African Ministers Weigh Environment’s Role in G8 Debt Cancellation Debate
Nairobi, 26 October 2005- Ensuring that the environment-- from land degradation up to climate change—is factored into initiatives flowing from G8 debt cancellation will take centre stage today at a meeting of African ministers.
The meeting, organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), will bring together ministers from countries benefiting from the multi-billion dollar debt write off along with partners such as the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The G8 Summit held in Gleneagles, Scotland this year decided to cancel $40 billion of debt owed to International Monetary Fund (IMF) the World Bank and the AfDB by selected nations. The World Bank and the IMF have recently endorsed this decision and are taking concrete steps to realize the goals.
The G8’s decision is one of the biggest debt write-offs ever and it could spark major improvements in the lives of the world's poorest people.
Eighteen nations, 14 of them are in Africa (Benin, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia), are set to benefit first. These countries have reached the “Completion Point” in the Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) Initiative launched by the World Bank and the IMF in 1996.
An additional nine African nations (Burundi, Central African Republic, Comoros, Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Liberia, Somalia, Sudan and Togo) classified as “pre-decision point countries”, according to the HIPC criteria, could qualify for full debt cancellation in the next 12 to 18 months.
A further 11 additional countries could be eligible if they meet strict targets for good governance and tackling corruption. Eventually, a total of 38 nations may get full debt relief
Between 1970 and 2002, Africa received $540 billion in loans. In that same period, Africa paid back $550 billion in principal and interest. By 2002, Africa had $295 billion in debt.
The resources will come from various sources. The United States is expected to pitch in up to $1.75 billion over 10 years. This amount is its share of a pledge by rich nations to cover $16.7 billion in debt repayments the 18 countries would have made.
The IMF will pay one of the larger bills (some $6 billion). Under the deal, the IMF is supposed to cover those debts from its own "existing resources."
As for the poor nations, the deal is expected to save them a total of about $1.5 billion in debt payments each year. They are expected to spend this on education, healthcare, agriculture, and infrastructure.
The environment has a role in each of these sectors. For example school attendance, especially among girls, can be boosted by improvements in freshwater supplies; malaria rates are likely to be affected by deforestation, global warming and improper disposal of wastes like plastic bags and old containers; agriculture can be boosted by anti-land degradation measures such as planting of fodder banks and infrastructure needs to be better designed and planned in the light of climate change.
Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said “The environment is the economic basis for all our lives, especially the poor. Targeted investments in ‘natural capital’ such as forests, water, and land can be cost effective in helping countries meet internationally agreed development goals”.
“Debt cancellation can potentially open further opportunities for enhancing cooperative work with our partners, particularly Governments. I hope this meeting can map out a clear strategy on how we can all work together to ensure the environment benefits from the debt cancellation as well as assess innovative economic instruments, such as ‘debt for nature swaps’,” he said.
“I also hope the meeting will give us all a better understanding of the G8 decision, including the source of the funds, what is expected of the recipient countries and the nature of the much needed base-line information on the individual countries.” Mr. Toepfer concluded.
Note to editors:
The Consultative Meeting of the Ministers of Environment from those countries in Africa benefitting from the debt cancellation initiative of the G8 is the climax of a series of Ministerial meetings that were held at UNEP headquarters over the weekend.
These meetings were held under the auspices of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). The Preparatory Meetings for the Seventh Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the Eleventh Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the First Meeting of the Parties of the Kyoto Protocol were aimed at deliberating on issues of relevance to Africa that will be considered at the COPs/MOP. Discussions at the Preparatory Meetings will lead to harmonization of viewpoints, the development of strategies, and the adoption of an African common position for the above-mentioned COP/MOP meetings.
The issues of land degradation and desertification were given particular attention considering that they are the most serious and pervasive environmental problems in Africa.
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