The Road to Rio +20: Challenges and Opportunities for Africa

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Africa depends on its natural resources, now and for the future. Climate change is a major consideration in Africa, perhaps more than anywhere else. Farmers and herders need arable land and water. Today, expanding agriculture, logging, and the need for firewood are clearing forests and causing a loss of biodiversity. Currently, less than four percent of the continent’s potential water resources are harnessed for irrigation of the 1.4 billion people around the world who have no access to electricity, 40 percent live in Africa, and most of those live in sub-Saharan Africa.

Addressing these and other issues requires long-term solutions, including appropriate policy guidelines, institutional capacity building and the deployment of adequate resources.

For example, access to sustainable energy facilitates development and contributes to meeting several MDGs – halving extreme poverty, reducing hunger, reducing child and maternal mortality, promoting gender equality and reducing deforestation. Improved water management is critical as is the storage capacity to supply water to all who need it in a sustainable manner.

Africa must press for changes to the financing mechanisms for mobilizing public and private investments for climate change mitigation and adaptation, such as the Clean Development Mechanism. With additional resources, adapting to and mitigating climate change can also present an opportunity. African leaders have called on the African development bank to establish an Africa Green Fund to receive and channel part of climate finance to Africa. The Bank is working towards the establishment of the fund.

A green economy that taps Africa’s vast and largely under-used natural resources represents a paradigm shift in promoting clean energy, creating jobs, and conserving natural resources. A green economy is not new a new concept for Africa. Examples of successful policies and initiatives across Africa in the areas of energy, agriculture and forestry exist and can be shared with other African countries. Africa has much to share with the rest of the world as well, starting with its perspectives, lessons learned and rich experience.

There is also a need to strengthen institutional structures and arrangements for managing sustainable development, particularly strong and committed political leadership, institutional leadership, managerial and technical capacity for coordination and the development of strategies based on long-term shared strategic and a pragmatic vision. African governments should commit to improving the national governance environment and to investing in capacity building.

Furthermore, strengthening partnerships with non-traditional actors and the private sector, both within and outside countries, would be one way to leverage resources and capacities for sustainable development. Development partners and non-traditional donors should make more use of countries’ own systems, also as a means to further strengthen countries’ institutional structures, thus furthering the development effectiveness agenda.

Regional integration must continue to be strengthened. Regional integration has a critical role to play in promoting economic diversification, expanding markets, pooling and more efficient allocation of resources, and addressing trans-boundary as well as globalization issues and challenges confronting the continent.

African governments also need to recognize the key role played by science, technology and innovation in the implementation of a sustainable development agenda. Only increased investments in science and technology will ensure that Africa is not left behind in the race for green technologies. Technology transfer should target green technologies that can help Africa exploit its rich natural resource base without undermining its sustainability.

Additional resources will be required to keep Africa on the path to meeting its development goals. 

We can increase efficiencies if we take coordinated approaches. The new and emerging challenges require technological advances; organizational change; monitoring and surveillance; participatory deliberations; and attention to the drivers of these challenges.  We need to address these challenges directly and urgently. The time is past for focusing on the symptoms.