United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
Global  Environment Outlook-1 - The Web version

Chapter 3: Policy Responses and Directions

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Regional Initiatives

The institutional arrangements to facilitate and co-ordinate regional actions on environment and development include subregional organizations such as the Arab Magreb Union (AMU); the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control (CILSS); the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS); the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS); the Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), formerly known as the Inter-governmental Authority on Drought and Development (IGADD); and the Southern African Development Community (SADC).

High-level regional forums have also been established to formulate regional policies and programmes dealing with environment and sustainable development issues. These forums include the African Ministerial Conferences on the Environment (AMCEN), established under the auspices of UNEP in 1985; the African Economic Community (AEC), established within the framework of the OAU and the Abuja Treaty in June 1992; and the Council of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Environment (CAMRE), established as the special body of the League of Arab States, consisting of 11 North African States and 12 West Asian States. Under CAMRE, a Joint Committee on Environment and Development in the Arab Region (JCEDAR) was established in 1993 to facilitate co-ordination and co-operation among member states (CEDARE, personal communication, 1996).

In various regional forums of African Government leaders, priority actions have been identified in order to achieve progress towards sustainable development. At the Earth Summit in 1992, the Africa region, through the OAU, submitted a comprehensive report entitled the African Common Position on Environment and Development as its contribution to Agenda 21. This report clearly addresses the regional constraints, concerns, and opportunities for sustainable development. Some of the most important programmes for action developed since Rio include:

  • African Strategies for the Implementation of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, adopted by the Conference of Ministers of Economic Planning and Development at its 19th Session, 3-6 May 1993;
  • Proposals for the Implementation of the Abuja Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community, the 14th Meeting of the Technical Preparatory Committee of the Whole, 12-16 April 1993, and the 28th Session of the Commission/19th Meeting of the Conference of the Ministers, 19-22 April 1993;
  • Relaunching Africa's Economic and Social Development: the Cairo Agenda of Action, adopted at the Extraordinary Session of the OAU Council of Ministers on 28 March 1995, subsequently endorsed by the June 1995 Summit of the African Heads of State and Government in Addis Ababa; and
  • the 1996-97 Programme of Work, adopted by AMCEN at its 6th Ministerial Session in Nairobi, 14-15 December 1995.

In 1996, the United Nations System-wide Special Initiative on Africa was launched to reinforce previous United Nations initiatives, such as the United Nations Programme of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development (UN-PAAERD) and its successor, the United Nations New Agenda for the Development of Africa (UN-NADAF) in the 1990s. The System-wide Special Initiative reflects the priorities enunciated by Africa's leaders and was formulated in consultation with African leaders. The challenges of the Initiative are twofold: to carry out the best supportive actions congruent with Africa's priorities to stimulate development, and to mobilize international political support for action to remove some of the obstacles to Africa's development.

It is recognized in the African region that conflicts present a grave threat to environmental security. The impacts of conflicts are more openly discussed these days, and the importance of developing institutional structures and mechanisms to manage them is recognized. Examples of this are the OAU mechanism for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflicts and the wide range of civil society organizations engaged in conflict management efforts (UNDP, 1996).

In addition to the initiatives at the political level, collaboration with and participation of NGOs, women's and youth organizations, and the private sector are considered important for environmental protection and sustainable development. The creation of an enabling environment for the implementation of relevant actions in Africa involves the full democratization of political systems and the decision-making process, as detailed in the African Charter for Popular Participation in Development Transformation (UNECA, 1993).

Examples of regional NGOs active in strengthening regional co-operation and co-ordination in the field of environment include the Network for Environment and Sustainable Development for Africa (NESDA) and CEDARE. NESDA was established to bring together African experts, public-and private-sector institutions, and NGOs involved in sustainable development initiatives. It provides, among other things, expertise for capacity development and for environmental information. CEDARE was established in 1992 as an independent, non-profit organization to assist member countries in building capacity to enhance environmental management and to accelerate development. It has five priority programmes: freshwater resources, land, urbanization and human settlements, marine and coastal management, and industrialization. It also operates an active Information Service Unit.

Several sectoral action programmes have been developed and are implemented under regional environmental initiatives to enhance the implementation of global environmental conventions. For example, in combatting land degradation, implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is of prime importance to Africa, and one of the key initiatives of the region to implement the convention is the International Convention to Combat Desertification and Urgent Action for Africa. Most African countries have signed the Convention, although ratification has been very slow. Even more important in terms of an action-oriented common framework is the Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development (SARD) programme, which was prepared by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) with the full participation of African ministries of agriculture and African experts and approved at an international level by the Rio conference in Agenda 21.

Regional co-operation in the field of land degradation has also been strengthened either directly through subregional institutions such as IGAD (see Box 3.7), SADC, and CILSS, and the African Development Bank (ADB), or indirectly through the institutes for applied research within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) (UNEP, 1996). For example, under SADC, the Environment and Land Management Sector (ELMS) has developed an environ- ment and sustainable development policy and strategy that deals with land degradation issues, and the Southern African Centre for Cooperation in Agricultural and Natural Resources Research (SACCAR) and Training, established in 1984, co-ordinates and promotes co-operation in agricultural research and natural resources and training activities. The World Bank has also reinforced its activities on some of the major causes of land degradation and low food production growth (such as water, soil fertility, and technologies) (UNEP, 1996).

Other examples of regional activities on land issues include the Desert Margins Initiative (DMI) for Sub-Saharan Africa, a project in its early stages led by a consortium of six research centres within the CGIAR, UNEP, and other international, regional, and national institutes, and coordinated by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The main aim of the project is to address problems of food security, poverty, and the sustainable management of natural resources and to promote innovative and action-oriented dryland management research to arrest land degradation in sub-Saharan Africa. The initiative will first be implemented in the affected areas of Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, and Niger (Sivakumar and Willis, 1995).

The AMCEN also has a special role in the implementation of the Convention to Combat Desertification, through its Committee on Deserts and Arid Lands (ADALCO). In Zimbabwe, for example, it initiated five pilot projects in 1995 that address desertification problems through improved land management practices (IMERCSA, personal communication, 1996). In 1994, African NGOs established an international network on desertification-Reseau International ONG sur Desertification (RIOD)-including community-based organizations. RIOD will promote action to combat desertification and will give community-based organizations and NGOs an effective role in the preparation, implementation, and review of national action programmes (Mpande, 1995).

An important regional agreement that deals with hazardous waste problems in Africa is the 1991 Bamako Convention on the Banning of Transboundary Movement of Toxic Waste. Importation of any hazardous wastes into Africa is outlawed under the Convention. Twenty-two countries are signatories and at least 10 countries are Parties to the Convention.

Box 3.7.

IGAD Experience in Implementing Its Programmes

The Inter-governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), comprises presently Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan, and Uganda and has its seat in Djibouti. Most of the subregion is arid and semi-arid, and can be characterized by a vulnerable ecosystem with recurrent drought and rainfall variability both in space and time. IGAD was created to co-ordinate efforts of Member States in controlling drought and desertification. IGAD focuses on food security, the proper management of the environment, and desertification problems. A substantial number of programmes and projects were identified and developed through a consultative process with the Member States and donors.

Successful implementation of projects was mainly in the food security sector. One of the major projects in the sector, implemented with funds from Italy, was the Early Warning and Food Information System (EWFIS) with a Remote Sensing component. The project has created national early warning units, trained manpower, and developed standard methodologies and software, databases and networking both at subregional and national levels except in Djibouti.

The major constraints faced in implementing the agreed programmes and projects include the following:

  • Lack of resources, at national and donor levels. Some Member States are unable to pay their annual contribution regularly, which, in turn, has an impact on donors' support.
  • Lack of capacity both at the subregional and national levels as well as at the IGAD secretariat. The secretariat is faced with financial constraints, making hiring consultants to assist the core staff difficult. The Member States often do not have the capacity to implement subregional, regional, and international activities parallel to the national activities.
  • Lack of coordination and transparency, complicated by overlapping policies and institutions both at the regional, sub-regional, and national levels.
  • Lack of democratization and grassroots-level participation in project formulation and implementation. In many countries, local communities are not empowered to deal with environmental concerns and share benefits from natural resources projects.
  • Lack of peace and security in the subregion greatly affected food security, environment protection, and the overall sustainable development of the subregion.

A Special Summit of the Heads of State and Government of IGAD was held on 21 March 1996, to deliberate on the revitalization of IGAD and other matters of interest to the subregion. The Summit approved extensive amendments to the 1986 Agreement establishing IGAD. The amendments included changes to the organizational structures as well as the strengthening of programmes. The meetings of the Council of Ministers and Technical Experts decided on the new priority areas of IGAD (Food Security and Environment, Infrastructure Development and Conflict Prevention, Management and Resolution) and a package of projects in the priority areas. A total of 31 projects selected from 105 subregional projects proposed by the Member States was submitted to the international community for consideration, three in the area of Conflict Prevention, Management, Resolution, and Humanitarian Affairs; 15 in the Infrastructure Development, and 13 in the Food Security and Environment Protection area.

The international community deliberated on the proj-ect profiles and expressed support noting the need for improved donor coordination and harmonization and the need for an improved mechanism for IGAD's cooperation with donors. The priority project profiles were presented to donors at the launching of the revitalized IGAD in November 1996.


UNEP. 1996. Report of the Regional Consultations held for the first Global Environment Outlook. UNEP. Nairobi.

In the field of drought monitoring and early warning, as well as of climate in general, regional initiatives include the establishment of a Climatology Network under AMCEN to provide a framework for action on issues related to climate. In light of the climate-related disasters experienced in the African region, it has become important, especially for countries affected by drought, to adopt policies and programmes to minimize the impacts of these disasters. As a part of the Climatology Network and under the World Climate Impacts and Response Strategies Programme (WCIRP), UNEP established a Climate Impacts and Response Strategy Network for Africa (CIRSNet/Africa) to share information and experiences to facilitate the development and implementation of climate-related activities, particularly climate change-related activities in the region. In addition, the need for strengthening early warning systems for floods and droughts through existing institutions dealing with climate-related issues, such as Agrymet, African Centre for Meteorological Application for Development (ACMAD), and subregional drought monitoring centres (for example, in Harare and Nairobi) is recognized (UNEP, 1996).

Research activities are particularly strong on land degradation issues. These include the FAO Programme of Action for Africa initiated in 1986, targeting soil conservation techniques, communal grazing, fuelwood problems, and conservation-based resource development; Agroforestry Research Networks for Africa promoting, in collaboration with the International Council for Research on Agroforestry (ICRAF), research on soil fertility conservation; the four ICRISAT centres in Africa, specializing in drought-tolerant crop research; and the FAO Erosion-Productivity Research Network, looking at the link between land degradation and crop yields (Stocking, 1992).

In Africa, there is growing recognition that indigenous knowledge and systems make a valuable contribution to land and agricultural systems as well as other natural resource management, and these are increasingly being applied (IMERCSA, personal communication, 1996). For example, with regard to forestry, SADC has initiated a project on community-based management of indigenous forests to enable village communities in southern Africa to manage the surrounding natural forests in a sustainable way and to create income-generating activities through the sustainable use of wood and non-wood forest products (SADC-IFFWS, 1996).

Africa's strategy on biological diversity is clearly stipulated in the African Common Perspective and Position of the Convention on Biological Diversity (AMCEN, 1994). Policy directions emphasized for regional-level action are in the field of human resource and institutional capacity development:

  • strengthening or establishing African biological diversity institutions;
  • establishment of African subregional technology research institutes, including strengthening of the AMCEN Network on Biological Diversity as well as other institutions active in this area under the aegis of the ECA and OAU; and
  • development of expertise in biological diversity.

In southern Africa, the SADC Plant Genetic Resource Centre (SPGRC), an autonomous regional organization, collects, conserves, documents, evaluates, and uses regional plant germplasm as part of Southern Africa's efforts to conserve biodiversity (IMERCSA, personal communication, 1996). A Seed Bank of the SPGRC was recently established, based in Lusaka. Another regional policy that provides a concrete basis for enforcing measures to protect biological diversity and to implement the Convention on International Trade Endangered Species (CITES) is the Lusaka Agreement of 1994. This was reached after the African States realized the wide scope for illegal trade in precious fauna and flora, resulting in large-scale poaching and depletion of the continent's biological diversity to a level that is gravely prejudicial to sustainable development. The agreement was signed by Kenya, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Tanzania, and Zambia, which are establishing a Task Force to investigate and fight the lucrative business of poaching and smuggling (IMERCSA, personal communication, 1996).

Actions are also being taken at subregional levels in the management and use of international waters and their basins. Only a few international river basins have been managed effectively through co-operation among riparian countries. One example of an important initiative is the Nile Basin Action Plan, which has five main components (integrated water resources planning and management; capacity building; training and assessment; regional co-operation, including harmonization of legislation and joint projects; and environmental protection and enhancement) and which promotes a comprehensive and co-operative framework for the basin. Another is the SADC Protocol on Shared Watercourses Systems negotiated by 11 of the 12 members of SADC and signed so far by nine countries. Member states are also working on establishing an SADC Water Sector, an intergovernmental organization whose responsibilities will include planning water issues (IMERCSA, personal communication, 1996; World Bank, 1996).

The FRIEND project of southern Africa is a well-functioning network of professional hydrologists and water resources institutions sharing hydrological information for effective water resources management (World Bank, 1996). Action plans for co-operation also exist for the Zambezi River Basin, Lake Chad Basin, and the Okavango (IMERCSA, personal communication, 1996).

While most countries have developed their own energy policies, regional co-operation in the energy sector is being developed through the creation of an African Energy Commission at the Ministerial level backed by the ADB, ECA, and OAU, with a goal to harmonize and co-ordinate the development of the energy sector in the region (UNEP, 1996). There are also ongoing activities to develop hydroelectric power for common river basins through regional co-operation. Examples are the Gambia, Mano, Niger, Nile, Senegal, and Zambezi rivers.

The policy direction of Africa is to promote environmentally sound energy systems by ensuring that policies and policy instruments support and stimulate effective actions. These include developing and strengthening regional, subregional, and national legislative instruments on energy within the context of national environmental conservation programmes. Some of the most important issues to be addressed through regional policies and co-operation include reducing the pressure on natural vegetation cover through the development and use of alternative sources of energy; developing the energy potential of common river basins through systematic co-operation between riparian states to speed up sustainable development and economic integration, including regional electricity grids; using African fossil fuels and renewable energies on a sustainable basis through co-operation agreements between producer and non-producer countries; mobilizing both human and financial resources to develop the energy sector; and improving the efficiency of existing energy use (UNEP, 1996).

Some examples of regional initiatives on coastal and marine areas include the Regional Seas Programmes, such as for the West and Central African (WACAF) region and for the Eastern African (EAF) region; various agreements for management of coastal resources, such as the Eastern African Convention on the Protection of Coastal and Marine Environment and the Indian Ocean Fisheries Commission; and Technical Assistance programmes, such as the Mediterranean Environmental Technical Assistance Programme (METAP) and similar programmes under CEDARE and SARDC. Constraints on the implementation of these regional programmes include a lack of adequate financial resources; weak co-ordination, resulting in duplication of efforts and waste of scarce resources; and lack of incentives and commitments of countries to participate fully in regional initiatives or programmes. A key action to address the constraints is to develop mechanisms for mobilizing the financial resources.

There are also several co-ordinated efforts in regional information sharing. The major international players are CILSS, IGAD, SADC-ELMS, the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (SSO), the United Nations Sahelian Office in UNDP (UNDP/UNSO), UNEP, the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR), the World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), the World Bank, and the World Resources Institute (WRI), along with bilateral donors such as the German and U.S. development assistance agencies (GTZ and USAID).

The World Bank Programme for Environmental Information Systems in sub-Saharan Africa aims to bring together the major players involved in setting up environmental information systems. WRI supports the use of environmental information in the development and implementation of policy through its Natural Resources Information Management Programme, which has three main components: institutional development; statistics, indicators, and digitial data for policy-makers; and information access through guides, directories, and electronic communications. WCMC has created a capacity-building programme to provide services that empower institutions and individuals to assess their own information needs, set their own priorities, and build their own information systems.

UNDP/UNSO actively supports countries to develop programmes on Environmental Information Systems. They, for example, support case studies to better understand technical problems hindering EIS development in Africa. UNITAR, together with the SSO, also aims to reinforce African capacities in the domain of Integrated Information Systems for Environment.

The Environmental and Natural Resources Information Network (ENRIN) Programme of UNEP focuses on institutional and policy frameworks for data and information management to support environmental assessment and reporting, as well as networking and standardization. It undertakes liaison and joint activities with all the players and programmes mentioned. The SADC region has established a Regional Environment Information System Programme, a process that has been co-ordinated by SADC's Environment and Land Management Sector with the support of GTZ, USAID, and UNEP.

In the CILSS and IGAD subregions, EIS programmes are under development. As a start, the status of EIS in the member states has been assessed. In northern Africa, CEDARE is helping countries create national EIS networks. These are to be co-ordinated into a regional EIS network that is organized into a distributed, integrated environmental information network that links databases located at various institutions in the region. The system will also carry out monitoring functions that support decision-making on regional and national scales.

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