It is us we are waiting for! Africa needs to shape its own conservation and climate agenda

The IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress offers a chance to find a way to balance economic growth with conserving wilderness

Africa’s more than 8,500 protected areas of land and sea cover more than 30% of the continent – an expanse almost the size of Australia and 28 times the size of the UK. These ecosystems play a critical role in climate mitigation and adaptation, as global heating wreaks havoc on all fronts.

Today, Africa is embarking on an ambitious trajectory, with significant technological advancements, radical agricultural techniques, groundbreaking approaches to alleviating poverty and unprecedented rates of economic growth. Our natural resources, especially those in protected areas, play a critical role in development models we pursue. However, only about 1,000 of these protected areas have sound management strategies.

That Africa has to develop economically is non-negotiable, yet the continent stands to lose a significant proportion of its biodiversity in the immediate future. Given our youthful population and growth rates, ambitious targets cannot be met unless Africa circumvents the unsustainable pathways others have already chosen.

In addition, global climate goals will not be met unless Africa takes a different development route from every other continent. As one of the world’s hardest-hit regions, investments are necessary to support adaptation to climate change.

The good news is that Africa has experience in leapfrogging old technology, such as in the telecommunications and energy sectors. We should be defining a lower-carbon economic scenario that leverages ecosystem-based adaptation and nature-based solutions. The underlying drivers of biodiversity loss need to be understood and addressed in practical ways, and the global post-Covid economy needs to reflect the reality that our lives and economies depend on nature.

Any global solution that does not support this transition will definitely not meet the requisite ambition.

The IUCN Africa Protected Areas Congress (Apac), which opens in the Rwandan capital, Kigali, on Monday, will be the first time Africa will meet to discuss these natural assets. It presents an unparalleled opportunity to chart a path that balances economic growth with conservation of Africa’s natural capital.

This must be done through strategic choices and investments driven by the best-available knowledge and long-term thinking. We can no longer underestimate the central role that parks play in Africa’s ambitious restoration agenda.

The congress will aim to embolden the current and next generation of leaders to realise an African future where biodiversity is valued as an asset that contributes to development.

This congress will also position Africa’s protected and conserved areas within the broader goals of economic development and community wellbeing, and increase understanding of the vital role parks play in conserving biodiversity and delivering the ecosystem services that underpin human welfare and livelihoods.

Africa needs to shape its own conservation and climate agenda by investing in the areas we have set aside as the backbone of natural infrastructure that underpins the aspirations we are aiming for in the African Union’s Agenda 2063.

Climate change affects the most vulnerable the most by contributing to alarming food insecurity, population displacement and putting major stress on water resources. Enhancing ecosystem integrity is one fundamental way of reducing these vulnerabilities, which are partly to blame for the migration of Africans to the developed world.

As an organisation that recently clocked up 60 years, we at the African Wildlife Foundation are guided by our mission, which dictates that conservation and development are intertwined, that people are at the centre of conservation, and that the sustenance of our planet relies on our relationship with nature. Success in Africa depends on African leadership. It is us we are waiting for!

Alongside the IUCN and the Rwandan government, we are greatly optimistic that we can make titanic strides, and we encourage all people to join us in this journey towards a better Africa and, by extension, a better planet.

Kaddu Sebunya is CEO of the African Wildlife Foundation

Kaddu Sebunya

The GuardianTramp

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