A new report by the African Development Bank and WWF says Africa’s ecological footprint is at threat.
Fundamentally we all depend on nature, the ecological infrastructure of the planet that provides the flow of goods and services upon which our livelihoods and economies are built. Yet Africa’s ecosystems are changing faster than ever before through the combined impact of global and local pressures. Loss of ecosystem services is compromising future security, health and well-being, and effects are being borne disproportionately by the poor. Transitioning to a green economy involves maintaining our natural capital so it provides the ecosystem services, such as food, water, and livelihoods, we all depend on and being more prepared for climate change.
Is Africa’s ecological footprint on the right path?
Africa comprises 2,960 million hectares of land, 1,815 million of which are counted as bioproductive area in the 2008 National Footprint Accounts. Of this bioproductive land area, 627 million hectares are forested, 246 million are cropland, and 911 million are grasslands. Infrastructure occupies 31 million hectares. Africa also has 115 million hectares of continental shelf area and 67 million hectares of inland water. Taking into account differences between average African yields and corresponding global yields for cropland, grazing land, forest, and fisheries, Africa’s total biocapacity is 1,423 million gha. The Living Planet Index reflects the state of the planet’s ecosystems. Published for the first time in the 2012 Living Planet Report, the Africa Living Planet Index shows a reduction of 38 per cent in animal populations over the 37 year period between 1970 and 2007.
The ecological footprint of all African countries increased by 240 per cent between 1961 and 2008 as a result of growing populations as well as increased per capita consumption in a minority of countries. The average per capita footprint in Africa in 2008 is now rapidly approaching the available per capita biocapacity within Africa’s borders of 1.5 gha.
Why should we care?
Africa has choices in terms of its development pathways. Pursuing a more sustainable approach to development than those taken in some other parts of the world can generate benefits in terms of environmental security, human well-being and increased competitiveness. The choices made today about infrastructure, energy and food production will shape our opportunities and options far into the future.
It is becoming evident that over exploitation of natural resources can lead to the depletion of natural capital and a decline in ecosystem services, eventually slowing economic development and human well-being. In response to the on-going decline of the global environment, the “green economy” is now evolving from being just an ideal, to an approach that is gathering more and more support from countries worldwide. The green economy is moving to take centre stage at the Conference of Parties to take place in Dhoha, Qatar, in November and December 2012.
Transitioning to a green economy involves maintaining our natural capital, so it provides the ecosystem services we all depend on. These services provide food, water, energy and our livelihoods and help us be more prepared for climate change. In Africa the sustainable use of natural resources needs to be mainstreamed in economic development. The timing is now right for making green economies a reality, and we have seen excellent initiatives started both by individual countries and by smaller country groups. Making economies more efficient in terms of how they use resources and invest in new technologies and innovation will help these initiatives further. With Africa hosting 15 percent of the planet’s population and 13 percent of the planet’s biological capacity, its governments, business leaders and investors need to show ever greater leadership if the continent’s natural resources are to be used sustainably.
The 2012 Africa Ecological Footprint
Published and launched for the first time on the continent, this edition of Africa Ecological Footprint Report focuses on green infrastructure for Africa’s ecological security. The report is a joint publication between the African Development Bank (AfDB) and the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF). Specifically, it sets out some of the challenges associated with lifting Africa’s growing population out of poverty and ensuring their well-being can be sustained in a resource constrained world. It analyses the current demand for land and water resources in Africa. It argues that Africa is still endowed with a lot of bio-capacity, although witnessing a decline in biodiversity and under major stresses because of significant drivers such as trade, climate change, and unsustainable development decisions. This report presents examples of solutions that promote the creation of wealth and alleviation of poverty through more sustainable management of the natural capital of the continent. These strategies focus on:
- reducing the negative effect of human consumption on natural capital;
- maintaining natural capital with additional and targeted investment; and
- highlighting the socio-economic benefits from investing in natural capital and natural resources management;
- The 2012 report raise awareness on ecosystem-based approaches to development as an imperative to crafting a sustainable future for Africa nations. It further contributes to the AfDB’s current refining of its strategic approach towards green and inclusive growth and natural resource management policies.
The report provides headway into challenges and issues that have been ignored by mainstream development and environmental planning in Africa. It takes stock of Africa’s current and future demand for ecological resources as compared to the region’s and the planet’s supply. It initiates the process of addressing the sustainability challenge by exploring the implications of our current and proposed future development paths for regional and global ecosystems and makes policy recommendations on green economy pathways.
What’s at stake?
Ecosystem services underpin all aspects of our lives and economies yet are often taken for granted. At the same time the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found that “over the past 50 years, humans have changed ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history, largely to meet rapidly growing demands for food, fresh water, timber, fiber, and fuel”. The loss of services derived from ecosystems has been identified as a significant barrier to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, hunger, and disease.
Fact sheet of Africa Ecological Footprint
- Africa’s total biocapacity is 1,423 million gha.
- Nations with high per capita biocapacity such as Congo and Central African Republic tend to be dominated by forest areas.
- Gabon – the continent leader with high per capita biocapacity – also has major fishing and grazing lands.
- Grazing land makes a significant contribution in other biocapacity leaders like Mauritania and Botswana while fishing lands predominate in Namibia.
- At the other end of the scale countries with lowest per capita biocapacity are often relatively densely populated and/or have productivity affected by unfavourable climate conditions, particularly low year-round rainfall.
- Eight countries – Burundi, Rwanda, Kenya, Mauritius, Algeria, Ethiopia, Egypt, and Libya have available biocapacity per capita within their national borders of less than 1.2 gha per capita. The Ecological Footprint of all African countries increased by 149% between 1961 and 2008.