Defining the new home for Africa's environmental issues

Defining the new home for Africa’s environmental issues
Chapter 8 of the Johannesburg plan of implementation (JPOI) laid actions for achieving sustainable development at all levels in Africa. Amongst some of the actions included provision of financial and technical support to strengthen the capacity of African countries to undertake environmental legislative policy and institutional reform for sustainable development and to undertake environmental impact assessments and, as appropriate, to negotiate and implement multilateral environment agreements. The JPOI further embraced the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD) as a framework for sustainable development on the African continent. Africa, manifested with many developing countries states is set to achieve most from Rio+20. Having laid its operational documents governing the continent’s development path, June 2012 will be such a remarkable period to turn these documents into projects and programmes. The NEPAD prioritized the environment sector and under the leadership of African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) and in close cooperation with the NEPAD secretariat and the African Union as well as with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the Action Plan of the Environment Initiative of NEPAD was prepared. This action plan was considered at a special session of AMCEN held on 9 and 10 June 2003 and further adopted at the African Union summit held in Maputo in 2003.
The overall objective of the Action Plan was to complement the relevant African processes, including the work programme of the revitalized AMCEN, with a view to improving environmental conditions in Africa. In doing so, the action plan was obliged to improve the institutional framework for regional environmental governance.
Currently, the system of play with regard to the environment in Africa is at cross roads. AMCEN is still in play, Regional economic Commissions are advancing more on the agenda, and national governments seem to be stuck with low/no implementation of environment laws and conventions. The African Union is also extending its frontiers to merge as the continent leader on all matters including environment. The African Union Commission (AUC) Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture (DREA) headed by a commissioner has a Division responsible for environment and natural resources. The Division focuses to promote an enabling policy environment and mobilize political support and resources to achieving sustainable and efficient use and management of natural resources through implementing 22 initiatives. Some of the initiatives include:
- Capacity Building on Implementation of Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) in African countries; including the promotion of ratification of regional conventions;
- Coordinating the Implementation of the African Monitoring of Environment for Sustainable Development (AMESD) Project including Global Monitoring for Environment and Security;
- Harmonization of Environmental Programmes and initiatives at continental, regional and national levels (with NEPAD Agency and RECs);
- Integration of African Ministers’ Council on Water (AMCOW) and African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN)) as part of the specialized technical committees on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment.

Interestingly this is a recent document detailing the strategic and operational plan of the department as compared to the action plan. At the moment, the fate of AMCEN being part of the technical committee of the department is undecided and more so the future of the action plan for the environment initiative.
Interestingly sustainable development governance in Africa must define the new home of African’s environment which will do more implementation backed up with the necessary technical and financial support and given the desired political weight to carry on its objectives and functions. Perhaps the debate on the future of environment governance in Africa can explore such a home and at the same time advance Africa’s agenda as the current debates on international environment governance still stands.

As we think of upgrading UNEP and strengthening its Regional Offices, we should also take note of the Regional political situations and make them think of the environment. Should AMCEN be upgraded to a decision making body more than a policy forum as it seems to date? Should we elevate the AU Department of Rural Economy and Agriculture where environment and natural resources is just a division?

The reforms in environmental governance should not only touch UN institutions but also explore institutions and mechanisms at regional and more so at national level. Because, covering the head only does not mean the feet will not get wet!

Arthur Dahl's picture

Importance of the regional level

Robert, your paper on Africa's environmental arrangements is an important contribution to our discussion. You are right that institutional arrangements cannot stop at the international level.  Are there African regional meetings in preparation for Rio+20 where your ideas could be taken further? Perhaps the African members of the AGIEG should discuss how to make progress on this.

Bakiika's picture

importance of the regional level

There are forums in place, for example AMCEN will be meeting in Bamako, Mali on the 12-14 September and the regional preparatory meeting on Rio+20 will be in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on the 10-14 Oct 2011.