opinionBy Dr Alex O. Awiti
In the run-up to the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, I suggested that it would be ludicrous to expect World leaders to sign an international binding agreement to protect the planet's life-support system. It was therefore hardly surprising that the Rio+20 did not deliver a universal, binding agreement.
The fitting outcome from Rio+20, I argued, would be a pragmatic framework for national responsibility and local action. In this regard I think Rio+20 was a success. In a 49-page redemptive document entitled the "The Future We Want", World leaders from 193 Member States of the United Nations reaffirmed fundamental principles and renewed urgent commitments. In the words of the UN Secretary - General Ban Ki- moon, "the document provides a firm foundation for social economic and environmental well-being".
In my view, the document provides a framework for a wide range of actions by governments and communities, including: detailing how the green economy can contribute eradicating poverty while engendering sustained economic growth, enhancing social inclusion and creating opportunities for employment; taking steps to account for natural capital and that "Net" National Product (NNP) be adjusted for the depreciation of natural capital; strengthening institutional framework for sustainable development, including effective representation and devolution of resource governance.
The Rio+20 Summit set a pragmatic action framework for sustainable cities and human settlement, which is especially relevant for Kenya. In "The Future We Want" the leaders commit to promote policies that support inclusive housing and social services; a safe and healthy living environment for all; affordable and sustainable transport and energy; promotion, protection and restoration of safe and green urban spaces; safe and clean drinking water and sanitation; improved urban planning and slum upgrading; and management of waste through the application of the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle).
Food security and nutrition has become a pressing challenge, especially in Africa. Rio+20 affirmed the necessity to promote, enhance and support that improves food security, eradicates hunger, while conserving land, water, plant and animal genetic resources, biodiversity and ecosystems, and enhancing resilience to climate change.
Furthermore, Rio+20 recognized the critical role that access to sustainable modern energy services contributes to poverty eradication, saving lives, improving health and providing basic human needs. The World leaders reaffirmed support for implementation of policies appropriate energy mix to meet developmental needs, including renewable energy sources and other low-emission technologies.
Of special interest to Africa was the recognition by the World leaders that poverty eradication, promoting sustainable patterns of consumption and production, and protecting and managing the natural resource base are the overarching objectives of and essential prerequisites for sustainable development. Moreover, Rio+20 recognized that sustainable development could only be achieved with a broad coalition of governments, civil society and private sector.
Here is what I think are some practical steps we can take here in Kenya to operationalize the action framework outlined in "The Future We want" by World leaders at Rio+20 Summit.
1. Adopt "natural capital accounting" and assigning a value on the functions of protected forests, including their role in curbing erosion, providing clean water to cities, supporting wildlife and regulating the rain cycle to ensure enough rainfall for crops;
2. Adopt an audacious futuristic energy policy, which: specifies targets for transition to a clean, reliable, secure and competitive energy supply; promotes off-grid, distributed energy solutions for rural areas; sets a fuel economy standard of 25 kilometers per liter for all cars by 2030, including tax incentives to purchase more fuel efficient vehicles; sets a national energy efficiency target of 15-25% by 2030; reduces market entry barriers and provide high quality energy services; and, facilitates the creation a Renewable Energy Research Council to set priorities for energy research.
3. Smallholder agricultural production systems need an enabling environment to thrive: plant, soil and animal health extension services; timely and accurate climate forecast; quality inputs (seeds, animal breeds and fertilizer); reliable water supply; stable land tenure rights; access to affordable financial services, including insurance; appropriate mechanization; access stable markets; value addition through cottage processing.
5. Cities offer an excellent space for promoting sustainable consumption and production. Simple, low cost distributed innovations can deliver phenomenal reductions on urban water demand while creating new jobs in green plumbing and ecological engineering, improving environmental quality and creating exquisite habitat for urban flora and fauna. We must reduce demand for centralized portable water through water use efficiency, reuse, recycling and purification of domestic wastewater, roof catchment and the super abundant urban storm runoff.
6. In globalized and rapidly changing world, our education educational institutions, especially higher education must have a proclivity for research, innovation and entrepreneurship, which are necessary to develop human capacity, technology and employment for advancing national sustainable development objectives.The Rio+20 Summit was a success. It is now our responsibility to operationalize the audacious action framework of the Summit.
Dr. Awiti is an Ecosystems Ecologist based at the Aga Khan University, Nairobi.