A New Pragmatic Approach to achieving Sustainability in Cameroon and elsewhere in Africa
By Richard Munang (PhD) for www.chiareport.com
On June 20-22 global leaders gathered in Rio de Janeiro for the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development to discuss the future of our planet, society and environment. The outcome document entitled The Future We Want(TFWW), represents an important shift in the global approach to development. At Rio+20, governments and businesses, for the first time, explicitly recognized that natural capital is the core element of sustainable development and identified “green economy in the context of sustainable development and eradication of poverty” as the approach that will strengthen our relationship with ecosystems and move us toward a more sustainable economic development path.
This is an important change in mindset that moves the environment from a marginal issue to a central component of future development strategies, and centralizes the economy and business as key tools to build environmental value. It also marks a shift in the dominant perspective.
Within the document’s exhaustive acknowledgements is a new and important set of interrelated agreements related to ecosystems, economy and business: (1) ecosystems and biodiversity are the very foundation of our global economy and human wellbeing, (2) economic valuation is an important tool to make environmental assets “visible” to the global economy and guide development policy, (3) business should strive to include sustainability metrics of social and environmental factors into their models, reporting and decision making.
This focus on green economy is pragmatic and efficient in that it leverages two proven and powerful systems that are the foundation of all life as we know it - ecosystems and the economy - in order to achieve sustainable development. These systems can be a self-propelling engine towards sustainable development if made to function in a mutually-reinforcing and socially inclusive way. According to green economy thinking, natural and social capital can usefully be seen as assets similar to a financial asset, which must be invested in and maintained. Better information reveals the true costs of resource decisions and helps decision makers to choose more wisely between development tradeoffs.
Having established these agreements, policymakers and business leaders now have an opportunity to lead the way toward a transition to an inclusive green economy in partnership by properly ascribing values to natural elements in order to reflect their contribution to human wellbeing. The first step toward strengthening the planet’s natural foundation, rather than extracting from it, is properly measuring the impacts of human activity, and measuring the environment. Policymakers should restructure measures of economy and ecosystem governance, and encourage businesses to include reporting and metrics that reflect interactions with environment and society. Then the transit to a green economy can be mapped by incorporating the values of biodiversity and ecosystem services into policy and management decisions.
It is this backdrop that beckons the call for Cameroon to go green without any hesitation or delay in the following 8 areas, amongst many below, that are a gateway towards realizing sustainable development and ensuring a socially inclusive society.
Forestry: Forests of Cameroon need to be brought under sustainable forestry where the people are right in conduct and action, and ecosystem health and economic benefits are maintained. Good forest management has not always been present in Cameroon, resulting in degradation and denudation of forest Land. The consumable tree and plant materials include fruit, seed, root, leaves and firewood or timber. In fact any part of a plant or tree may be useful to human being as food, fuel, fibre, construction material. The firewood and timber harvesting needs have generally led to the actual slaughtering of groves. Extremely poor people actually collect firewood from trees, but the strong and powerful simply cut it for timber.
Transport: Sustainable traffic management involves controlling the type and quality of vehicles as well. The aim of traffic management is not only to avoid human death and injury and material damage, but also to improve quality of atmosphere and life on the street. Only then can benefits of sustainable transport be enjoyed by people. Sustainable transport can ensure safety as well as protect the environment from emission pollution.
Water: Water not only supports life sustaining processes in the nature but also is crucial as a resource for economic development. Ponds are used as medium of aquaculture, canals for local transportation and irrigation, rivers for national transportation and source of food (fish), oceans as way of cheap international transportation and big-scale fishing. However, the water systems around the globe are getting polluted day by day in a way that it seems we would loose this as resource one day soon, if no corrective measures are taken now.
Agriculture: Agriculture is the oldest trade of people who engaged themselves in it for growing food instead of collecting it by hunting other animals lower in the food chain. Even in this day and age of high-tech science and technology, providing food for the livelihood of people is arguably the most crucial contribution from agriculture. But features of sustainable agriculture are largely absent, including: Organic Farming, Biological Control of Pest, Conserving Biological Diversity of Agro-ecosystem, Rotation of Crops, Conserving Soil from Erosion and Degradation, Ensuring Materials Cycling – a mimic of natural Ecosystem.
Energy Supply: An energy system comprises its production, distribution and utilization regimes. The conventional energy system is based on fossil fuels -- coal, mineral oil and natural gas .When burnt, these fuels produce CO2 and are emitted by power stations. This mixes with exhaust from automobiles, contributing to global warming and climate change. So, it is urgent to construct an energy system based on renewable energy sources to secure the future of planet earth. The major renewable sources are solar energy, wind power, tidal power and biomass energy.
Tourism: Sustainable tourism is wise planning and implementation of activities of the sector that develops infrastructure and conducts tours without harming the ecosystems. Cameroon lacks tour infrastructures that are hugely needed to harness the potentials of the sector in national economy by keeping an intent eye on the safety of essential ecosystems.
Waste: Waste management system includes waste collection, processing and disposal. Various mechanisms are applied in the process. For environmentally friendly disposal, various components of waste should be carefully segregated. For physical, chemical and biological properties, there needs to be distinctive disposal. It will not be wise to burn the waste that can be composted to produce environment friendly biofertilizer and biogas through anaerobic decomposition in a digester. And nothing should be left to pollute the environment.
Buildings: Buildings account for one-sixth of the world's fresh water withdrawals, one-quarter of its wood harvest, and two-fifths of its material and energy flows. Green construction of buildings is an opportunity to use our resources efficiently -- creating healthier buildings that improve human health, create a better environment, and provide cost savings. A green building, also known as a sustainable building, is a structure that is designed, built, renovated, operated, or reused in an ecological and resource-efficient manner reducing the overall impact on the environment.
Rather than seeing the Conference as a failure to make commitments, RIO+20 should be better understood as a moment when world leaders moved toward more pragmatic and holistic approaches, short of waiting for a perfect political outcome. World leaders of policy, business and civil society have set the stage in this new agreement for a new kind of comprehensive development design with both bottom-up and top down approaches. The fact is it will require urgent, smart and collective action. If successful, new systems of natural asset accounting and market development will align the incentives of communities, businesses and governments towards a more verdant and durable future. This is the time for Cameroon to start to go green without any hesitation or delay.
Richard Munang (PhD) Policy Advisor and Coordinator, Climate Change Adaptation and Development, UN Environment Programme (UNEP)