Africa Environment and Wangari Maathai Day

Since the post-independence era, Africa has always placed import on the importance of protecting it natural environment. This mindset was endorsed in 1968 when independent African states signed the African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. In 2003 Africa Environment Day was designated in 2002 by the Organization African Unity (OAU) Council of Ministers in their meeting in Durban, South Africa. In July 2003, the Assembly of the African Union adopted the Revised African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as a governing treaty on actions to be taken by African states to ensure the protection and preservation of Africa’s Natural resources and preservation of the natural environment as an integral part of Africa’s heritage

In January 2012, the African Union (AU) adopted a decision calling for the joint commemoration of Africa Environment Day and Wangari Maathai Day in recognition of the work and life of the late Professor Wangari Maathai who dedicated her life to promoting environmental conservation and sustainable development in Africa and the first African Woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

Prof. Wangari Maathai, founded the Green Belt Movement, an environmental Non-Governmental Organisation focused on addressing deforestation and environmental degradation and the greater impact of these factors on the livelihoods of rural women who bore the brunt of the negative environmental impact on agriculture and foods security thereby leading to disenfranchisement. Prof. Wangari led the fight to protect water catchment areas advocating for the planting of trees, environmental conservation, and women’s rights in Kenya. In 2004, she became the first African woman to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her contribution to “sustainable development, democracy and peace”. She authored several books including: The Green Belt Movement; Unbowed: A Memoir; The Challenge for Africa; and Replenishing the Earth.

Today, the African continent continues to endure serious environmental challenges. The unfolding phenomena of climate change, biodiversity depletion, desertification, land degradation and unsustainable use of finite natural resources remain a serious risk for Africa as they pose real impediments to achieving the sustainable development goals envisioned in Africa’s Agenda 2063. Sustainable environmental management is fundamental to the pursuit of food security, peace, security, and stability in Africa. Crises witnessed on the continent, be they droughts, armed conflicts, or other natural disasters, are exacerbated by environmental deterioration. To address the twin effects of climate change and desertification, Africa is bracing itself to devote undiluted attention to integrate sustainable environmental management into the mainstream development policies at both regional and national levels.

Aspiration 1 of Africa’s Agenda 2063, has amongst its goals “the establishment Environmentally sustainable climate and resilient economies and communities.” Africa subscribes to basic principles and ideals of the green economy as a concept that provides the continent and other developing regions of the world, alternative approaches to development which seeks to integrate economic development with environment, human well-being, and socially-inclusive growth, thereby mitigating the risks which arise from environmental degradation. The concept of the green economy has in recent years gained currency to a large extent because it promises to provide a response to the multiple crises that the world has been facing in recent years –the climate, food and economic crises – with an alternative paradigm that offers the promise of growth while protecting the earth’s ecosystems and, in turn, contributing to poverty alleviation. In this sense, the transition to a green economy will entail moving away from the production and consumption patterns that tend to exacerbate the difficult conditions of existence in many parts of the developing world.

The imperative for Africa to pursue the green economy model is clear, considering the fact that many African economies are heavily dependent on natural resources to fuel economic growth. Agriculture, forestry and fishing, mining and quarrying, and oil and natural gas are crucial contributors to the GDP of many African economies. A large portion of the African population, especially the rural population, is directly dependent on the natural environment for their sustenance and livelihoods. Thus, the conservation of the continent’s natural resources is of paramount importance to these populations. Africa’s transition to green economy thus has economic as well as social dimensions and implications. While African economies are still heavily dependent on natural resources, they have started to appreciate the incentives of diversification.

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