News & Media / Ibrahim Index of African Governance: Sustainable Environment

Ibrahim Index of African Governance: Sustainable Environment

16 December, 2020

What are some of the main challenges faced by African countries when it comes to climate change?

Despite climate change being termed as a global phenomenon, its impacts are felt locally, and the severity is disproportionately distributed. Sub-Saharan African countries are among the most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change despite their insignificant contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.

Some of the impacts of climate change are strain on water resources compounded by current overexploitation and degradation and future increase in demand, decline in crop productivity due to heat and drought stress thus affecting local livelihoods and food security, variation in temperature and precipitation leading to flooding, infrastructure destruction, human displacement and change in vector and waterborne diseases. Africa’s vulnerability is due to the continent’s population heavy reliance on ecosystem goods and services for their livelihoods and weaknesses in the adaptive capacity of these systems. This vulnerability is evident from the Global Climate Risk Index Report of 2020, where out of the 10 most affected countries in 2018, three are from the continent. Moreover, the 2019 report on the state of Africa’s climate indicates that rises in sea levels, high temperatures, increased precipitation and occurrence of extreme weather events, will be common occurrences within the continent. Such has already been witnessed, for example in 2019, some Southern Africa countries were hit by tropical cyclone Idai and Kenneth leaving a trail of destruction while countries in East Africa are living on the edge due to alerts of potential flooding with all the Rift Valley lakes levels raising. The recent invasions of desert locust in many African countries, which have destroyed crops and other vegetation cover clearly indicated the realities of impact of climate change within the continent.

Due to the detrimental impacts that climate change has or will have on food systems, health and safety, water security and socio-economic development, African countries signed and ratified the Paris Agreement and committed to promote low carbon and climate resilient economies through their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC). These contributions provide actions and pathways within sectors of their economies such as agriculture, transport, energy and industries among others within which countries intend to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. However, financial, technical and capacity building support are needed for African countries to significantly contribute to this cause. For example, it is estimated that countries in Africa will require $3 trillion to support mitigation and adaptation activities identified in their NDCs by 2030 and that the cost of adapting to climate change in Africa will reach $50 billion annually by 2050. Moreover, lack of climate change data to support decision making processes and providing early warning signs for the local communities is a significant impediment to action.

Why is environmental sustainability a key governance aspect in the life of African citizens?

Environmental sustainability is undeniably a key governance issue because the majority of the population within the continent depend on an ecosystem of goods and services from air, water and land for their livelihoods. These good and services are limited and are often utilised in an unsustainable manner. Thus, with the rapid population growth being witnessed in Africa, and if the current trend is something to go by, then it is anticipated that the current and future generations will not enjoy these goods and services. Moreover, the negative impacts that climate change has or will have on the environment is immense, which when coupled with the weak climate change adaptive capacity of these systems exacerbates the situation.

Therefore, it is critical to establish institutional structures, develop strategies and formulate and implement policies that will facilitate and enhance effective, efficient, and sustainable management and utilisation of nature’s goods and services. Moreover, such a step will ensure that environmental sustainability is integrated in the various development plans being implemented at different levels thus trickling the benefits associated with sustainability to the local level. Furthermore, the interlinkages between environmental sustainability and social and economic aspects need to be considered and their interdependence acknowledged and understood.

To facilitate this, it is the role of governments to ensure that environmental sustainability is prioritised and supported at different levels of governance and the existing opportunities such as the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Agenda 2063 are tapped into. This will ensure that countries achieve sustainability not only in the environmental development pillar but also in the social and economic development pillars. Moreover, the role of different actors such as the private sector, NGOs, development and donor agencies, academic institutions and civil society organisations in contributing to environmental sustainability should not be ignored but be promoted through creation of enabling environment for them to thrive and contribute to this noble course.

Most importantly, the citizens should be at the centre of these discussions and contribute to the development of governance frameworks that will support actions towards achieving sustainability within the various pillars and the different levels of governance.

All the above actors need to align their actions and be ready to reinforce each other in order to deliver on sustainability.

How are young people contributing to climate action?

The role of young people in advocating for actions on climate change has been growing steadfast with young people from around the globe coming together to rally governments into taking actions in promoting low carbon development pathways and support climate adaptive measures at different levels. For example, in Africa, the establishment of African Youth Initiative on Climate Change in 2006, now the leading youth movement on climate change and sustainable development within the continent, demonstrates that young people recognise their potential in contributing to climate action. The platform has enabled young people’s participation in various climate change forums such as the Conference of Parties, Climate Change for Development in Africa and Africa Climate Week among others, youth involvement in the development of climate policies, strategies and plans and in championing implementation at regional, national and local levels. Moreover, young people have been involved in several initiatives such as youths in agriculture, climate change education, training and awareness, tree planting and ecological restoration, renewable energy promotion, recycling and advocacy and campaigns on climate action.

In Kenya, the National Climate Change Action Plan acknowledges the vulnerability of children and youths due to impacts of climate change and the roles they can play in supporting adapting to and mitigating against climate change. Thus, several projects have been initiated targeting the youth such as the climate action programme for schools and youth, a DFID funded project that supported enhancing capacity of the youth in tackling climate change through outreach and entrepreneurship. Another example is the Green Generation Initiative, where advocacy activities are carried out to spark interest among young people on climate action and environmental health and involving them in tree planting activities in schools around the country.

Why are you excited to see the addition of the Sustainable Environment sub-category to IIAG?

The inclusion of the Sustainable Environment sub-category to the IIAG has been long overdue and it brings me much joy as a young environmental scientist from Kenya to see that the environment is being prioritised as one of the key governance issues that deserves attention and action. Within the 2020 IIAG report, it is evident that action towards promoting environmental sustainability is growing steadfast. The report indicates that all the underlying indicators of environmental sustainability have improved over the last 5 and 10-year period. This is attributed to the fact that governments within the continent have not only increased efforts in formulating policies and regulations that promote environmental sustainability but have also supported their enforcement especially over the last 5 years. This is evident by the fact that 20 countries including Botswana, Gabon, Tunisia, Uganda and Egypt among others have shown an increasing improvement in addressing environmental sustainability as indicated in the report. The report further acknowledges areas that need further strengthening and action such as in the sustainable management of land and forests where forest loss has increased over the last 10 years.

Despite this progress, more needs to be done to explore how the various governance dimensions interlink and explore pathways through which these dimensions can be implemented holistically in manner that maximises on the synergies and minimising the trade-offs.

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