Supporting sound ecosystem management

This thematic area aims at supporting countries in utilizing the ecosystem approach to enhance human well-being. Building on UN Environment ’s mandate to improve the scientific understanding of ecosystem functioning, this sub programme promotes an approach that addresses a whole ecological unit as a single system. At the national and regional level, UN Environment facilitates policies and laws that promote environment for development, emphasizing the socio-economics aspects of ecosystem services through payment for ecosystem services and incorporate biodiversity as a working system for ecosystem functioning. Providing capacity building for testing tools and methodologies and support to the Africa Ministerial Council on Water AMCOW and to National level processes.

Natural Capital

Natural Capital is the world's stocks of natural assets, which include geology, soil, air, water and all living things. It is from this Natural Capital that humans derive a wide range of services, often called ecosystem services, which make human life possible. These Ecosystem services need to be managed in order to conserve major ecological services and restore natural resources while meeting the socioeconomic, political and cultural and needs of current and future generations. Good stewardship of natural resources is key for sustainable economic growth and prosperity in the region.

Africa, the world’s second-largest continent, holds a huge proportion of the world’s natural resources, both renewable and non-renewable. The continent has the 2nd largest tropical forest of the planet, which is about 16.8 percent of the global forest cover. About 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves are in Africa. The continent has 8 percent of world’s natural gas reserves, 12 percent of the world's oil reserves, 40 percent of its gold, and 80 – 90 percent of its chromium and platinum. The largest cobalt, diamonds, platinum, and uranium reserves in the world are on the continent. In addition, the region holds 65 percent of the world’s arable land enough to feed 9 billion people and 10 percent of internal renewable fresh water sources. Different sectors present enormous values: the fisheries sector is estimated worth US$ 24 billion; aquaculture, though still developing, already produces an estimated value of around US$ 3 billion annually and forests contribute an average of 6 percent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Africa.

The region’s natural resources underpin the continent’s economy and continue to represent significant development opportunities as underlined by African Ministerial Conference on the Environment’s 2015 Cairo Declaration on Managing Africa’s Natural Capital for Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication. Therefore sustainable use of the continents natural resources, guided by the United Nations post-2015 development agenda and Africa’s Agenda 2063, can contribute to ensuring sustained economic growth, poverty eradication and political stability.

Challenges facing natural resources management in Africa:

However, to benefit from this immense potential, tremendous challenges, posed by illegal exploitation of the continent’s natural resources, have to be overcome:

  • Illegal logging costs the continent US$ 17 billion annually. The environmental crime report published by UN Environment notes that illegal charcoal trade alone involves a direct loss of revenues of US$ 1.9 billion annually.
  • Through illegal fishing sub-Saharan Africa loses over USD 1 billion in lost revenue annually.
  • Illegal poaching of elephants, which are a key tourism asset, cost the region US$ 1.9 billion annually.
  • In the mines sector, countries with massive wealth in resources on the southern part of the continent of the global Human Development Index.
  • On ecosystems and food security, 180 million people rely on depleted soil to grow their food.  The economic loss associated with land degradation in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated at US$ 68 billion per year.

UN Environment supports African countries through:

  • Combating the depletion and degradation of Africa’s natural resource base and fostering the conservation and recovery of African biodiversity, which represents an inestimable heritage, through improved control of access to the genetic resources of the continent.
  • Ensuring that the use of the natural resources and biodiversity will financially and economically benefit the countries that possess them and the fair and equitable sharing of the benefits arising from their use, with consideration for both present and future generations.
  • Promoting value addition, pertinent Research and Development, and technological innovations for sustainably harnessing the natural resource base and biodiversity by developing joint ventures and private- public- partnerships to facilitate the establishment of industries in Africa.
  • Considering that official development assistance (ODA) to Africa is declining, the region should consider domestic mobilization of funds, through a fairer, transparent and sustainable administration of its natural capital to leverage external support and finance its sustainable development programmes.