Time was once on our side in undertaking major environmental policy initiatives. Today though we have the human and material resources to win the fight, the time for a well planned transition to sustainable development is running out
-Kofi Annan, Former Secretary General of the United Nations.
It is a doubtless fact that Africa is the centre of the world in respect to the vast number of resources that has been bestowed on man but the reverse is the case with the use of same. The African society has lived through millions of years of social interaction between man and environment. The lives of the people have revolved around the use of the resources in the development of the environment. The problem, as stated by Mr. Annan lies in the fact that major policy initiatives had not been taken due to a continued existence of the resources and till today, our society has still not taken veritable steps towards harnessing them in the face of continuous depletion of the non-renewable resources as well as environmental hazards that arise from technological industrialization and use of artificial resources.
The concept of sustainability has become the answer to avoiding environmental and economic crisis in the 21st century. This is due to the knowledge that short-term projects to solve immediate issues like in the past do not last quite long. While acknowledging the quantum leaps different nations in the continent have taken to rid themselves of the problem of adverse environmental issues ranging from financing grass root NGOs that participate in sensitization and education of citizens to States who provide for the protection of the environment and its resources in their bill of rights, the steps have not been sufficiently able to close the divide between the social use of these resources with the great economic effect they have the potential to provide us. The question for young leaders therefore is: how do we use our environment to build the society of our dreams and how do we sustain a well developed economy for our decedents?
Since the turn of the century and on a global scale, as emerging economies like China have begun to industrialize and urbanize, they have used massive amounts of iron, steel, cement, energy and construction materials. While this has helped millions of people move out of poverty, huge infrastructure investments have also ratcheted up the demand for primary materials to unprecedented levels. Surprisingly, this boom in global growth has not led to improvements in efficiency, despite the many technological advances along the way. The global economy uses more material per unit of GDP than it did in 2000. This is because production has shifted from material-efficient economies such as Japan, South Korea and Europe to less efficient ones like China, India and Southeast Asia.
Thankfully, Africa does not have to follow the carbon-intensive pathway and energy practices of rich countries and emerging economies that have brought the world to the brink of catastrophe. Africa is rich in untapped energy potential – including renewable resources. This fact is greater appreciated when read in line with the fact that Africa, the world’s second-largest continent holds a huge proportion of the world’s natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable. According to the African Development Bank, about 30 per cent of the world’s mineral reserves are in Africa. The continent has 8 per cent of the world’s natural gas reserves, 12 per cent of its oil reserves, 40 per cent of its gold, and 80–90 per cent of its chromium and platinum. The largest cobalt, diamond, platinum and uranium reserves in the world are in Africa. In addition, Africa holds 65 per cent of the world’s arable land and 10 per cent of internal renewable freshwater sources. The African fisheries sector is estimated to be worth $24 billion. Africa is home to the second largest tropical forest in the world and to some of the highest annual rainfall in the heart of the Congo basin.
However, in attempting to live up to Her expectations in light of the amount of natural resources She has, Africa has outdone Herself in unreservedly tapping without caution, the vast resources She possesses. This has led therefore to a complete degradation and depletion of our resources and even worse than the problems of industrialized and emerging economies as stated earlier because the resources are barely used to the advantage of the average community in a state. Many societies are situated above lands filled with rich resources which governments, as we have seen in the past, either do not develop or completely ruin the social, cultural and economic lives of people in such areas.
From the statistics above, Africa is an economic development asset as well as socio-cultural resource to the world. It is therefore an imperative that optimal management of natural resources is achieved for sustainable development and poverty alleviation. A few policies to enhance management of these resources are opined.
Firstly, reference to renewable resources as Africa’s natural capital should be taken literarily to mean using the resources as a start up to building a creative manufacturing industry for renewable resources in and out of the state. Admittedly, there are a lot of underdeveloped communities across the continent that can be improved upon should the right policies be put in place. These underdeveloped communities tend to have surplus labour and very low productivity which leads to low income potential for those in those communities. However, unlike statistics and numbers that show that the potential for innovation and economies of scale is generally limited, opportunities for these communities are vast as they are in most cases, situated in places rich with renewable natural resources. Some of the communities in riverside areas, forestlands and others should not be overlooked in planning urbanization of African societies as harnessing renewable resources from these areas would not only improve the lives of its people but raise the supply level of resources above demand in other parts of the State. This would lead to an increase in employment level in rural areas, urbanization and a substantive addition to the GDP of nations.
Secondly, related to habitation in areas where there is an abundance of renewable natural resources is the need for sensitization and the need to check the unreserved use of these resources by those in such environments. In recent times, research has shown that overuse of natural resources, though renewable may lead to depletion over a period of time. This is evident in areas where there is deforestation or overfishing. Alteration and destruction of these resources prove a greater threat than their non-use because it has the potential to destroy other communities that are in the same region. It is pertinent to urge the immediate sensitization of people in these communities as well as facilitate the government as an agent to check the use of said resources especially in relation to deforestation, climate change and burning carbon.
In light of the suggestion to expand effective use of the environmental resources, it would be an effortless fight to combat environmental degradation and its loyal consequences without the employment of the most vital resource – people. In most African nations today, entrepreneurs are demonstrating the potential of their countries to leap the hazards of technological industrialization to a world of bio-healthy development using a plethora of renewable resources while preserving other natural resources in the societies. The writer is a strong believer in the fact there is no limit to the growth and development a society can achieve with the use of Public Private Partnerships and requisite support ought to be given to these entrepreneurs to aid the development in this regard. If policies are made, not only for the development of these endeavours, but also for the encouragement of them in ways such as tax reduction, social recognition, amongst other forms of rewards, there would be great help from the people in promoting sustainable use of renewable resources.
Lastly, to promote sustainable use of renewable natural resources to foster socio-economic transformation in Africa, there is a pertinent need to look outside of our individual States to the international community to make lasting relationships through the ratification of treaties and conventions as well as subsequent implementation of them. The continent as a whole dedicated the 1980’s to working out policies to transform the society. These include Lagos Plan of Action and the Final Act of Lagos (1980); Africa’s Priority Programme for Economic Recovery (APPER) (1985); the United Nations Programme of Action for African Economic Recovery and Development (UN-PAAERD) (1986); the African Alternative Framework to Structural Adjustment; Programmes for Socio-economic Recovery and Transformation (AAF-SAP) (1989); and, the African Charter for Popular Participation in Development and Transformation (1990). These policies, in addition to those made in the turn of the 21st century means that there is no lack of regional legislative framework for the continent to pull a turnaround in the environmental sector. Asides from the presence of these policies, there is an ever-growing need to partner with developed nations; especially those that have already made strides in this regard. Aid should be sought from developed countries in the form of expatriates and experts in the manufacturing sector to help our domestic endeavours. Moreover, good relationships with other non-African countries should be sought as market for the sale of harnessed resources lie in the international community.
Conclusively, in the words of great African writer, Chinua Achebe, “a man who lives on the bank of a river does not use spittle to wash his hands.” Africa as a continent has reached a stage where she cannot afford the luxury of being left behind while the world develops past her especially in regard to renewable natural resources which she has been blessed abundantly with. In restructuring the socio-economic policies of our societies, we need to look towards developing and building from them as the goal of natural resource economics is to build an efficient economy that is sustainable in the long run. I believe this can be achieved while also improving on our social sector where there is an inclusion of the people and also widening the horizon by building with international standards. The time to wash our hands in the river is upon us.