As Cancún ends with environmental issues and policy still on the table that will affect not only how future generations live, but how the planet copes with the enormous carbon foot print (greenhouse gases produced by humans measured in units of carbon dioxide, CO2 equivalent or CO2-eq), the voice of Sub-Saharan Africa needs to be front and center in the global debate. The world's current per person CO2-eq is about 4 tons per person and the average North American generates about 20 tons of CO2-eq each year.
Sub-Saharan Africa and the rest of the developing world have a key role to play in leading, designing, deciding, and shaping environmental policy for the coming decades. Why? Because of several key factors that should not be underestimated or overlooked. Global environmental policy is the macro picture and sets the stage for how we will live together in the future. It will be important for Africa to keep the macro elements of population, economic growth, water and land use, food availability, pollution and last, but certainly not least, managing energy resources in a more efficient and effective manner. Africa needs to be one of the leading regions in the world shaping these policy issues -- developing practical, innovative solution that will help the continent better provide for future generations. Here are some key factors as to why Africa should be one of the primary voices on how global environmental policy unfolds:
Sub-Saharan Africa's Population
Sub-Saharan Africa's population is young, with more than half of it under the age of 25. With current continent-wide population growth rates averaging 2.45 per cent, and the trajectory estimated to remain the same over the next 40 years, Africa is on track to be home to 1.9 billion people by 2050. In addition, although Africa is the third largest continent, it is reportedly the fastest growing with the billionth person born there this year.
With half its population being under 25 now and if the trajectory remains the same, Africa would be host to 29 percent of the people in the world of that age group. This means they will need to not only be adequately and nutritionally feed, but have access to education (particularly vocational), training, housing and resources to have a good quality of life. Thus, the affects of climate change and resources management will be vital for the continent. Now is the time for Sub-Saharan Africa to be out front on global environmental issues. With this large population, the affects of climate change will likely hit Africa harder than any other region. To sustain this population several things must change from how energy resources, and water and land use are managed. The affects of climate change such as drought, famine-related diseases, and poverty cannot be underestimated.
In addition, oil-producing countries should not see alternative energy usages such as solar and wind as a threat to economic development. There will be enough need for all environmentally-friendly forms of energy well into the future. With proper planning, the right democratic leadership, and transparent resource management, economic growth for many African countries can be realized. The future does not have to be bleak for the continent, but the time is now for Africa to be seen as one of the leaders in the global debate on how large populations cope and plan the use of their resources.
Water Management and Land Use
These are the next two issues that must move to the top of the agenda for Sub-Saharan Africa. Not only is the management of these resources key to supporting the population, but water and land use also affects economic growth and development. Although these two resources are often discussed in Africa, they need to be addressed in terms of continent-wide environmental policy, and regional cooperation. Leading activists, academics, and experts such as Hernando de Soto, Dr. Zuberi of the University of Pennsylvania, and the World Bank's Deininger during a 2010 Tanzanian water and land use conference, noted that most of the world's water resources and arable and agricultural land are in the developing world. For example, according to de Soto, about 1.7 billion hectares today produce most of the world's food, and with a bump from technology this could rise to 2.4 billion hectares. These hectares are mostly in Latin America and Africa.
Furthermore according to GRID-Arendal, a collaborating center of the United Nations Development Program (UNEP), Africa has the potential now to raise its current 160 million hectares of arable and agricultural land up to 300 million hectares.
The importance of improving the management of both these resources is evident. For water, better management will provide more access to potable water and avert water scarcity and water stress (water scarcity and stress generally refers to environmental problems caused by unmet water needs). For land, better management will improve usage of arable and agricultural areas to improve food production.
This means that current and future use of these two precious resources must be done with realistic planning. If not, the likelihood increases for food insecurity, and of course, conflict over these two vital resources. About 70 percent of people living in Sub-Saharan Africa depend on agriculture, and according to Water System Analysis Group, 64 percent rely on limited water.
When talking about land, it is important also to keep in mind FAO's definition of both arable and cultivate land. Arable land includes land defined by FAO as areas under temporary cultivation; cultivated land is that which is under permanent crops for long periods of time such as cocoa, coffee, and rubber. For Sub-Saharan Africa this means about 8.3 percent of the land.
There are numerous examples in the world were ethnic and religious differences or tensions arise because of pressures on either land use or water rights -- or lack of access to either. If you add these challenges to the ever-expanding desertification in the Sahel, the importance of managing these resources in an environmentally sound manner is even more evident. Sub-Saharan African leaders will need to continue to actively and effectively participate in the climate change debate and help develop global policies to address its unique position as the fastest growing continent. At the 2010 Tanzanian Conference, it was sited that Sudan, Zambia and Mozambique reportedly have the largest amounts of land available for food production. Desertification is affecting countries like Nigeria, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad to name a few and Blogit-rrs has already reported on current food security issues in the West Africa region. Again, water and land use affects economic growth and development, jobs and the future.
All of these issues are pillars in the environment and climate change discussion. We all want a way forward that makes sense, and that will ensure that we have: a resource-rich future that pushes all of us to be environmentalists, energy conservationists, and users of alternative energy resources in the execution of our daily lives. It is important to remember that future economic growth and development will be impacted by how we handle climate change today.
Indeed, for Sub-Saharan Africa the important things on the radar screen to keep in mind are:
-- That a good percentage of the world's water resources are on the African continent, thus having enough potable water for the both current and future generations is vital;
-- That most of the arable and agricultural land today is in the developing world, (both arable and cultivated land). These must be used wisely for food security (both adequate and nutrition-rich foods), and with environmental considerations in mind. This includes using innovative technology to improved food storage and crop rotation, hybrid seeds, water harvesting, and more drip irrigation to name a few solutions;
--That land tenure and land uses are part of the climate change debate for Africa because laws and regulations in many countries will need to be address at the same time with a view to incorporating environmental sound policies. Land tenure issues are a big piece of the environmental picture given that whoever owns land determines how, particularly for agriculture. This includes bringing more women into the discussion, particularly on title and land transfer issues. Noting that 90 percent of land in Sub-Saharan Africa is not titled, de Soto refers to land titles as "passports" as it allows one to have a voice in how land is used.; and,
--That energy usage (fossil fuel and combustion) is one of the largest markers of the world's carbon foot print. Alternative energy usage (wind, solar, hydro) must come into play alongside improved environmental-sound use of hydrocarbons (i.e. advance efforts to capture gas from flaring so it can be used as an additional energy resource). A sufficient and efficient energy platform sustains manufacturing, industry and entrepreneurial activity leading to economic growth, development, and jobs.
All of these issues underscore the importance of the continent's leadership role in the global climate change/environmental debate in order for Sub-Saharan Africa to provide a good quality of life for its 1.9 billion population at mid-Century and beyond.
*N.B. Primary carbon footprint is emissions of greenhouse gases from the burning of fossil fuels combustion for energy consumption and transportation. Secondary footprint is the indirect emissions during the lifecycle of products (i.e. greenhouse gases emitted making plastic bottles). All stats and Africa references refer to Sub-Saharan Africa.