CHAPTER 14: BACK TO OUR COMMON FUTURE: A RENAISSANCE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT

Lead Author: Munyaradzi Chenje
Contributing Authors: Joseph Opio-Odongo, Charles Sebukeera, Jennifer Mohamed-Katerere, Christopher O. Ambala, Jacquie Chenje

“To live is to choose. But to choose well, you must know who you are and what you stand for, where you want to go and why you want to get there.”

KOFI ANNAN
SECRETARY-GENERAL OF THE UNITED NATIONS

INTRODUCTION

Well-being is the
ultimate goal of all
environment and
development
policies.

Brundtland Commission
(WCED 1987)

The message of the Brundtland Commission, in its report Our Common Future nearly two decades ago in 1987, that people’s “well-being is the ultimate goal of all environment and development policies,” remains as relevant and urgent today as it was then. Since then, significant progress has been made to address the region’s environmental challenges and to enhance human development. However, the expansion of capabilities – the extent to which people have the ability to live the kinds of lives they value – is still limited. Millions live in extreme poverty and hunger, are victims of HIV/AIDS and other diseases such as malaria, are illiterate, are discriminated against, are threatened by violent conflict or denied a political voice. As a result of these ills and other challenges, human development, which in essence is about freedom (UNDP 2005), is compromised. Despite the many achievements, including improved economic growth (OECD Development Centre and AfDB 2005) available evidence indicates that similar achievements have not been made in improving overall well-being. The United Nations’ (UN) Millennium Project notes, Africa “most dramatically, has been in a downward spiral of AIDS, resurgent malaria, falling food output per person, deteriorating shelter conditions, and environmental degradation, so that most countries in Africa are far off track to achieve most or all of the Goals” (UN Millennium Project 2005a). Africa needs to face this challenge head-on.

Poverty in Africa is a product of its history and of ongoing injustices and inequities, such as unfair trade, conditionality in aid which demands among other things the privatization of essential services, structural adjustment, and global patterns of consumption and production which effectively export vulnerability to developing regions. Indeed, as the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) recognized, eradicating, or even just alleviating, poverty requires global action – and that the developed world has a special responsibility for this. Nevertheless, Africa should act in its own interest, taking responsibility for improving the lives of its peoples.

The previous chapters have highlighted the many environmental changes and challenges that the region faces, as well as the opportunities its remaining assets provide to sustainably advance human development. Africa’s environmental assets offer opportunities for it to attain the objectives of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and to achieve the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) to which it along with other regions signed up at the turn of the century. As highlighted by the Commission for Africa, “Africa holds 7 per cent of the world oil reserves and generated 11 per cent of global oil exports in 2000. By 2015, West Africa will provide 25 per cent of oil imports into the United States. And its richness in natural resources is not confined to the more traditional commodities. It is the primary source of coltan, the essential component of the world’s mobile phones. As the world changes and grows it is likely that Africa’s rich resources will continue to be vital to the world’s prosperity” (Commission for Africa 2005). This wealth sets the basis for:

“...a new era of economic growth... based on policies that sustain and expand the environmental resource base... such growth is absolutely essential to relieve the great poverty that is deepening in much of the developing world” (WCED 1987).

To enable the African environment to contribute to both the MDGs and the NEPAD objectives, it is imperative that Africa curbs ongoing environmental degradation and seizes the development opportunities offered by its wealth of natural resources. Success on these fronts requires that policymakers ensure, in addition to other actions, the following:

  • Proper valuation of natural and environmental resources;
  • Effective conservation, management and use of environmental resources;
  • Effective compliance with, and enforcement of, laws designed to conserve the environment and promote sustainable development (Zaelke and others 2005); and
  • Undertake strategic investments that enable the environment to benefit from development. Examples include investments in the development of markets for forest environmental services, such as carbon sequestration, biodiversity conservation, watershed protection and landscape values.

Figure 1: Annual costs of environmental degradation in Egypt African policymakers can ill afford to ignore environmental degradation, because it impacts on economic performance and ultimately human development. Extreme poverty and environmental degradation “is a waste of opportunities and of resources... it is a waste of human resources” (WCED 1987). For example, research in 1999 concluded that the cost of environmental degradation in Egypt amounted to about EGP14 500 million (or approximately US$2 365 million) annually or 5.4 per cent of its gross domestic product (World Bank 2004a). That cost has been described as “substantial” and is twice as high as that in industrialized countries. In addition to the public benefits, a growing body of literature suggests that improved pollution prevention and environmental management encourages private sector innovation, leading to increased competitiveness in the market-place (Porter and van der Linde 2005). The main reasons for the substantial cost include a significant disease burden associated with lack of safe water and sanitation, substantial health impacts of severe air pollution and productivity losses associated with soil degradation (World Bank 2002).

To postpone policy actions now in the hope of taking them at a time when greater resources are available may not be wise. Although rehabilitating degraded environments diverts resources away from important development activities, including improving social services such as educational and health delivery, it also impacts on governments’ abilities to maximize available opportunities. This close relationship is increasingly recognized. For example, in 2004, Mali was awarded a Global Environment Facility (GEF) grant of US$5.5 million from the World Bank to stop or reverse biodiversity degradation trends in key conservation areas and other specific sites in the Gourma. The Gourma, which covers three million hectares and is home to Africa’s northernmost elephant population (350 strong), is experiencing high degradation, including local extinction of animal and plant populations and overall desertification (World Bank 2004b). The project aims to build local capacity and enhance the development opportunities available to the communities in the area by conserving biodiversity, extending the role of communities in management, and acknowledging them as beneficiaries.

The AEO-2 report, especially in the environmental state-and-trends chapters, shows that Africa has many opportunities to utilize the environment for development, but only if the discerned challenges are dealt with effectively. The analysis also reveals some emerging environmental challenges – such as genetically modified (GM) crops, invasive alien species and chemicals – which require immediate and long-term strategies and interventions by African policymakers. The report also highlights positive lessons from transboundary natural resource management and from regional cooperation for sustainable environmental management that can be replicated or developed further.

Although some AEO-2 findings are not groundbreaking, their continued high profile on the African environmental agenda is a cause for careful retrospection by policymakers on how effectively the existing policy and institutional arrangements have served Africa’s sustainable development goals. That retrospection could yield insights on how policymakers can foster a creative and strategic shift from the reactive mode of dealing with the problems of environmental change and human vulnerability, to a more proactive mode whose impact would include enhancing human well-being. Such a proactive mode would require capacity development at disparate levels to enable, for instance, effective adaptation to and management of socioeconomic and environmental change.

This chapter considers some of these policy actions:

  • The issues which have been identified by policymakers in the region are highlighted.
  • The medium-term outlooks on the issues are provided as a basis for specifying the actions that could be taken.
  • The roles of the various stakeholders in implementing the proposed actions are also highlighted.
  • The periods for achieving the targets are identified.

The policy options, adopted by African environment ministers at a meeting in Dakar in 2005, provide a sufficient basis for governments to tailor their policy responses to their national situation. This is an acknowledgement that policy processes have a time and space, and respond to political processes which are bound by other demands and deadlines.