MRP 2018 Webinar: Environmental Sustainability in Africa

Speaker: Dr. Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, UN Environment Director and Regional Representative for Africa

The world is increasingly concerned about environmental sustainability because there is an awareness about the need to leave a good legacy for future generations. Africa is home to the fastest growing countries in terms of population. It is projected that the population would double from 1.1 billion today, to 2.3 billion by 2050 and would reach 4 billion by end of the century at the current growth rate. This poses problems for the environment, especially considering that over 50% would be living in urban areas. Urbanization and expansion of slums affect the quality of the environment. In sub-saharan Africa, other contributors to environmental problems include deforestation, erosion, desertification, wetland degradation and insect infestation. Adding to this is the problem of marine litter which is a cause of great concerns globally as the oceans are filled with plastic.

All forms of environmental degradation constitutes health hazards – an estimated 25% of deaths and diseases globally, and 35% in regions like sub-saharan Africa.  In Africa, it is estimated that 28% of diseases are associated with environmental risks. The main causes behind this are:- over dependence of the rural populations on climate-sensitive sectors such as agriculture for their livelihood, increase in solid mineral mining and oil exploration, mismanagement of water resources, lack of access to basic sanitation services, high dependence on wood for fuel, poor waste management and insufficient recycling. Moreover, these factors lead to loss of revenues e.g. from land and soil degradation, conflicts over natural resources, illegal logging of forest products, illegal and unregulated fishing and mining, illegal trade of wildlife, not to mention loss of revenues from tourism.

To address these problems, there are some ongoing initiatives on global, regional and national levels regarding how environmental sustainability is addressed. The 2030 Agenda and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted in 2015. Prior to this, there was a common African position that was formed, which informed the 2030 Agenda. At least 11 out of the 17 the SDGs are directly environmental-related. One of the value-added of the SDGs compared to the Millenium Development Goals is the principle of “leaving no one behind”. In the 2063 Agenda for Africa, the aspirations show clearly the will for the continent to address the unsustainable environment, recognizing that Africa depends a lot on natural resources. It takes into account that certain practices and behaviours affect the environment which in turn increase poverty and diseases. This is clearly highlighted as a priority by the African Ministerial Conference for the Environment, a platform where the Ministers of Environment for the 55 countries gather to make decisions on key environmental issues on the continent. There is also the United Nations Environment Assembly which gathers the high level decision making bodies of 193 member states on the Environment. Member states are really committed to reinforce the engagement on Environmental Sustainability. Involvement of the private sector is crucial for achieving this. Furthermore, an important multilateral treaty of African nations, called the Bamako Convention, was set in motion to prohibit the importation and dumping of hazardous including toxic radioactive waste in Africa.

In conclusion, as the African population continues to grow rapidly, it has become more critical to address environmental problems so as to build a sustainable future. The Sustainable Environmental Goals, the Bamako Convention, waste-to-energy projects, among others are some ways in which this is being tackled. But there is still more that can be done. Scholars are encouraged to take on research which investigates the environmental challenges on the continent and come up with practical solutions to curb them.

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