UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative Leads the Way Towards an Inclusive Green Economy
When the global financial crisis began in 2008-09, environmental sustainability dwindled as a policy priority for many countries and budgets for environment and sustainable management of natural resources were cut across the globe.
For the nine African countries where the UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative (PEI) has been working since 2005, however, a different kind of response was discernible.
Situated on a continent where economic growth is largely driven by natural resources and convinced of the benefits derived from pro-poor sustainable environment management, the countries of Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mozambique, Rwanda and Tanzania have become pioneers in taking practical steps towards an inclusive, pro-poor green economy.
The Poverty-Environment Nexus: a growing problem
African economies and rural livelihoods remain heavily dependent on natural resources, particularly renewable resources such as soil and water, and on the associated productive sectors such as agriculture and forestry.
Stories from across the continent are all too familiar with small-holder farmers in Malawi and Tanzania experiencing reduced yields as a result of soil degradation; artisanal miners in Burkina Faso facing increasing health problems after prolonged exposure to chemicals; and people searching for new livelihood opportunities in urban areas and abroad in the face of diminishing economic and social returns from natural resources.
With the youngest and fastest-growing population in the world and institutional capacity constraints, tackling these problems represents an enormous challenge in Africa. Despite this, these nine countries are making headway.
Crunching the numbers
Economic valuations of natural resources and the environment have produced some powerful findings which have started to make a viable case for green economy investment and prompted action in a number of PEI-supported governments.
Such evaluations have shown in Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Mozambique, the costs of unsustainable natural resource use is equivalent to between 17 to 22 per cent of GDP. Once such numbers are accepted and understood, other branches of government - beyond the Ministries of Environment - rapidly take note, instigating sector-wide support for policy reforms.
In Mauritania, for example, such findings were used to advocate for the integration of poverty-environment related objectives into the National Poverty Reduction Strategy and were instrumental in the decision to change the project lead agency from the Ministry of Environment to the Ministry of Finance.
Generating policy change
Public Environment Expenditure Reviews (PEERs) in each of the PEI countries have been able to highlight the typically low budget allocations and expenditure for sustainable environment and natural resource management.
Comparison of this audit to the results of other PEI economic studies can reveal some powerful conclusions. For example, in Mali environmental expenditure was estimated to be 1 per cent of GDP, despite the fact that the costs of inaction with regards to environmental sustainability amount to 21 per cent of the GDP.
Thus, the return from investing in sustainable natural resource use is high, yet at present that benefit is not being fully captured.
Making this reality known has prompted positive action from Ministries of Planning and Finance who are now energized to increase investment in sustainability.
This is evidenced by the fact that in five of the PEI-supported countries, public resource allocations for pro-poor environmental sustainability have increased since the start of the programme.
Reform more important now than ever
While the world is recovering from the global financial crisis, Africa is experiencing rapid economic growth largely driven by agriculture and extractive industries, two sectors with significant equality and environmental challenges, making poverty-environment mainstreaming more relevant than ever.
The early progress made in these nine countries has demonstrated the win-win solution offered by strengthening the linkages between environmental sustainability and human development. PEI is showcasing their successes globally as best practices in sustainable development in a bid to mainstream poverty-environment objectives in more national plans in Africa and beyond.
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