If we are to take measures that will make a genuine difference to the lives of the 800 million people in Africa, to future generations and the environment upon which so many depend we need sound- and-solid science.

The second Africa Environment Outlook - Our Environment, Our Wealth (AEO-2), is a key contribution to this sound-and-solid science urgently needed for equally sound- and-solid policy making in this rich and extraordinary region.

It highlights the past, it assesses the present and also looks to the future using various plausible scenarios to highlight how a range of inter-related measures may enhance or undermine Africa’s environmental wealth.

Wealth based on the land, lakes, rivers and forests, on the wildlife and landscapes and on the beautiful and bountiful marine areas. Wealth based on Africa’s human resources. These and other equally important resources represent immense opportunities for Africa and for the rest of the world through cooperation and trade.

I hope these thoughtful and thought- provoking analyses will help those responsible to balance social and economic concerns with environmental ones. This is needed if Africa is to succeed in achieving the Millennium Development Goals on water and sanitation, extreme poverty and hunger, as well as curbing infectious diseases and addressing gender issues.

It is clear from this excellent report - produced by UNEP for the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) – and others such as the recent Millennium Ecosystem Assessment that the environment is critical for overcoming poverty.

It is also clear that the environment has its role to play in building cooperation and in defusing tensions – it is the peace policy of the 21st century. The level of damaging conflicts witnessed during the later half of the 20th century is mercifully waning.

The AEO-2 report comes at an important time for the region. Positive changes are occurring in no small part due to the efforts of the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

A number of Africa’s governments are also putting significant efforts into mainstreaming the environment in Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs), proving that the environment is not a luxury but essential to lives and livelihoods.

The AEO-2 focuses on Africa’s abundant natural resources, including mineral holdings. These have huge potential. For example, seven per cent of the known global oil reserves and important quantities of the metal coltan used in mobile phones are found here.

Sustainably used and managed, with benefits equitably shared, Africa’s abundant natural resources could lift millions of people out of poverty.

The report looks at emerging challenges facing Africa. These include genetically modified crops, chemicals, including the shift of manufacturing from developed to developing countries, and the huge costs linked with the spread of invasive alien species.

UNEP, in cooperation with African countries, regional bodies, multilateral environmental agreements, United Nations agencies, bilateral donors and civil society, is actively addressing such challenges. We hope the recently agreed Bali Strategic Plan on Technology Support and Capacity- Building will help further in strengthening individual African countries’ ability to address these challenges.

In many ways the AEO-2 is Bali in action. The Africa Environment Information Network (AEIN) has played a crucial role in ensuring the quality of the report and capacity-building. This will be further strengthened by UNEP’s new initiative to watch the environment. I would also like to acknowledge the important role of the NEPAD Secretariat, the African Union, the Economic Commission for Africa and other groupings as well as UNEP Collaborating Centres, in the AEO process, including peer review.

It is not a cliché to say that the Africa of the early 21st century is at a crossroads. Countries are confronted with many remaining and emerging problems. But there is a new spirit, a new optimism that a healthy, just and equitable, and prosperous future is possible.

UNEP, with its headquarters in Africa, is fully aware of its responsibilities in realizing this bright future. Like our African partners, we are fully aware that the environment is vital for development and crucial for this success.