15 June 2012

Africa: Rio+20 - Global Community Strives for Sustainable Development


The United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development underway in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil provides an opportunity for the global community to renew its commitment to promote sustainable development and address new and emerging challenges such as climate change.

The Rio+20 conference comes 20 years after the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, where Agenda 21 was adopted as a comprehensive blueprint of action that was to be taken globally, nationally and locally by UN organisations, governments and major groups in every area in which humans directly affect the environment. The conference will review progress and agree on new measures to reduce poverty while promoting sustainable and fair use of resources.

Delegates will be seeking to secure renewed political commitment for sustainable development, and how to respond to emerging challenges facing the global community. The conference will be held under two themes. These are "Green Economy in the Context of Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication" and "Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development". At least seven key areas have been identified for discussion - energy, water, food security, jobs, cities, oceans and disasters.

These are the areas considered critical towards poverty reduction and sustainable development. With regard to energy, the global community seeks to find ways of promoting the uptake of cleaner energy sources such as wind, hydro and solar energy that are less polluting to the environment. On food security, methods are being sought on how to grow, share and consume food without affecting the environment due to the added pressure of climate change on agriculture.

In respect to water, the conference will seek solutions to improve and increase access to cleaner and safe water. According to a UN report, there is sufficient freshwater to achieve this goal. However, poor infrastructure and economic problems are hindering the world from providing its population with clean and safe water. Delegates are also expected to discuss an action plan and policies that create employment, particularly for the youths. Emphasis will be put on "green jobs" in agriculture, industry, services and administration as these contribute to preserving and restoring the quality of the environment.

On cities, oceans and disasters, the conference will seek ways that make cities more habitable, as well as protecting the oceans from over-fishing and destruction as they are vital conduits for trade and transportation. In preparation for Rio +20, southern Africa is guided by the "Africa Consensus Statement to Rio +20" that was adopted in October 2011 by African ministers responsible for the environment and approved by the African Union summit early this year.

The African common position calls for developed countries to fulfil previous commitments and pledges to help Africa's efforts in achieving sustainable development. Other proposals are for Rio+20 to strongly urge the international community to support African countries to benefit fully from the sectors in which there is a comparative advantage. Africa also wants the conference to adopt concrete measures, supported by adequate means of implementation that would ensure accelerated implementation of sustainable development commitments.

Furthermore, the continent wants developed countries to commit to a second period under the Kyoto Protocol to run from 2013-2017, as well as to commit to cuts in emissions by 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2017. The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It was adopted in Kyoto, Japan in December 1997 and entered into force in February 2005. It sets binding targets for 37 industrialised countries for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

These amounted to an average of five percent against 1990 levels over the five-year period between 2008 and 2012. Africa, therefore, wants the industrialised nations to commit to another period of GHG reductions up to 2017. The continent is also pushing for developed nations to provide appropriate additional and long-term financing, technology and capacity-building support to enable developing nations to face the adverse effects of climate change. Africa is among those that is most affected by the effects of climate change because of the levels of poverty and low capacity to adapt.

Meeting at their Extraordinary Summit in June in Luanda, Angola, southern African leaders agreed to support the candidature of Namibia to host the Green Climate Fund (GCF), as they felt that such a fund is best suited for a developing country, where the effects of climate change are adverse. The GCF seeks to support climate change mitigation and adaptation actions in developing countries.

The fund is expected to raise and disburse about US$100 billion a year by 2020, starting with US$30 billion from 2012 to help the global community address issues of climate change. Rio+20 is, among other issues, expected to discuss the modalities of accessing such funds, as most developing countries are sceptical about the magnitude of the figures and the conditions to access the GCF. Various stakeholders including UN organisations, governments, private sector and the media will take part in the conference that runs from 13-22 June.

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