Lead Authors: Ossama Salem, Munyaradzi Chenje, Jennifer Mohamed-Katerere

“Environment and development are not separate challenges; they are inexorably linked. Development cannot subsist upon a deteriorating environmental resource base; the environment cannot be protected when growth leaves out of account the costs of environmental destruction.”



Understanding the big picture of the humanenvironment nexus, with its complex interactions in and across ecosystems as well as in and across human systems, is essential if policy and action responses are to contribute to the goals of sustainable development and improved human well-being.

The need to focus on interlinkages and interdependencies in environmental problem solving and in defining opportunities moved to the centre of policy concerns with the 1987 report of the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) (also know as the Brundtland Commission) Our Common Future. The Brundtland report emphasizes that Africa, along with all other regions of the world, does not face separate challenges: “An environmental crisis, a development crisis, an energy crisis. They are all one” (WCED 1987).

These links, between challenges in different sectors, are the basis of an interlinkages approach. In making the case for such an approach nearly two decades ago, and long before the term came into vogue, the Brundtland Commission’s visionary and agenda-setting report, identified the relationship between different sectors and the need for planning, decision making and policy frameworks that take account of these links:

“These problems cannot be treated separately by fragmented institutions and policies. They are linked in a complex system of cause and effect.”


“Economics and ecology must be completely integrated in decision making and law making processes not just to protect the environment, but also to protect and promote development.”

Environmental problems are never strictly linear, even though some cause-and-effect relationships can be shown, but are a part of a complex web of interactions. This chapter highlights some of the challenges facing Africa which have strong links to the environment. Some of these challenges are analysed sectorally or thematically, but they are all interlinked. Finding opportunities for improved environmental management, as well as for human development, almost always goes beyond any given sector, demanding that new levels of cooperation and collaboration are found in governance, in policy responses, and in environmental management.

Deforestation, for example, is not just about trees but about changing forest landscapes and ecosystems which have implications for biodiversity and water catchment management. Deforestation may increase run-off, thus accelerating soil erosion and siltation of rivers and lakes (WCED 1987); it may also affect soil fertility. In addition to these biophysical interactions, there are also links between forest changes and human society. Deforestation may be the product of multiple and interlinked changes in human society, including the lack of livelihood options, new pressures brought about by demographic changes, an economic environment that does not support value-adding activities and thus results in ever higher levels of harvesting, and so on. It may also affect human wellbeing by closing some opportunities, threatening cultures and knowledge systems closely related to forest resources, undercutting agricultural and livestock productivity, and increasing poor health as access to medicinal plants, wild meat and wild fruits that supplement local diets are lost.

By adopting an interlinkages approach to the challenges facing Africa, policy may maximize the opportunities across a number of domains.