Opinion Piece: H.E. Hailemariam Dessalegn
The need to re-orient and match Africa’s ambitious agenda for economic, political, and social transformation calls for the positioning of the continent’s natural ecosystems and wildlife as foundational to climate action and the development aspirations set out in Agenda 2063. As we stand on the precipice of the African Union’s Africa, Caribbean, and Pacific Conference on the Implementation of the Outcomes of the CBD COP15 and CITES COP19, it is imperative that we reflect on the crucial role Africa plays in global conservation efforts. With our rich biodiversity and diverse ecosystems, approximately a third of the total global biodiversity, Africa stands as a beacon of hope for global environmental sustainability. Essentially, well-being of global ecosystems, economic systems, and human existence largely depends on Africa. Undoubtedly, it is essential to underscore the fundamental principles that will guide us towards successful implementation. Local action, inclusive engagement, and social inclusivity are crucial for achieving tangible progress in conservation efforts and biodiversity protection.
This regional convening of technical experts, political and policy leaders is opportunity to assess the outcomes of the two conventions, evaluate the progress made thus far, identify areas for improvement, and chart a clear roadmap for future action. For Africa, this very moment presents an opportunity to define a more sustainable, efficient, and inclusive development and growth agenda in key sectors including agriculture, energy, minerals, transport and logistics, health, among others.
Experts have reiterated the need to position people at the core of the conservation and climate action agendas. To succeed, conservation must be driven locally, with approaches that are inclusive and participatory, enabling local communities to take ownership and agency of the actions and decisions. Local communities have a deep understanding of their ecosystems and can offer invaluable insights and traditional knowledge. By empowering them as co-investors and leaders in the development and implementation of the nature and climate discourse, we can ensure sustainable and context-specific solutions that have a higher chance of success.
Furthermore, non-state actors, such as civil society organizations (CSOs), should treated as equal partners in decision-making and implementation processes. Their expertise and commitment are essential for translating policies into action on the ground. To promote accountability and ownership, all stakeholders, including non-state actors must be part of key decisions and processes.
In reiteration, for Africa as a growing continent that relies heavily on its natural capital conservation must be positioned as the driver for sustainable development. Leaders and negotiators must recognise the interlinkages between biodiversity, poverty alleviation, and economic growth and capitalise on them in pursuing our development agenda. Africa’s natural resources have the potential to drive sustainable economic development, providing jobs and opportunities for our growing population. We must strike a balance between development aspirations and environmental stewardship, promoting sustainable practices that safeguard both the livelihoods of our people and the integrity of our ecosystems.
Additionally, we must prioritize the visibility, equity, representation, rights, and meaningful participation of indigenous peoples and local communities (IPLCs), youth, women, and CSOs in decision-making bodies and processes. Their perspectives and contributions are vital for the delivery of goals and targets of the Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) and other related multilateral environmental agreements. Governments and partners should adopt a human-rights-based approach that protects IPLC rights from infringement by multinational corporations and market-based mechanisms. The principle of Free, Prior, and Informed Consent should be always respected. Such inclusive implementation will require collective engagement from CSOs, men and women in all their diversities, the private sector, youth, IPLCs, and national governments.
Africa’s biodiversity and ecosystems continue to face numerous existential threats as a result of climate change. Africa must be at the forefront of championing the need to draw linkages between the twin crises of biodiversity loss and climate change as well as and positioning nature as a key solution to the climate challenge. A unified stance on global climate negotiations, advocating for equitable and effective climate policies that prioritize the continent’s unique challenges and circumstances will be central to addressing the challenges the continent is facing.
At a time where we have the most-highly educated generation ever, Africa must tap into this capacity and expertise and redesign our relationship with other players as guided by the spirit of equal partnership and collaborative and synergic power. Our collective knowledge and experience, largely carried by our young people is an invaluable asset that can drive effective conservation efforts on the continent. Prioritizing sustainable use and the role of other effective area-based conservation measures’ (OECMs) at local level will further enable a bottom-up implementation strategy that better guarantees tangible outcomes thereby attracting increased financing and support from governments and the private sector.
This upcoming meeting presents a unique opportunity for Africa to advance the principles of local action, inclusive engagement, and social inclusivity. By adhering to these principles and incorporating them into our collective conservation strategies, we can create a more sustainable and equitable future for Africa’s biodiversity and its people. Together, let us work towards a future where nature thrives, communities prosper, and biodiversity is safeguarded as the foundation to Africa’s prosperity for generations to come.