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African Ministerial Conference on the Environment bound to set new strategic vision as Ninth Session kicks off next week in Kampala

Nairobi, June 2002- Africa is undergoing a major transformation as the Organization of African Unity is changing into the African Union (AU), a more integration-oriented institution. At the same time, African Heads of State have launched a major initiative, the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), to put the region on the track of sustainable development.

What critical role does the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) intend to play within this new environment and the broader context of sustainable development? How will AMCEN influence the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in line with its priorities? How will Africa's environmental perspectives be fully integrated and taken into account in the discussions in Johannesburg?

Barely two months before the WSSD, African Ministers and experts are coming together in Kampala next week to discuss these key questions and consequently deliberate on the strategic involvement of AMCEN in the emerging initiatives in Africa and to shape a new vision for the Conference. A vision that should clearly indicate the environmental issues and problems of the continent, the instruments that are needed to address these problems and specific proposals for practical action to be undertaken at all levels.

AMCEN, in operation since 1985, has attained modest achievements particularly with respect to provision of regional leadership on issues pertaining to consensus building and regional environment issues. However, the Conference has not risen to the challenge of building the much-needed strategic partnerships with the new global and regional initiatives. To date also, AMCEN has not enjoyed a broad cross-sectoral support at the national, sub-regional and regional levels.

AMCEN needs to position itself strategically within the framework of new regional institutional developments such as the AU, NEPAD and, most importantly, prepare for the implementation of activities related to the outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD).

In this context, the objective of the ninth session is to provide a platform for the environment ministers to critically analyze the AMCEN in light of the perspectives offered in the context of WSSD and the major developments occurring in the region. Of special significance is the key question on the links between environment, poverty reduction and economic development.

In particular, the Conference will discuss means of effectively interacting with the African Union and New Partnership for Africa's Development. Ministers are expected to look at, among other things, the need for institutional linkages with the Secretariat and the Heads of State Implementation Committee of the NEPAD, the Commissions of the AU and the Sub-regional Economic Communities.

NEPAD process has integrated the full development of its environment initiative. Resources mobilized through the GEF by UNEP are being utilized to support the work of a steering Committee. This Steering Committee is expected to finalize the draft environment initiative of the NEPAD to be tabled before the ninth session.

The Conference will be looking back over the past 17 years to evaluate its performance in the face of pending environmental challenges and emerging threats such as growing population, poverty, natural disasters, wars, the unabated burden of national debt and diseases. Other challenges include introducing clean technologies, enforcing environmental agreements, empowering of local communities and securing access to the international markets for their goods and services.

Note to Editors

AMCEN holds its ordinary sessions once every two or three years. The experts meeting will run from 1-3 July 2002 and the Ministers will gather from 4-5 July 2002.

The eighth session requested UNEP to produce the Africa Environment Outlook Report (AEO). His Excellency Mr. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda, will launch this product.

UNEP's Executive Director Mr. Klaus Toepfer will hold a press conference at the International Conference Center in Kampala. The press conference will focus on the AEO process. Other panellists include the outgoing and incoming Presidents of AMCEN.

This report was prepared by African Experts, along the same lines as the Global Environment Outlook Report. The AEO process started in December 2000 and the reviews of the report were conducted at many levels by African and other external experts. African eminent persons also provided valuable inputs to the development of this report. The AMCEN Inter Agency Technical Committee (IATC) held a session in Pretoria from 14 to 16 January 2002 to provide insights into the political acceptability and correctness of the contents of the report. The IATC approved the AEO Report, in principle, and requested UNEP to facilitate its finalization, production and launch at the ninth AMCEN Session in Kampala Uganda.

Major events to be organized by AMCEN during WSSD will also be discussed, including the feasibility of a major ceremony for the signature of the revised Algiers Convention, the showcasing of the AEO report and the promotion of the Environment Initiative of the NEPAD.

For more information please contact: Angele Luh, UNEP/ Regional Information Officer on Tel: 254 2 624292, Fax: 254 2 623928, e-mail: Angele.Luh@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile/ 254 733 632755, E-mail: Nick.Nuttall@unep.org

UNEP Information Note 2002/18