By David N. Munene
Between 9th and 10th November 2019, about 57 representatives of different Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) comprising mainly of the Major Groups and Stakeholders (MGS) to the UN Environment Programme held a 2-day consultative meeting ahead of the Seventeenth Regular Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). The Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa (CYNESA) was represented by its Programs Manager, David N. Munene.
The African CSOs experts began the meeting by reflecting the previous AMCEN decisions and ministerial declarations of the past 16 regular sessions and 7 special sessions where 8 there were over 30 ministerial declarations and decisions had been adopted in areas such as air pollution, climate change, food security, biodiversity and environmental governance between 1985 and 2018. It was evident that there were recurrent calls in the decisions of the AMCEN sessions for governments to commit to the implementation of those and ensure the inclusion of civil society organisations and other stakeholders such as youth, women, and private sector. Referring to the speech to the African MGS by the head of UNEP Africa, Dr. Juliette Biao, the need to renew strategies and approaches was inevitable.
There were reviews of previous key global events including UNEA5 and the UN Secretary General’s Special Summit on Climate Action in New York on 25th September 2019 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, which happened in the context of accelerating the achievement of the SDGs. The rationale for these reviews was to show the value that African CSOs are bound to accrue for the communities and countries that they represent when they engage with the processes before the main events. On climate and environment, several outcomes on climate action for governments challenged governments to commit to supporting the civil society and appreciated governments that have committed to supporting CSOs. It was noted that the implementation of the Paris Agreement is country-based with all the countries making their commitments doing so at country level and that African governments were conspicuously missing in the list. Inadequate awareness on the processes of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) and other Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) among African CSOs was also brought to the fore. In rallying the African CSOs to ensure support for prevention of biodiversity loss and restoration of degraded ecosystems, reference was made to Decision 14/34 of Sharm El Sheikh, which set out a comprehensive and participatory process in preparation of the post-2020 global biodiversity framework. In terms of the way forward, a proposal for Implementation and accountability mechanisms to include the iterative “report, present, review, ratchet” approach to ensure optimum engagement and the alignment of MEAs especially the Sustainable Land Management (UNCCD) was presented.
The African MGS also had an opportunity to work in four working groups that were focused on the key areas that the 17th AMCEN Session was considering in its agenda for discussion and formation of the common African position. The four were promoting a circular economy in Africa, climate change: towards COP25 and implementation of NDCs in Africa, promoting biodiversity economy and natural capital accounting in Africa, and advancing the blue/ocean economy in Africa. The statements developed in the working groups constituted the final joint statement by the African CSOs that would be presented to the AMCEN.
During the last day of their deliberations, the African CSOs called upon the UNEP to consider mechanisms that ensure that businesses brought on board as part of the Science-Policy-Business-Forum upheld environmental ethics in their businesses. Specific reference was made to corporations that have been involved in the killings of environmental defenders considering the killing of environmental defenders in Nigeria 10 years ago on the day these discussions were being held. There were also concerns about the definition of business at the UN level as big corporations and in near-total-disregard for SMMEs. Nonetheless, the CSOs were encouraged to ensure that they take their seat on the table and participate in the structuring of the SPBF at the AMCEN level, which was under consideration.
Other issues discussed during the meeting included the need to ensure the integration of the regional multi-stakeholder consultation meeting for African MGS into the AMCEN to further strengthen participatory inclusivity, the current and potential roles of African MGS in the enhancement of the implementation of AMCEN Decisions, inputs to the UNEA5 theme, and strengthening partnerships and resources mobilization for implementation of previous AMCEN decisions. The AMCEN is taking place at the Olive Convention Centre in Durban, South Africa from 11th-15th under the theme, “Taking action for Environment Sustainability and Prosperity in Africa.”