Africa has made tremendous progress in trying to address the environment and development challenges of the past two decades. However, results are mixed.

In many countries, new environmental institutions at different administrative levels, such as environment management agencies, have been established to tackle both green and brown environmental issues. At subregional and regional levels, economic groupings have accepted the challenges to develop interlinked and forward-looking strategies to ensure that Africa achieves some of the MDG targets.

Despite such progress, the environment is yet to be fully mainstreamed in all sector-specific policies and in economic development. In particular, the relationship between the environment and continued poverty has not been fully acknowledged. The conclusion reached by the Brundtland Commission in 1987 that institutions tend to be independent, fragmented, and work “to relatively narrow mandates with closed decision-making processes,” remains true 20 years later. The 20 year-old challenge by the Commission to policymakers remains as relevant today as it was then, and it is fitting to repeat it:

“The real world of interlocked economic and ecological systems will not change; the policies and institutions concerned must.”


“The ability to choose policy paths that are sustainable requires that the ecological dimensions of policy be considered at the same time as the economic, trade, energy, agricultural, industrial, and other dimensions – on the same agendas and in the same national and international institutions” (WCED 1987).

Interlinking the environment and human development, understanding the causes and effects of environmental change and developing appropriate policy responses remain challenges facing Africa today.