12 min

Since the post-independence era, Africa has always emphasized protecting its natural environment. This mindset was endorsed in 1968 when independent African states signed the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. In 2003 Africa Environment Day was designated in 2002 by the Organization African Unity (OAU) Council of Ministers in their meeting in Durban, South Africa. In July 2003, the Assembly of the African Union adopted the Revised African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as a governing treaty on actions to be taken by African states to ensure the protection and preservation of Africa’s Natural resources and preservation of the natural environment as an integral part of Africa’s heritage.

In January 2012, the African Union (AU) adopted a decision calling for the joint commemoration of Africa Environment Day and Wangari Maathai Day in recognition of the work and life of the late Professor Wangari Maathai, who dedicated her life to promoting environmental conservation and sustainable development in Africa and the first African Woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Prof. Wangari Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental Non-Governmental Organisation focused on addressing deforestation and ecological degradation and the more significant impact of these factors on the livelihoods of rural women who bore the brunt of the negative environmental impact on agriculture and foods security, thereby leading to disenfranchisement. Prof. Wangari led the fight to protect water catchment areas advocating for planting trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights in Kenya. In 2004, she became the first African Woman to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for contributing to “sustainable development, democracy, and peace.” She authored several books, including The Green Belt Movement; Unbowed: A Memoir; The Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth.

Today, the African continent continues to endure environmental severe challenges. The unfolding phenomena of climate change, biodiversity depletion, desertification, land degradation, and unsustainable use of finite natural resources remain a severe risk to Africa as they pose real impediments to achieving the sustainable development goals envisioned in Africa’s Agenda 2063. Sustainable environmental management is fundamental to the pursuit of food security, peace, security, and stability in Africa. Crises witnessed on the continent, be they droughts, armed conflicts, or other natural disasters, are exacerbated by environmental deterioration. To address the twin effects of climate change and desertification, Africa is bracing itself to devote undiluted attention to integrate sustainable environmental management into the mainstream development policies at both regional and national levels.

Aspiration 1 of Africa’s Agenda 2063, has amongst its goals “the establishment of Environmentally sustainable climate and resilient economies and communities.” Africa subscribes to basic principles and ideals of the green economy as a concept that provides the continent and other developing regions of the world with alternative approaches to development which seek to integrate economic development with environment, human well-being, and socially-inclusive growth, thereby mitigating the risks which arise from environmental degradation. The concept of the green economy has, in recent years, gained currency to a large extent because it promises to respond to the multiple crises that the world has been facing in recent years –the climate, food, and economic problems – with an alternative paradigm that offers the promise of growth while protecting the earth’s ecosystems and, in turn, contributing to poverty alleviation. In this sense, the transition to a green economy will entail moving away from the production and consumption patterns that tend to exacerbate the problematic conditions of existence in many parts of the developing world.

The imperative for Africa to pursue the green economy model is clear, because many African economies are heavily dependent on natural resources to fuel economic growth. Agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining and quarrying, and oil and natural gas are crucial contributors to the GDP of many African economies. A large portion of the African population, especially the rural population, directly depends on the natural environment for their sustenance and livelihoods. Thus, the conservation of the continent’s natural resources is of paramount importance to these populations. Africa’s transition to a green economy therefore has economic and social dimensions and implications. While African economies are still heavily dependent on natural resources, they have started to appreciate the incentives of diversification.

Climate change and broader environmental degradation (i.e., land degradation, ecosystem degradation, habitat destruction, water and air pollution, and biodiversity loss,) further compound the challenges countries face during the COVID-19 recovery. Africa is already facing multiple threats induced by the impacts of climate change – from changing weather patterns which reduce crop yields, to natural disasters such as floods and drought, which threaten communities and livelihoods. Collectively, these will affect the delivery of Africa’s Agenda 2063. The widening gap in financing for development is expected to increase. The African Union Green Recovery Action Plan 2021-2027 aims to tackle the combined challenges of the COVID-19 recovery and climate change by focusing on critical areas, including climate finance, renewable energy, resilient agriculture, resilient cities, land use, and biodiversity. Download the Action Plan here.

In many African countries, the livelihoods and socio-economic development of communities in both rural and urban areas depend heavily on the use of wild fauna and flora resources. Thus the loss of African wildlife directly or indirectly affects the livelihoods of African people. The illegal trade in Africa’s natural resources also deprives African States of revenues, hindering economic growth. The African Union Strategy on Combating Illegal Exploitation and Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora in Africa aims to increase the level of political commitment to prevent, combat, and eradicate illegal exploitation and illegal trade in wild fauna and flora and to recognize the illicit trade in wild fauna and flora as a severe crime; to improve governance, integrity and enhance regional, inter-regional cooperation; enhance engagement with consumer states to reduce demand, supply, and transit of illegal products of wild fauna and flora; reduce, prevent and eliminate the economic, security and stability impact of wildlife crime; among others. The African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources underpins the strategy. The Convention is also the basis of the AU Wildlife Strategy. In addition, the Great Green Wall (GGW) Initiative for the Sahara and the Sahel is another AU initiative that implements actions to end or reverse land degradation, and loss of biodiversity in African drylands and to ensure that ecosystems are resilient to climate change, continue to provide essential services and contribute to human well-being and the elimination of poverty and hunger. The GGW Initiative aims to support over 425 million Africans living in the drylands to embrace sustainable development practices that protect the environment and fight against hunger and poverty.

The Agenda 2063 Continental program, the Comprehensive African Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP), is an initiative that aims to help African countries eliminate hunger and reduce poverty by raising economic growth through agriculture-led development. Through CAADP, African governments agreed to allocate at least 10% of national budgets to agriculture and rural development and to achieve agricultural growth rates of at least 6% per annum. Underlying these investment commitments are targets for reducing poverty and malnutrition, increasing productivity and farm incomes, and improving the sustainability of agricultural production and use of natural resources. CAADP also supports countries in enhancing resilience to climate variability by developing disaster preparedness policies and strategies, early warning response systems,, and social safety nets.

CAADP has four priority areas: Extending the area under sustainable land management and reliable water control systems; Improving rural infrastructure and trade-related capacities for market access; Increasing food supply, reducing hunger, and improving responses to food emergencies crises; Improving agriculture research, technology dissemination, and adoption. Access the Agriculture and Environmental Treaties here.

Several AU institutions are at the forefront of championing the delivery of the objectives set in CAADP. They include the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-Nepad), The AU Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (AU-IBAR), African Union Inter-African Phytosanitary Council (AU–IAPSC), The African Union Semi-Arid Food Grain Research and Development (SAFGRAD).

The African Risk Capacity (ARC) Group is a Specialised Agency of the AU that assists African governments to in improving their capacities to better plan, prepare, and respond to natural disasters triggered by extreme weather events and outbreaks, and epidemics. ARC offers complementary risk pooling and risk transfer services. Together, the two provide Member States with capacity building and contingency planning services, access to state-of-the-art early warning systems, and risk pooling and transfer facilities towards building resilience against natural disasters such as droughts and tropical cyclones. Learn more here.

The Africa Union has developed policies and frameworks. The Department of Agriculture, Rural Development, Blue Economy and Sustainable Environment (ARBE) implemented several projects and activities to realize sustainable environmental management. Click here to learn more.