Africa is not immune to the rapid global biodiversity loss!

Development Director Africa

Biotope (environmental consulting firm)

Published on

In the aftermath of the landmark report of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the summary of which was approved at the 7th IPBES plenary session in Paris, Julien Cordier, Director for Africa Development-Biotope, a French consulting firm specialising in fauna, flora and natural environments, presented the challenges for Africa.

The IPBES (Intergovernemental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), created under the authority of the United Nations in 2012, is an independent body that brings together 130 governments. The platform, a kind of “Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for Biodiversity “, aims to provide policy makers with scientific assessments on the current state of knowledge on biodiversity and ecosystems. The regional assessment for Africa conducted under its leadership is the first of its kind for the continent. It provides interesting lessons.

They are all the more important to be understood by the continent’s decision makers as the International Convention on Biological Diversity – COP15 – to be held in China in November 2020 will lead to a series of decisions to address the ongoing collapse of biodiversity and mass extinction of species. The Chinese Empire takes the subject very seriously, as do Western development partners and a growing number of companies…

The strengths of the abundance and uniqueness of African biodiversity

Africa’s biodiversity is of global importance. The continent represents 20.2% of the Earth’s surface and is home to a quarter of the world’s mammalian species, about a fifth of bird species and a sixth of plant species. The continent has 8 of the 36 biodiversity hotspots identified worldwide. They are the richest and most biologically threatened places on the planet, home to many endemic species (found nowhere else in the world).

This natural wealth, combined with the continent’s rich indigenous and local knowledge, is a central element of sustainable development and a strategic asset for achieving sustainable development.

The richness of biological diversity and ecosystem diversity generate flows of essential goods and services to meet the continent’s needs for food, water, energy, health and stable livelihoods. These tangible and intangible assets represent a strategic asset for the continent’s sustainability. The conservation of African biodiversity and ecosystems improves adaptive capacity, enhances resilience and reduces vulnerability to climate change. It contributes to the sustainable development that is essential to preserve the future of the African continent.

African biodiversity under increasing stress

The richness is today threatened. For the first time, the IPBES report acts in black and white in a report validated by scientists and 132 Member States, that the main factor responsible for biodiversity loss and the decrease in nature’s contributions to people in Africa is the conversion of natural habitats into agricultural land and urban areas. Africa is one of the fastest growing and unplanned continents in the world. Africa’s current population, estimated at 1.25 billion, is expected to double by 2050, challenging the continent’s biodiversity and nature’s contributions to people.

Next comes the non-integrated development of infrastructure; the overexploitation of biological resources; the introduction of invasive alien species; air, water and soil pollution, poaching and wildlife trafficking.

Biodiversity depletion factors also increase climate-related risks. In addition, Africa is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. In all African countries, temperatures are rising faster than the global average. Climate change could lead to significant losses of plant species, the loss of more than 50% of some bird and mammal species. The consequences could also be serious for coastal ecosystems and inland waters.

In some regions, the direct contribution of marine and coastal resources to the African economy is considerable, accounting for more than 35% of GDP. Despite their very high ecological and socio-economic importance for the continent, marine and coastal environments and their crucial ecosystems (coral reefs, mangroves, etc.) are now seriously threatened by human activities.

The damage caused has far-reaching consequences for fisheries, food security, tourism and marine biodiversity as a whole. They jeopardise highly valuable ecosystem services because of their efficiency and their free nature.

Africa at a crossroads

Africa has experienced significant growth and a very favourable financial outlook over the past two decades, but it is also the only region in which there has been an increase in extreme poverty, since this economic growth, however dynamic, remains weaker than population growth, with an unequal distribution of its benefits. Today Africa’s unique and abundant biodiversity is an asset for achieving sustainable development objectives and can be used in a sustainable and equitable way to reduce inequality and poverty on the continent.

However, IPBES points out that current decision-making processes in Africa tend not to appreciate biodiversity and nature’s contributions to human well-being at their true value. Studies assessing biodiversity and its contributions are too few and limited, both in terms of the geographical areas covered and the types of ecosystems studied. These assessments of biodiversity and the services it provides to people are essential for decision-making and raising awareness of the importance of conserving ecosystems and the biodiversity they support. In short, they are essential to mobilise all stakeholders in favour of this common heritage: political decision makers, industrialists, developers, local populations…

At the same time, the Aichi (2011-2020) biodiversity targets are on the wrong track and show very worrying results in Africa: more than 50% of countries are not on track to meet the targets, far from it. Progress is being made, but at a very slow pace in addressing the challenges.

Not only does Africa remain the continent most vulnerable to climate change, but it also has a relatively low adaptive capacity. The magnitude of the impacts of future climate change will depend strongly on the development agendas that decision makers are currently following.

Africa’s options for responding to threats

Africa has several governance options to address threats to biodiversity and mitigate the impacts of the challenges facing the continent. The identification and choice of possible solutions is based on a set of plausible futures described through scenarios. Given the challenges of population growth, food insecurity, urbanisation, climate change, weak governance, it is not easy to put in place a policy that benefits both nature and society. However, a transition to green and blue economies is possible.

In a green economy, increased income and job creation are the result of public and private investments to reduce carbon emissions and pollution, to use energy and resources efficiently and to prevent the loss of biodiversity and ecosystem services.

The concept of the blue economy calls for the realisation that the productivity of healthy freshwater and marine ecosystems paves the way for the development of aquatic and marine economies and helps island and other coastal states, as well as landlocked countries, to benefit from their resources. A blue economy promotes the conservation of aquatic and marine ecosystems and the sustainable use of the resulting resources, based on the principles of equity, low-carbon development, resource efficiency and social inclusion. The development, expansion and management of marine and terrestrial protected areas can contribute to the challenge of developing strategies that go beyond simply protecting species and ecosystems.

The five IPBES scenarios

In the IPBES report, the scenarios (S) for Africa were classified into five categories according to the focus: market forces (S1), policy reform (S2) and world fortress (S3), which correspond to a kind of “laissez-faire” situation, and regional sustainability (S4) and local sustainability (S5).

The emergence of a prosperous and peaceful Africa, the achievement of sustainable development objectives and Aichi’s biodiversity objectives are a challenge in the context of a Fortress World (S3) scenario, in which priority is given to national sovereignty, self-sufficiency and security. It is also unlikely that the above ambitions can be achieved in the Policy Reform (S2) and Market Forces (S1) scenarios, given their strong tendency to damage natural resources in the long term. In contrast, the regional (S4) and local (5) sustainability scenarios present the most appropriate solutions for achieving multiple objectives for biodiversity conservation and sustainable use and development in Africa in the short to medium term.

No matter what type of scenario is chosen, trade-offs between some of nature’s contributions to people and how they contribute to human well-being will be inevitable. The five types of scenarios studied predict a decrease in biodiversity and ecological functioning at different levels of magnitude.

Integrating biodiversity and ecosystem services into policies and measures at different levels is therefore essential and consistent with the functioning of traditional polycentric governance on the continent. Such governance brings together actors from both the public and private sectors and their own perspectives. It is a form of governance that bridges sectors and operates at multiple levels and scales with different timelines.

Such an approach provides an alternative to top-down approaches, which take less account of local constraints, and bottom-up approaches, which are sometimes not appropriate to resolve certain issues at more global levels. With the support of appropriate legal, regulatory, economic and financial instruments, this type of approach can lead to consensus and joint learning through dialogue and joint knowledge production, while respecting the principles of equity, transparency, accountability and participation.

Although not the easiest and quickest to implement, polycentric approaches allow flexibility in a changing situation, reduce conflict, balance conservation and development objectives and achieve positive results in the medium and long term. A polycentric governance system therefore seems essential if Africa’s natural assets are to bring their benefits to human beings in an equitable way.

Julien Cordier,
Director for Africa Development at Biotope,
Research office on the environment, natural areas, fauna and flora

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