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Focus on Climate Change, Biodiversity and Desertification Interlinkages to Strengthen Sustainable Development Efforts in Africa

Keynote Address By Minister Buyelwa Sonjica, South African Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, at the Opening of the 13th Session of the African Ministers' Conference on Environment (AMCEN) on Climate Change

Bamako (Mali), 23 June 2010 - President of the Republic Of Mali; Ministers; AU Commissioner, Madam Rhoda Peace Tumusiime; UNEP Executive Director, Mr. Achim Steiner; Heads of Inter- Governmental Organisations; Invited Speakers; AMCEN Secretariat; Distinguished Guests; Ladies and Gentlemen?

A warm welcome to you all. It is a great honour and privilege to address you at this auspicious occasion of the opening of the 13th Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment here in Bamako. This occasion is also of special significance in that the 13th Session marks 25 years of AMCEN's existence.

The theme for the thirteenth session is "Enhancing our understanding of the interrelationship between climate change, biodiversity and desertification for sustainable development". This theme presents a useful approach to expanding the strategic focus of AMCEN to include other important environmental issues facing the Continent - in addition and in relation to the challenges posed by climate change. Indeed, this theme of the 13th Session augers well for the ongoing work of AMCEN.

Ministers and distinguished delegates, we have a very full agenda ahead of us for the next three days. As the programme indicates, the Ministerial meeting will deliberate upon the implementation of decisions from the 12th Session, three policy dialogues on the implementation of the Rio Conventions (UNFCCC, UNCBD, UNCCD), as well as administrative issues related to AMCEN such as the status of the general trust fund, revised constitution, and issues related to AMCEN's integration into the African Union. We look forward to fruitful discussions on these issues over the next three days.

However, let me take a moment to reflect on the progress that has been made since the 12th Session of AMCEN, which took place at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, on the 7-12 June 2008 with the theme of the 12th Session being "Enhancing the Implementation of NEPAD's Action Plan for the Environment".

At the 12th Session, my predecessor Minister van Schalkwyk, the then Minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism of South Africa, assumed the Presidency of AMCEN for 2008-2010 biennium, taking over from of Minister Salissa, Minister of Tourism and Environment of Congo-Brazzaville. I as the newly appointed Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs of South Africa took over the Presidency of AMCEN in May 2009, and I first chaired the Special Session on Climate Change of AMCEN in Nairobi that same month. Since June 2008, ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have come a long way as Africa on our collective journey towards environmental sustainability.

During South Africa's Presidency of AMCEN from June 2008 until June 2010, a strategic vision for AMCEN was developed focusing on:

  • Strengthening of the AMCEN and its structures;

  • Integration of AMCEN within the structures of the AU as a specialised technical committee at the Ministerial level;

  • Greater prioritization of the brown issues within the Environment Initiative of NEPAD;

  • Mainstreaming of environment within all the sectoral priorities of NEPAD;

  • Mobilization of financial and technical resources for the implementation of the Environment Initiative of NEPAD.

In my view, we as Africa and members of AMCEN have made good progress in realising many of these components of this vision.

Allow me to share some of the achievements of AMCEN since the 12th Session:

Firstly, the drafting and adoption of the Terms of Reference (TOR) for the AMCEN President, the Bureau and Secretariat. This has provided greater clarity on the respective roles and responsibilities for a more effective administration and management of the affairs of AMCEN.

Secondly, we have raised the profile of threats and potential impacts of climate change to the African Continent as well as the opportunities responding to climate change presents for us on the continent. I will elaborate on this in greater detail, as I believe that this is of great significance to Africa.

Thirdly, there has been formal recognition of AMCEN as the Ministerial Body for Environment, currently belonging to the Specialized Technical Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment of the African Union. This is a significant development in our path towards harmonising our institutions and streamlining important processes on the Continent towards regional integration, particularly with respect to the environment.

Fourthly, improved harmonisation and alignment between the various bodies and intergovernmental agencies engaged in climate change on the Continent has been achieved. This includes the UNFCCC Africa Group, the African Union and the AU Commission and AMCEN. The inclusion of AMCEN within the recently established Conference of African Heads of State on Climate Change (CAHOSCC), the African Union approved body for Climate Change on the Continent at Heads of State and Government level bears testimony to this. Although this has not been a very easy process, we have made significant strides in this regard and AMCEN has played a pivotal role in this and I believe will continue to do so.

Since the twelfth session of AMCEN, there has been a particular focus on climate change and Africa's preparations in the lead up to Copenhagen. You will recall that AMCEN's decision on climate change made at its twelfth session was in two parts (i) Africa's preparations for developing a common negotiating position on a comprehensive international climate change regime beyond 2012; and (ii) Comprehensive framework of African climate change programmes.

In this regard, the development of African Common Negotiating Position on Climate Change has taken central stage, with major strides being made last year, on strategic considerations, on technical details as well as on integrating gender consideration. . Even though COP 15 did not live up to our expectations, the Africa Group, with the support of AMCEN held its position and AMCEN provided an important platform for the ongoing work on the refinement of the African Common Position.

The establishment of the African High Level Experts Panel on Climate Change at the 12th Session of AMCEN has greatly supported and facilitated this process. AMCEN's support provided to the African negotiators is expected to continue until the sixteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol to be held in Cancun, Mexico in November/December 2010. I am quite certain too that AMCEN will continue to play a central role in facilitating and supporting Africa's responses to climate change beyond Mexico towards the COP17 which, as we all know, will be taking place in South Africa. South Africa is looking forward to providing leadership on the global stage to ensure that Africa's interests are represented while we hold the Presidency of the COP for 2011 - 2012.

Equally, significant progress has been made on part two of AMCEN's 12th Session Decision on climate change, namely the development of the African Comprehensive Framework of Climate Change Programmes. We believe that this first ever Continental initiative to facilitate a coordinated response to the challenges of climate change in Africa will bear dividends as we move forward. Once adequate sustainable and predictable financing for Africa has been secured from our global partners, Africa will be in an excellent position to guide the use of these finances to achieve optimal results in the various aspects of adaptation, mitigation, capacity building and technology transfer and diffusion across the Continent. It is noteworthy that the African Comprehensive Framework of Climate Change Programmes is built upon five sub-regional Frameworks of Climate Change corresponding to the unique environmental, social and economic conditions found within each of the sub-regions of Africa.

Honourable Ministers and distinguished delegates, with the dawn of the new millennium, Africa found itself at an important cross road where there is growing acknowledgement that the principles of sustainable development must be adhered to if the continent is to attain the Millennium Development Goals. Africa's natural capital, in the form of ecosystems, biodiversity and natural resources underpins the economy and the wellbeing of society. The rich variety of biological resources and the interactions between them are therefore not a luxury but vital for the development and growth of human societies and the very existence of life on Earth. Biological diversity provides raw materials for industry and essential ecosystem goods and services, from air purification to water filtration, from climate stabilization to flood control. It forms the basis for food security and is the source of medicines on which health care depends. There is also an increased recognition of the value of biodiversity in quantifiable economic terms, and its essential role in promoting sustainable development and poverty alleviation.

Honourable Ministers and distinguished delegates, notwithstanding the ongoing processes on the climate change subject and the call for synergies between the three Rio Conventions, explicit reference to the role of biodiversity, combating desertification and sustainable land management practices in climate change mitigation and adaptation should receive prominence in AMCEN's post 2010 strategy and its programmes of work. Further to that is the need to enhance linkages with other biodiversity and environmental related multilateral agreements including but not limited to CITES, CMS, AEWA, Ramsar and the Basel Convention.

While Africa acknowledges and embraces the fact that the world is increasingly becoming a global village, there are pertinent issues that require common, united and coordinated approaches for the sake of our rich continent and its people. Allow me therefore to reflect briefly on some of these issues.

The recently released Global Biodiversity Outlook report paints a concerning picture of the unprecedented and continuing loss of our natural capital. Similar trends are also evident in the Africa Environmental Outlook that was launched at the time South assumed AMCEN's presidency two years ago. This not only undermines the developmental efforts of our continent, but unfortunately threatens the survival of humanity at large. As we prepare for CBD COP 10 in Nagoya, Japan latter this year. In the context of 2010 being declared as the International Year of Biodiversity, Africa needs to be united in its resolve to ensure that the CBD post 2010 strategy and the associated programmes of work should reflect the core principles that should drive the AMCEN agenda, namely, conservation of biodiversity, sustainable use, restoration and enhancement of ecosystems, mitigation of threats, prevention of extinctions mainly from human induced causes, halting the loss of biodiversity and most importantly sharing of the associated benefits, thereby contributing to human well being and poverty alleviation. The latter is imperative for Africa given the obvious financial, technological, human and skills development challenges that we face among others.

It is in this context therefore that in the obviously complex ongoing negotiations on the international regime on Access and Benefit Sharing; Africa should remain united on the positions being pursued on critical elements of the negotiations by the core negotiators under the leadership of Namibia. This will ensure that Africa does not only remain the provider of these important resources, but should be the recipient of the corresponding benefits. The same applies to the adoption of the post 2010 strategic plan of the CBD; ambitious as it may be, it requires enabling resources.

Honourable Ministers and distinguished delegates, while we may have differences in our approaches to sustainable utilisation of natural resources, the fact that Africa processes the rich natural capital that remains the envy to the world, compels us to always strive to agree on thee set of principles that guide our common positions in negotiations. In this regard, important lessons can thus be drawn from the recently concluded CITES COP15 held in Doha, Qatar.

Honourable Ministers and distinguished delegates, we need to welcome the process towards the establishment of the intergovernmental science policy platform for biodiversity and ecosystem services (IPBES) as it is intended to strengthen the science policy interface for the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity, long term human well being and sustainable development. This offers opportunities for strengthening synergies with all Multi-lateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). Africa should therefore be united on the critical elements of this process namely the generation, sharing and use of knowledge, assessments and capacity building.

However, in spite of these significant achievements in Africa's work on climate change, biodiversity and environment, we are very much aware that there have been a number of the challenges of which AMCEN has had to deal with since the 12th Session.

Firstly, there have been limited financial and human resources available to implement programmes as well as we may have wished. Of course, this has been exacerbated by the impact of Global Financial Crisis on financing for projects and programmes for Africa, particularly for environment.

Secondly, linked to this, has been the relatively low rate of payment of financial contributions by Member States to the General Trust Fund of AMCEN. This has impeded our ability to implement the important work on environment and climate change as effectively as we would like to have done over the past two years. I believe that the time has arrived for us to collectively and firmly decide on this issue which is critical to the long-term sustainability of AMCEN.

Thirdly, the ongoing process of integration and harmonisation between the AU, AU Commission and AMCEN Secretariat based at UNEP in Nairobi is still in its infancy and hence should be considered as 'work in progress'. The 13th Session gives us a unique opportunity to take this process further and come up with firm resolutions which can be implemented as we proceed.

I believe that the solution to improved harmonisation and complementarity amongst the key institutions involved in Africa's work on climate change and the environment lies in mutually agreed-upon and clear roles and responsibilities for the organs of the African Union, AMCEN and our partners such as UNEP. This is of critical importance if we are to avoid unnecessary duplication of efforts, unnecessary tensions and inefficient utilisation of our precious and limited financial resources currently available. It is therefore fundamental that we lay down the core principles for our ongoing fruitful and mutually beneficial cooperation, which are aimed at promoting synergies which inherently exist between our relevant organisations on the Continent. As we say in South Africa, working together, we can do more!

In order for AMCEN to implement its mandate on all elements of its scope of work, requires leadership on all issues, not only climate change. In this respect, AMCEN is a uniquely placed pan-African organisation which can play a significant role in the development of Africa's common positions for important Multi-lateral Environmental Agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, Convention to Combat Desertification, Basel, Rottedam and Stockholm Conventions and others. In this regard, we can draw on the lessons learned and recent experiences in the development of the Common Negotiating Position for Africa on Climate Change in the lead up to Copenhagen as stated earlier. This is very important for Africa to safe-guard the Continent's interests in the international arena where the stakes are high and the odds are often stacked against Africa as well as the developing world.

Ministers and distinguished delegates, ultimately, our task as Environment Ministers of Africa is to provide the prerequisite leadership to convert public will into political will, and political will into action and implementation as we respond to the climate change challenge and other environmental issues facing our continent. In this regard we should always be exploring creative ways to transform these challenges into opportunities. Promoting and fostering the development of the green economy in Africa is one such promising opportunity with great potential which we as Africa should grasp.

In conclusion, South Africa's Presidency of AMCEN for the 2008 to 2010 has officially come to an end here at the 13th Session of AMCEN in Bamako, Mali, today. However, before I formally hand over the Presidency of AMCEN to the Republic of Mali, I would like to take this opportunity to recognise the support of the AMCEN Bureau and the active participation of Member States in AMCEN's work over the past two years. Without the active participation of all members, the successes achieved by AMCEN would not materialise.

I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the AMCEN Secretariat, particularly Dr Peter Acquah for his tireless dedication and support during our Presidency. His long-standing commitment to the work of AMCEN for many years is noted and very much appreciated. Since he will be retiring later this year, please join me in wishing him well for the future.

I would like to recognise also the ongoing and invaluable support of UNEP for AMCEN, particularly the Regional Office for Africa in providing an institutional base and home for the Secretariat. This has enabled AMCEN to function well since it's inception in 1985.

I would like to thank the host country for the arrangements for the hosting of the 13th Session and I wish the Republic of Mali well in its endeavours as incoming President of AMCEN. Please be assured Ministers of South Africa's ongoing support of AMCEN, which you can count on into the future.

I thank you.




Further Resources

UNEP: African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN)

UNEP: Regional Office for Africa (ROA)


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