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Africa's environment
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 26 - 04 - 2016

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi has affirmed the importance of the environment in Africa just months after an international summit on sustainable development and climate change, and in the run-up to the signing of the Paris Accord in the US on 22 April.
Al-Sisi's speech on the environment was made at the start of the sixth African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). It was delivered on his behalf by Prime Minister Sherif Ismail.
The African continent faces several challenges that require a unified African stance and mutual cooperation. The conference comes as Egypt is furthering its ties with African nations in various fields to ensure the mutual interests of citizens of the continent.
Al-Sisi said that AMCEN is important for forging a joint stance among African nations in climate-change negotiations. Assuming a leading role in defending African interests in the Paris negotiations, Egypt unveiled two initiatives at the Paris summit: renewable energy and climate adaption, both aimed at addressing the impact of global warming. Al-Sisi said that an “African renaissance had begun”.
“The continent has become a source of great interest to the world, especially after several African nations have upgraded their infrastructure to meet the demands of development,” he said. The president continued to say that achieving sustainable development remains the biggest challenge facing the continent and requires the development of instruments for joint action.
Al-Sisi added that the adoption of the UN 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development in September 2015 was “a genuine achievement”.
The agenda includes a broad spectrum of objectives that offer a comprehensive framework to guide development efforts on the national, regional and global levels for the next 15 years. Al-Sisi affirmed the importance of AMCEN for advancing these objectives on the ground through a set of initiatives, taking into consideration the Africa 2063 agenda, which outlines a vision for Africa for the next 50 years.
Al-Sisi added that a few weeks earlier, Egypt had released a document — “Sustainable Development: Vision Egypt 2030” — to meet the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs), particularly concerning objectives related to climate action, quality of life, clean energy at reasonable prices, clean water and sanitation.
The document sets forth a strategy to incorporate environmental concerns as a primary component in all development and economic sectors to ensure the security of natural resources and their fair use and investment and to guarantee the rights of future generations. The strategy will promote the diversification of economic production and activity, support competitiveness, create new jobs, mitigate poverty, and realise economic justice while providing a clean, healthy and secure environment for citizens.
Delivering the president's speech, Ismail said the Egyptian government seeks to integrate the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development into its comprehensive programme, presented to the House of Representatives in March, to complete Egypt's institutional infrastructure.
He noted the importance of the AMCEN talks in addressing basic issues that have an immediate impact on citizens and their aspirations. Developments on the continent and the challenges facing it in stability, security, peace, sustainable development and poverty elimination require stronger, effective cooperation and joint action to forge a bright future for African peoples.
The president mourned the recent death of Mustafa Kamal Tolba, who played a role in establishing AMCEN 30 years ago. Tolba successfully confronted several environmental challenges and assumed a leading role in Africa in negotiations on environmental issues and the implementation of several international conventions, including the UN Convention to Combat Desertification and the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, as well as building African capacities in environmental management.
Egypt's Environment Minister Khaled Fahmi said in his speech that AMCEN, a forum born in Egypt 30 years ago, provides a platform for cooperation among African nations to identify the challenges facing the continent and create mechanisms and solutions to confront them based on the principle of mutual benefit, thus having a positive impact on future generations. AMCEN meetings give African environment ministers the opportunity to translate their responsibility toward their peoples into tangible results on the ground, Fahmi said.
He said that the strong turnout for AMCEN meetings, held in Cairo for the second year in a row, reflected recognition among African states of the significance of the conference and its impact on the ground. He added that the agenda for the sixth conference addressed several important environmental issues in Africa.
AMCEN has enabled African states to take unified, strong stances in international forums and make decisions and policy related to the world's environment. He said the conference aimed to devise solutions to the challenges facing African environment through meetings, bringing together experts, negotiators and other participants.
The conference's panels addressed several important topics, most importantly the preservation of natural capital and resources and a joint African strategy for combatting illegal trade in wild flora and fauna. Africa possesses substantial capacities and resources that must be used wisely and protected to achieve the SDGs.
Panels also discussed improving African capacities to achieve these goals through data banks and information systems that compile statistics on natural resources. This will enable African states to identify their natural resources to facilitate better use of them.
In recent years the African Union has expressed concern about the unsustainable exploitation of African plant and animal life and the growing illegal trade in wild flora and fauna. This requires an African strategy to combat the illegal exploitation and trade in plants and animals to forge a joint African response. African nations expressed their support for a universal strategy and facilitation for the implementation of its plan and financing instruments.
Discussions affirmed the need to create mechanisms to confront illegal trafficking before 2030 and to achieve cooperation to support the implementation of the African strategy to combat unlawful trafficking in plants and animals. A strong African stance and a common African vision is required to achieve the sustainability of natural resources and strengthen cooperation with regional organisations to protect natural capital, while contributions from the international community are needed to implement the strategy.
Negotiators also discussed the need for capacity building and technological assistance to expose animal smuggling, and the importance of instituting rules and regulations to combat cross-border smuggling and trafficking. They affirmed the importance of forging a strong African position in the 17-party conference on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), scheduled to be held in South Africa.
The sixth AMCEN conference is also important for creating a united African front to issue resolutions that will be submitted to the second session of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 2), to be held in May under the theme of delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Mohamed Abdel-Moneim, a consultant on African affairs for the Environment Ministry, said Egypt was proud to present two initiatives on sustainable energy and climate adaptation on behalf of the continent. The energy initiative encourages African states to use clean energy sources, such as solar and wind energy, and minimise the use of high-emission energy sources. The initiative has garnered global attention and several developed states have pledged to finance it. Abdel-Moneim added that the implementation details of the initiative were discussed.
He said that adapting to climate change is a priority for Africa given the consequences of climate change for the continent, such as floods and famine, as well as the negative impact on food security. This requires African states to take a unified stance to find ways to address the impact of climate change. He added that regional and national efforts are underway to implement the initiatives.
Juliette Biao, UNEP regional director for Africa, affirmed her full support for the Africa Agenda for Sustainable Development 2030 and the two initiatives that were concluded at the Paris conference on climate change. Biao said she is ready to assist African states in achieving the goals to meet climate change. She added that such initiatives would lay the groundwork for UNEA 2, to be held in Nairobi from 23-27 May under the theme of delivering on the environmental dimension of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. “The year 2016 is a year of action,” she said.
The AMCEN meeting will be the first since the approval of the 2030 agenda and the Paris Accord on climate change and the last before the signing of the accord. A unified African stance is, therefore, necessary to achieve the continent's goals. Africa, she said, currently faces numerous challenges, including illegal trafficking in wild flora and fauna, which is a crime that prevents Africa from benefiting from its natural wealth and impacts technology systems.
During the post-Paris African Forum for civil society and stakeholders, held on the sidelines of the sixth AMCEN conference, Ambassador Nehad Abdel-Latif, head of the AMCEN unit in the Ministry of Environment, said civil society has played a major role as a partner in development in Africa over the past five years, and praised its role in AMCEN activities.
Abdel-Latif said that Africa took a clear stance on the Paris Accord, demanding fair outcomes based on the latest in science, and was in full compliance with the rules under the current UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. He added that the goal is to reach an agreement that realises the interests of Africa and Africans, not only the interest of the states that produce the most emissions.
Abdel-Latif said that wealthy nations must provide new, additional financial resources to enable developing nations, especially African states, to mitigate and adapt to climate change, so as not to be forced to resort to their own meagre resources.
This is consistent with Africa's aspirations to achieve the 2040 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Africa 2063 agenda. This was one of the objectives of the extraordinary sixth AMCEN conference in Cairo. Abdel-Latif added that the Paris Accord and the SDGs present a great opportunity and an even greater challenge to the world to come together.
AMCEN, which was attended by Prime Minister Ismail and several other ministers, was held in Cairo from 16-19 April. It brought together some 250 participants, including environment ministers from 54 African nations, as well as representatives from the African Union Commission, the African Development Bank and some 50 UN agencies, most significantly UNEP and UNCCD, as well as representatives of international governmental organisations.

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