Lead Authors: Kassim Kulindwa, Patricia Kameri-Mbote, Jennifer Mohamed-Katerere, Munyaradzi Chenje
Contributing Author: Charles Sebukeera

“However improbable it may sound to the sceptics, Africa will prosper! Whoever we may be, whatever our immediate interest, however much we carry baggage from our past, however much we have been caught by the fashion of cynicism and loss of faith in the capacity of the people, let us err today and say – nothing can stop us now!”



The productivity and sustainability of Africa’s environment is heavily dependent on how this asset is managed. This, in turn, can affect the availability, stocks and functioning of the remaining assets, either enhancing opportunities or putting livelihoods at risk. The range of livelihoods, with its opportunities for human development and alleviating extreme poverty and hunger, extends from total dependence on natural resource systems either for subsistence or as part of business, to total dependence on wage earnings, from trade or industry.

National and local aspirations for sustainable development are linked to the integrity of natural resources and the environment. It is, therefore, critical to conserve and sustainably use the region’s environmental assets, not only from an environmental perspective but also as a sustainable resource to support human well-being and development and as a sink for wastes from production processes. Over 70 percent of Africa’s population is rural and depends directly on the land and the natural environment for its livelihoods and well-being (IFAD 2001). Thus, how environmental goods-and-services are used will have practical consequences for alleviating poverty, improving human well-being, and ensuring sustained economic development.

Integration of
environment and
concerns and greater
attention to them will
lead to the fulfilment
of basic needs,
improved living
standards for all,
better protected and
ecosystems and a
safer, more
prosperous future.

Agenda 21 (UN 1992)

The environment and human development are the principal focuses of sustainable development. The challenges faced by African governments are many and complex. Governments must reduce human vulnerability to environmental change and hazards, improve standards of living and generally enhance human well-being. They have to provide social services and security, ensure adequate functioning of infrastructure, provide a climate conducive to investment, economic growth and employment generation, as well as pay their debts while at the same time ensuring that the environment which supports much of its economy and livelihoods is used sustainably. The challenges of meeting the needs of the present generation must be realized without compromising those of future generations. Successfully delivering on all these fronts requires not only good national and regional policies but also supportive global policies and practices. How Africa positions itself globally is critical: it must capture the benefits associated with globalization while at the same time trying to minimize the negative impacts of inequitable relations. Globalization is bringing with it both new opportunities and risks. In the health sector, diseases, such as SARS and avian flu, have the potential through the increased movement of people and goods to impact on already stretched health services. Africa will need to increase its preparedness to respond to such risks. The complex relationship between different sectors – including health, transportation, human resources, technology, water, forests – and their multiple implications for poverty, well-being and development will need to be faced head-on.

Over the past two decades, African countries have sought to consolidate their efforts towards sustainable development despite the economic difficulties the region has experienced. Many countries have embraced access to a clean and productive environment as a fundamental human right for their citizens. At the regional and sub-regional level, Africa has also adopted forward-looking responses. A healthy environment is seen as critical to the success of Africa’s development agenda, and to achieving the various goals and targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) Johannesburg Plan of Implementation, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and its Environmental Action Plan (NEPAD-EAP). The MDG targets are listed in Annex 1.

New efforts have been made to reconcile economic development and environmental sustainability. The Brundtland Commission in 1987 noted that, “The downward spiral of poverty and environmental degradation is a waste of opportunities and of resources. What is needed is a new era of economic growth – growth that is forceful and at the same time socially and environmentally sustainable.” (WCED 1987). Five years later, the Earth Summit reinforced the Brundtland Commission’s measure of the interdependence of environment and development, stating in Agenda 21: “Integration of environment and development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfilment of basic needs, improved living standards for all, better protected and managed ecosystems and a safer, more prosperous future.” (UN 1992). This message remains important and its challenges are being confronted head-on by Africa.

Through the African Union (AU) and NEPAD – the region’s response to tackle poverty and hunger, underdevelopment, governance problems and environmental degradation – African leaders have recognized that a healthy and productive environment is a prerequisite for the successful implementation of its programmes. The environment is considered as one of the central building blocks of the NEPAD agenda from two important perspectives. First, African leaders recognize that underdevelopment itself constitutes a serious threat to the conservation of the environment. Second, and perhaps more importantly in the context of a development agenda, African leaders recognize the inherent challenge to nurture environmental assets and to use them for the development of the region while, at the same time, preserving them for future generations. The core objectives of the NEPAD-EAP are to combat poverty and to contribute to socioeconomic development. New developments in science and technology, including in information and communication technology (ICT), have been recognized as potentially beneficial. The challenge lies in being able to apply these new developments to Africa’s social and economic reality, to avoid risks to the environment and to seize the opportunities for human development.

Against the backdrop of today’s information-driven and increasingly globalized economy, the contribution of the environment to the realization of Africa’s development goals, as reflected in initiatives such as NEPAD, will not only be from the use of the resource base but also from the ability to leverage the total value of these environmental assets. The opportunities for development presented by the different environmental resources are considered in full in Chapters 2-7 of Section 2: Environmental State-and-Trends: 20-Year Retrospective. In natural resource valuation, value is not necessarily derived only from the use of the resources or commoditization, but also takes into account intrinsic and non-use values. Figure 6 shows use and non-use values. Non-use values include existence values (the value derived from the knowledge of the continued existence of the resource or service), bequest values (the value of leaving use and non-use options available for future generations) and option values (the value derived from having available future direct and indirect use values). Use values include consumptive use as well as indirect use derived from the environmental services, such as carbon sequestration.