CAMRE had scheduled a special session in February 2001 in order to prepare a position paper for the Summit.