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UNEP Chief stresses importance of environmental diplomacy at Africa Development Forum

Remarks by UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner at VII African Development Forum

Addis Ababa, 12 October 2010 - Environmental diplomacy may seem to some a new concept. But it is as old as the Entoto hills, near Addis Ababa.

Communities and countries on Continents including Africa have developed intricate ways and social responses to manage disputes and for diffusing tensions in order to cooperate, rather than enter into conflict, over shared natural resources.

The first recorded water treaty between 'nations' was agreed as far back as 2,500 BC between the two Sumerian city-states of Lagash and Umma. It was brokered to end a water dispute along the Tigris River.

When it comes to water, perhaps one if not the most fundamental natural resource and environmental asset of them all, today we have over 3,600 agreements across the world.

The need for environmental diplomacy in the 21st century is however rising sharply and across multiple issues-some of which remain local or regional, but others linked with global impacts.

And indeed even local impacts are becoming part of the global diplomacy landscape-one thinks of the Inuit in Canada who have filed a legal action against some developed nations alleging their emissions are linked to the loss of Arctic sea ice that endangers the health, food security and future of civilizations in the far North.

Africa, with just four per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, is also a highly vulnerable region-this international climate change diplomacy is a key area of concern on this Continent as it is in the Arctic, small island developing states and other 'front line' locations such as low lying Bangladesh.

The escalating importance of environmental diplomacy is linked with a fundamental change in the scale and the reach of humanity's footprint-pollution can travel across Continents via the jet stream or in ocean currents from those who have generated it for economic development to those who are impacted, but who have not reaped any benefits from its production.

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Further Resources

Seventh Africa Development Forum

UNEP: Environmental Governance

UNEP: Regional Office for Africa (ROA)

UNEP: Green Economy Initiative


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