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The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment: A Report on Africa’s Future Environmental Affairs Strategies

10th September 2010

By: In On Africa IOA

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Africa faces increasingly complex challenges that demand urgent action from its best technological minds and international partners. The environment being the very source of Africa's livelihood, environmental pollution, together with drought and flooding, has affected health and reduced productivity and growth. To reverse the trends of climate change and climate variability and alleviate their impacts, Africa needs to shift the emphasis towards a green economy, for which resources would be required. Thus, Africa's governments, and also its people, are now urged by international leaders to design new tools and to take new initiatives, treating climate change as a challenge and indeed as an emergency, since the livelihoods of all Africans might be severely affected by its proclaimed consequences.

 

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The United Nations (UN) declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity. It is a commemoration of life on earth and of the value of biodiversity for the human livelihood. Everybody on the planet is an integral part of the natural environment and we all benefit from the protection of its rich biodiversity to provide us with food, fuel, medicines and other essentials that we simply cannot live without. As such, in 2010, world leaders have been invited by the UN to take action on safeguarding this biodiversity. The latter entails the recognition that the ultimate decision-maker for biodiversity is the individual citizen. The small choices that individuals make add up to a large impact because it is personal consumption that drives development, which in turn uses and pollutes nature.(2) By carefully choosing the products they buy and the government policies that they support, the general public can begin to steer the world towards sustainable development.

 

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It is only fitting then that the theme for the 13th session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), held from 20-25 June 2010, was "Enhancing the interrelationship between climate change, biodiversity and desertification for sustainable development." The main objective of the 13th session was to provide a platform for ministers of the environment to deliberate on substantive issues of importance to Africa which they agreed must be addressed in the context of biodiversity, desertification, as well as the ongoing negotiations on climate change.(3) This paper provides a brief background on the AMCEN and its institutional arrangements, achievements and challenges, as well as decisions and declarations reached at its latest session in Bamako, Mali.

 

The establishment of the AMCEN

 

The AMCEN was created in 1985, following the first conference of African ministers of the environment which was held in Egypt. This first Conference was held in response to the environmental problems that were confronting African countries. The Conference had the objective of strengthening cooperation between African Governments in economic, technical and scientific activities, with a view to halting the degradation of the African environment in order to satisfy the food and energy needs of the people of the continent. One of its results was that the Conference decided to "institutionalise" itself and to meet every two years.(4) The Conference is mandated to provide support for Africa's environmental protection; to guarantee that fundamental human needs are met adequately and sustainably; to ensure that social and economic development is realised at all levels - individuals, civil society, companies, government and regional institutions - ; and to see to it that agricultural activities and practices meet the food security needs of the region. To this end, along with a number of other activities, the Conference has prompted and encouraged the preparation of a comprehensive regional report on the state of Africa's environment, called the Africa Environment Outlook (AEO), prepared by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).(5)

 

The AEO process has been adopted by AMCEN as its instrument for monitoring and reporting on the environment. Additionally, AMCEN successfully facilitated the revision of the 1968 African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (Algiers Convention). Measures have also been taken by the Secretariat to strengthen the linkages between AMCEN and the region's two marine and coastal conventions, namely, the Convention for the Protection, Management and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the Eastern African Region (Nairobi Convention) and the Convention for Cooperation in the Protection and Development of the Marine and Coastal Environment of the West and Central African Region (Abidjan Convention).

 

AMCEN has continued to give guidance in respect of key political events (such as environmental conferences) related to the environment, including multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs). AMCEN has also led the process for the development of the action plan for the Environment Initiative for the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).(6)

 

AMCEN has also sustained particular attention to the implementation of environmental conventions established in furtherance to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (Earth Summit) in 1992, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and its Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) particularly in Africa, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its Kyoto Protocol.


The Role and Institutional Arrangements of the AMCEN

 

Since its creation in 1985, AMCEN has played several roles, of which include: the provision of continent-wide leadership by promoting awareness and consensus on global and regional environmental matters; developing common positions to guide African representatives in negotiations for legally binding international environmental agreements; promoting African participation in international dialogue on global issues of crucial importance to Africa; building African capacity in the field of environmental management; and promoting the ratification by African countries of multilateral and regional environmental agreements relevant to the region.

 

The Conference is the highest organ of AMCEN. African ministers responsible for the environment comprise the members of the AMCEN Conference. At the first session of AMCEN, the Ministers decided that the Conference would assemble every two years, and that a Bureau would be established to act on its behalf between meetings. The Regional Office for Africa (RoA-UNEP) has served as the Secretariat of AMCEN since its inception.

 

Since the first session of AMCEN, a number of programmes and initiatives have been developed to facilitate the effective implementation of its mandate towards environmental protection in Africa. Of particular note are the establishment of the regional scientific and technical committees and the network of national focal points, which worked on various thematic issues to advance the objectives of AMCEN in the region. In addition, the decisions taken at various meetings of AMCEN by representative ministers have been implemented successfully when resources were available.

 

Challenges and Achievements

 

Over the 25 years of its existence, the growth and development of the Conference have been laudable. However, there is room for improvement to its workings and institutional structures. The AMCEN could benefit from better communications and more time for consultation among its Bureau members prior to its sessions. The main challenges facing AMCEN are twofold: namely, gross financial difficulties and the rather complex organisational structure that has been adopted. The Conference has historically faced difficulties in securing sustainable financing for the implementation of its activities and in harmonising regional and global environmental issues in order to receive adequate attention at national and sub-regional levels. A further challenge for the Conference pertains to the translation of global environmental concerns into practical, feasible and achievable programmes of action at national, sub-regional and regional levels. Lastly, there is the problem of a plethora of environmental instruments and forums. This could, however, be addressed by streamlining the operation of international environmental affairs.

 

Nevertheless, AMCEN has been instrumental in advancing the environmental agenda in Africa in several respects. Some of the more noteworthy achievements of the Conference include: highlighting environmental issues at all levels of society including the linkages with poverty reduction, human and animal health, trade, water conservation, forestry management, river basin management, etc; providing a forum for the exchange of views and building consensus on issues of common concern among policy makers at national, sub-regional, regional and global levels; providing a legitimate voice of Africa in environmental matters through its network of ministers; and producing a number of publications to assist with the dissemination of environmental information in Africa.

 

June 2010: the Bamako Declaration - a Road Map for Africa's Climate Change and Biodiversity Strategies

 

Since the 12th session of the AMCEN, a number of accomplishments have been made including the development of the African common negotiating position in the climate change talks. The development of the Africa comprehensive framework on climate change programmes constituted a first-ever attempt to provide a coordinated response for the continent and has put Africa in a position to achieve optimum results in adaptation, mitigation and technology transfer throughout the continent.(7) The 13th Session of the AMCEN, which came to a close on 25 June 2010, resulted in the adoption of the Bamako Declaration. This Declaration can be seen as the continent's new road map for sustainable development and the basis for strengthening the common negotiating position on climate change and biological diversity. In adopting the Bamako Declaration, all African environment ministers made a bold and unequivocal statement of how they expected their respective governments to engage both at the domestic and international level in addressing issues of loss of biodiversity and access to benefit sharing as well as desertification and climate change challenges.(8)

 

On biodiversity, the ministers declared to commit themselves to developing a common position for the continuing negotiations on access and benefit-sharing (ABS) under the CBD.(9) To this end, they called upon the African Union (AU) and UNEP to support African negotiators in the negotiation of a new international regime on access and benefit sharing.

 

To address the threat of desertification, the ministers urged the AU Commission to implement the 10-year strategic plan and framework to enhance the implementation of the UNCCD (2008-2018).(10) Further, the ministers called upon UN agencies to support the development and implementation of the Great Green Wall of the Sahara and the Sahel initiative.(11) The ministers have also called upon countries to seek ways and opportunities to strengthen the synergies in the implementation of the conventions on climate change, desertification and biodiversity at the national and sub-regional levels in support of sustainable development for Africa.

 

The Declaration also makes wide ranging proposals on tackling problems relating to waste, chemicals, health and the environment by urging governments to support the implementation of the Libreville Declaration of the Inter-Ministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Africa and the establishment of a strategic alliance for health and environment in the continent.(12)

 

On cross-cutting issues, the ministers called upon representatives at the joint annual meetings of the African Union Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance and the UN Economic Commission for Africa Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development to take specific steps in mainstreaming environmental issues in development planning.

 

The Declaration also makes comprehensive recommendations on fostering a green economy transformation - the process of reconfiguring businesses and infrastructure to deliver better returns on natural, human and economic capital investments, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions, extracting and using less natural resources, creating less waste and reducing social disparities - in Africa, the Africa Environment Outlook (AEO), technology-supported learning and marine and coastal strategy.(13)

 

Concluding Remarks

 

Africa presents an anomaly. While the continent has had little influence on the world stage, with its population of approximately 1 billion(14) and immense natural wealth it represents a huge environmental resource and not just a challenge, and the rest of the world has yet to come to terms with this reality. As such, there is a need for African ministers of the environment, and civil society as well, to resist the thinking that Africa always has to be the passive recipient in global transactions and that progress must always occur at the expense of the environment. In this context, in the future ministers of the environment have the potential to be among the most powerful ministers in any cabinet as they would become the ones defining economic choices.

 

Given that natural resources are dwindling, food security threatened and the very future of the planet itself placed in jeopardy, a ‘business as usual' approach is emphatically no longer an option and thus African ministers ought to take the lead in such issues as reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD), climate change and biodiversity.

 

The voice of Africa must be clearly projected at major forthcoming environment meetings, bringing solutions and rejecting excuses not to act. Africa should take the opportunity, at the forthcoming United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (UNCSD) (Brazil 2012), to stand proud as a pioneer of climate change innovations and solutions. The continent undoubtedly has the potential to shape the next set of global environmental governance instruments.


Written by: Angela Kariuki (1)


NOTES:

(1) Contact Angela Kariuki through Consultancy Africa Intelligence's Eyes on Africa Unit (officesa@consultancyafrica.com).
(2) Convention on Biodiversity (CBD) Secretariat, January 2010.
(3) AMCEN Report of the ministerial segment held from 23 to 25 June 2010.
(4) AMCEN Secretariat, United Nations Environment Programme, 1985.
(5) Regional Office for Africa, UNEP, 2006.
(6) AMCEN Bamako Declaration, Decision 13/1
(7) UNEP AMCEN /12/9, annex II
(8) Decision 13/2
(9) Decision 13/8
(10) Bamako Declaration, Annex I, par. 21
(11) Bamako Declaration, Annex I, par. 7, par. 24
(12) Bamako Declaration, Annex I, par. 33
(13) Decision 13/7
(14) AMCEN Secretariat, UNEP. 2010.


 

 

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