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African leadership works towards a common position for Rio+20

Organized by the African Union Commission (AUC), the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), the African Development Bank (ADB), and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the 17th Ordinary Session of the Summit of the African Union brought together over 130 participants including Heads of State and Ministers from 53 countries, UN agencies, regional economic commissions, the European Union and civil society groups, in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, during the last week of June 2011.

The meeting, entitled "Mobilising African Leadership for an Effective Regional Preparatory Process for the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development," sought to mobilize African political leadership and ownership of the regional preparation for Rio+20 in order to share ideas, suggestions and recommendations which can contribute towards Africa’s common strategy for next year’s conference.

In the roundtable on the green economy, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner stated that the African region could benefit most from a shift towards a green economy, adding that Rio+20 should accelerate the evolution towards a concept of sustainable development that recognizes Africa’s assets in a way that reflects the economic, social and environmental realities of today’s world. He further suggested that progress be made in the evolution of wealth indicators, "that take the world beyond the narrow definitions of GDP."

The need for an African Union common position was strongly advocated by President Denis Sassou-Nguesso of the Republic of Congo, and received support from George Saitoti, the Kenyan Minister of Foreign Affairs. President Sassou-Nguesso further reaffirmed the central role to be played by Africa at Rio+20, not only as a consequence of its significant natural capital but also due to the political weight that it can leverage at the United Nations. "Africa has more than a quarter of seats in the UN General Assembly. It represents the bulk of the Group of 77 and China. It must use this political and strategic capital," he urged. The President, who opened the meeting, also voiced his support for the institution of a World Environment Organization which, he elucidated, had received significant support from African Heads of State during the May 2010 Africa-France Summit .

The proposal of establishing a World Environment Organization, however, was not welcomed by all participants. The representative of Egypt instead proposed a strengthening of the UNEP into an "action oriented implementation programme with sufficient resources, comparable to the UNDP, not into a normative, enforcement oriented world organization."

The meeting also marked the official launch of the South African Renewable Initiative (SARI), presented by Jacob Zuma, President of the Republic of South Africa. The initiative plans on integrating the programmes of the "Renewables Working Group of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Energy" and the "Industrial Policy Action Plan Task Team" with the goal of determining an industrial strategy for securing economic gains and establishing financial and institutional arrangements in the context of the renewable development programme of South Africa.

A report was also presented by the Pollution Research Group at Natal University in South Africa in regards to the effects on the economy that the African "brain-drain" has had, and the possible consequences this has for the future of the continent: ’...in any country of Africa, human capital is much more valuable than financial capital because it is only a nation’s human capital that can be converted into real wealth. Under the status quo, Africa would still remain poor even if we were to send all the money in the world there."

In closing the high level interactive session, Jean Ping, Second Chairman of the Commission of the African Union, expressed the view that the rethinking of global environmental governance further be considered in the broader context of a changing world order, explaining that "the current global governance (...) system is not acceptable for Africa, as there are no checks and balances, specifically in reference to the Security Council." Mr. Ping stressed the shared responsibilities of the UN Economic Commission for Africa, the African Union Commission and African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) to coordinate the drafting of the common position on Rio+20. Abdoulie Janneh, Under-Secretary General of UNECA, expressed the hope that a regional review report drafted by the relevant Regional Economic Communities would be discussed in the sub-regional consultations scheduled for September and that these would contribute to the drafting of Africa’s common position at the African Regional Preparatory Conference taking place in October in Addis Ababa.

To access Press clippings on the meeting and the report issued jointly by the AUC, UNEP, UNECA and the African Development Bank please click here.

To access iisd coverage of the meeting please click here.

To access the AUC Press Release please click here.