Environment management key to Africa growth agenda

The popular view gradually taking root today in global development discourse is that ‘Africa is rising’. Both economic experts and multi-lateral lending agencies have given credence to this opinion by showing that economic indicators in many African countries have taken an upward trajectory.

One of the major reasons for this view is the massive infrastructural projects being undertaken in several countries. Coupled with economic reforms, China is funding, in billions, public sector, road, rail, telecommunications and hydro-power projects. An emerging middle class is also consuming more goods and services, driving up revenues of the private sector.

Kenya is seen as a case study of this positive trend based on real estate boom in the past decade. Several companies have also been recording substantial rise in profits as people spend more of disposable income. The government is also spending unprecedented amounts of funds in various infrastructural projects, including the ongoing standard gauge railway and the expected Lamu Port.

Well, this is all good and offers bright prospects for Kenya’s future. But for it to be sustainable, we must assess the cost the projects will have on our rich natural capital. Prosperity can only be enjoyed by generations to come if it takes place within certain ecological limits. While not painting a gloomy picture of the future, a report by UNEP notes that it is imperative that both economic growth and development does not mess up the continent’s fragile ecological systems.

Now, while UNEP’s sixth Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) Regional Assessment for Africa agrees there is significant economic growth in the continent, it also highlights the complexity of the linkages between the environment and, social and economic factors. The report cites Africa’s natural assets as including its diversity of soil, geology, biodiversity, water and habitats.

Further, GEO-6 notes that Africa’s growth path is based on increased agricultural productivity, industrialisation, investment in infrastructure development and renewable energy, conservation of biodiversity, sustainable, fair and equitable use of its genetic resources, clean air and water, and enhanced adaptive capacity to climate change. But whereas these are the pranks supporting Africa’s rise and growth, they face various challenges like weak resource management practices, pollution and climate change.

On June 5, the world celebrated the World Environment Day under the theme ‘Go Wild for Life’.  The day focused on the widespread illegal trade on wildlife products and the adverse impact poaching is having on various sectors. For instance, Kenya and a few other African countries have witnessed the drastic reduction of elephants in recent years as thousands are killed for their ivory. According to the World Wildlife Crime Report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, in the last year, 7,000 species were found in more than 164,000 seizures affecting 120 countries.

In his urgent call to action to avert a looming environmental, social and economic disaster, the outgoing UNEP executive director Achim Steiner, said effects of illegal wildlife trade include the destruction of natural capital, which is the foundation of tourism in many countries; the spread of corruption and the undermining of the rule of law; and the fattening of purses of international crime syndicates, including terrorism.

Ultimately, the GEO-6 report recommends that for Africa to have a prosperous future, all players must address the region’s relatively weak environmental governance, and the dearth of accurate and current environmental and socio-economic data for evidence-based decision-making. Africa’s development blueprint is contained in Agenda 2063 and Agenda 2030, both of which contain a route map that can provide Africa with the twin benefits of economic prosperity and critical life-support systems for her people.

The writer is executive director, Centre for Climate Change Awareness—[email protected]

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