African ministerial conference wrestles with key environmental issues ahead of RIO+20

Source(s): United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction - Regional Office for Africa

By David Singh

Bamako, 14 September: It is almost 20 years since the historic United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in June 1992, alerted Governments and citizens to critical human development issues and made specific demands of countries. Among the issues fuelling the discourse then, was the global sounding off on the depletion of world’s irreplaceable environmental resources.

Since Monday, representatives of some 53 countries, have come together in Bamako, Mali for the Fourth Special Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). Key among their discussions is the critical issue of “how do we further push environmental protection in Africa? Where are we with this issue at continental, regional and national levels? What gains have we made since the Earth Conference in Rio 20 years ago and the World Summit on Sustainable Development held 10 years ago in Johannesburg, South Africa? The latter took Rio one stage further making environmental management the third pillar of sustainable development.

It is an impressive showing of African solidarity and the quest for solutions to African problems which also include climate change adaption (CCA) and mitigation, problematic issues related to the financing of the climate change responses, better known as the Climate Green Fund, disaster risk reduction and the sustainability of livelihoods as well as crop production ahead of the Durban Climate Change Conference scheduled for December this year.

Director of the United Nation Environmental Programme’s (UNEP) Regional Office for Africa, Mounkaila Goumandakoye, is blunt in several interventions and the message consistent – “The environment and its management has to become a priority … but outside of here it is not”. It a point reiterated by many over the last two days.

According to the preliminary findings of a draft report on the institutional and strategic framework for sustainable development of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), which were echoed by many speakers in the last two days, at this level, the urgency of prioritizing environmental management and protection throughout the African region is well recognized and accepted. Regrettably, however, this urgency sometimes does not even make it as a national priority. More often than not it often relegated to a stand in a queue behind not just one, but many other ‘bigger’ issues”. And more often than not the resources to competently and comprehensively deal with environmental issues are just not there.

There are other factors at play working against the implementation of sound environmental management in Africa. The Bio-diversity Convention, for example, calls for the development of national strategies for the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity. It sounds straightforward but there are 125 frameworks for implementation - a complex monitoring issue for many African States. “This is an example of an internationally imposed multi-framework that has not been adapted to the particular needs and capabilities of African countries,” noted the director of UNEP’s Regional Office for Africa.

UNISDR, the United Nations Disaster Risk Reduction Office, has also identified other key issues, which it sees affecting sustainable development in the lead-up to Rio Plus 20, and is adamant about putting them on the table.

Deputy Regional Coordinator for UNISDR Africa, Youcef Ait-Chellouche, strongly recommends that development partners like the environment sector take ownership of disaster risk reduction (DRR). “In this regard I am happy to see several DRR focal points as well as members of risk reduction national platforms here for this meeting. Catastrophes wipe out years of long and hard earned socio-economic as well as environmental dividends,” he said stressing that disaster risk reduction is an appropriate and necessary strategy to combat vulnerability and bolster poverty reduction efforts while simultaneously stabilizing and strengthening the three pillars of sustainable development. “Unless disaster prevention in concert with climate change adaptation is integrated into sustainable development programmes at country and regional levels, there will be no sustainable development”, he warned.

It is an observation that seems to be taking root. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the African Union, the African Development Bank (ADB), the Commission of the African Union (AUC), and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) are all coordinating the African report to Rio plus 20 and have agreed the UNISDR will provide key inputs into this project.

At the end of three days of deliberations later today, a draft resolution addressing the key issues will be tabled for the High Level Ministerial segment which begins tomorrow and ends on Friday.


AMCEN was established in December 1985, following a conference of African ministers of environment held in Cairo, Egypt. Its mandate is to provide advocacy for environmental protection in Africa; to ensure that basic human needs are met adequately and in a sustainable manner; to ensure that social and economic development is realized at all levels; and to ensure that agricultural activities and practices meet the food security needs of the region.

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