/ 1 November 2022

Invest in biodiversity: Inaction is no longer a choice

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Workers replant mangrove trees at the site of a state-sponsored mangrove reforestation project in the Hamata area south of Marsa Alam along Egypt's southern Red Sea coast on September 16, 2022. Photo: Getty Images

We are at a pivotal moment in Africa. There is growing consensus that we, as Africans, must lead in how the continent manages its relationship with nature. We must be united in setting a global agenda that invests in Africa, holds us accountable and allows us to enact policies that benefit our people and the natural resources we all depend on for our well-being. 

The global decline in biodiversity and ecosystem services poses a big development issue for Africa.

Africa offers the world a unique path — where development happens in harmony with wildlife and their habitats. It holds 25% of global biodiversity including almost a third of the global fresh water. 

So, Africa’s wildlife is a globally unique and treasured resource. 

Clean air, clean water, food security and climatic regulation globally rely on Africa’s wildlands and the species that keep them healthy. 

But much of Africa’s wildlife and wildlands are in crisis, threatening both nature and the natural resource base for much of Africa and the world’s population. We believe that wildlife and wildlands have intrinsic value worthy of protection. 

As a global community, we must find a path that leapfrogs Africa’s prosperity for Africa to avoid the destruction of wildlands and the extermination of species that has come with the development of North America, Europe and, more recently, in Asia. 

This is how we can ensure that wildlife survives and thrive on wildlands in modern Africa.

Effective action needs to understand the linkages between biodiversity loss, climate change, economic development and the need for a conservation approach that is integrated and holistic.

This will be Africa’s only chance to reverse biodiversity loss and mitigate global warming. From my interactions with policymakers and African leaders these past few months, I see a glimmer of hope. African leaders are deliberately working to create a self-reliant and sustainable continent that will provide solutions for the common global challenges. 

A key platform that has been integral in shaping Africa’s priorities going into global processes is the Africa Protected Areas Congress, which was held in Kigali in July this year.

This congress brought together the first-ever gathering of 53 African countries to discuss the value of Africa’s 8 600+ protected and conserved areas, which collectively, are equal to the size of Europe. The outcome of this historic gathering is The Kigali Call to Action. It calls for greater public and private investment in conservation, the recognition and strengthening of the rights of indigenous people and local communities, and greater pan-African collaboration in the management and use of protected and conserved areas.

The quality of life in Africa is worrisome. The International Monetary Fund’s latest inflation report shows that inflation has reached more than 12% in sub-Saharan Africa. We are seeing staple food prices surge at an all-time high and unemployment is on the rise as well. 

Research already indicates that by 2050, Nigeria is forecast to have 400 million people, meaning it will overtake the United States as the world’s third-most-populous country. The starkness of this fact – as its population is currently about 200 million – further illustrating the degree to which demography will shape Africa’s future. 

Coming off the back of the Covid-19 crisis, one thing is for sure — Africa will struggle to finance economic recovery while simultaneously addressing the above-mentioned underlying development challenges and the mounting impact of climate change.

The issue of finance cuts across all three upcoming global conventions; climate financing at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species species protection financing and biodiversity financing at the Convention on Biological Diversity. 

The question is: Where will the money to finance all these come from? At this year’s United Nations General Assembly, Gabon’s president shared the collective call from Africans to the world to allocate 1% of the global GDP towards closing the annual biodiversity finance gap of $900-billion. 

So, what does this mean? It means investing in sustainable livelihoods and creating enabling conditions where people thrive while co-existing with nature.  

Contrary to what most might think, about $133-billion is invested globally in nature every year, often by governments. But this is not enough to counter the mounting pressures from competing for land and resource uses and bridging the annual financial gap. 

Additionally, according to a recent United Nations report, scientists advise that nature and climate should be high on government lending conditions as part of the expansion of investment. We must rethink how private investments can be reshaped and harnessed for the benefit of conservation. An example is how Costa Rica’s tax on petrol is used to finance its reforestation programme. Private investment in conservation needs to be scaled up through carbon markets, and sustainable agricultural and forestry supply chains. 

All these suggested entry points need one critical enabling factor; effective and strong policies and that is why we must all pay close attention to how our national governments and regions show up at these conventions. At the UN General Assembly, Africa showed up with one voice pushing for a permanent seat at the UN Security Council and though it may seem like a small ask, this will provide an opportunity for greater representation on security, economics, and international cooperation issues which are all interlinked to the current crises we are facing.

Undoubtedly, we have taken our time to deliberate and to negotiate and we cannot afford to spend any more of our efforts in that headspace; not for the next 10 years. This coming decade is for action. The young voices are adamant and are saying they are tired of the same old song and will not stand by and watch leaders make irreversible mistakes. 

As a citizen of Africa, I am calling upon leaders to move beyond the usual declarations and collaborate on and coordinate mitigation efforts that enhance the conservation and protection of natural habitats while keeping people at the centre of these solutions. 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.