Harsen Nyambe is the Head, Environment, Climate Change and Land Management at the African Union.He spoke on Africa’s vision in tackling climate change and other environmental issues on the continent.
What environmental issues were raised to be tackled at the ministerial session?
A number of issues were raised; one of them is the forestry strategy framework that we presented.That is a key document in the sense that the continent doesn’t have a framework in that field; it is one of the instruments that member states supported without reservation.
We have also presented the strategy for the vision of environment, climate change, water and management that also showed our vision in the next five years with key milestones that are expected to be delivered by 2023 and of course there is Agenda 2063 and we need framework for the environment and that of climate change.
We are also looking at milestones like reducing illegal exploitation of trade of natural resources in Africa and we also have target on water to reduce open defecation because that affects sanitation.
We are also looking at promoting the use of wastewater given the effect that the continent is experiencing in the challenges of drought.
In other areas, we are also looking at circular economy.One of the immediate elements we are addressing is the issue of garbage on the continent to the single use of plastics.That is a campaign we are championing, using First Ladies in Africa.
We are also looking at framework on drought management.These were some of the key issues, including that of land restoration, biodiversity and disaster risk reduction.
Poverty plays a role in the failure of conserving our natural resources, have you considered that in framing these policies?
One of the factors that made Africa very vulnerable to disasters is poverty; it is an underlining challenge in most of the areas but of course the continent doesn’t lack policies but the issue is implementation.
Implementation is a challenge for a number of reasons.First those who are expected to implement are not held accountable if they fail to do so and also limited resources is always cited as one of the reasons and also there are no monitoring systems to measure impacts of some of those policies.
Now, we are focusing on monitoring and reporting to build capacity in that line.We are also trying to mobilise resources to support implementation of some these frameworks but of course poverty is a major issue but it cannot be addressed by us alone because it is a cross-cutting issue that the continent has been battling for generations.
It needs a different approach and I believe if there is commitment and the political will it can be addressed as we tackle issues of Agenda 2063
Are you likely to propose penalty for failure to implement?
In terms of monitoring and reporting we are not proposing penalty but maybe some kind of name and shame.What happens is that when a country presents the dash board and it is assessed, you will see those that have performed very well and you ask why has my country not performed. So maybe next time that can encourage them to improve.
What measures did you propose to fight climate change in Africa, being the worst hit?
In terms of climate change, the negotiations are not fair. There are countries that have got historic responsibilities for causing climate change and throughout the negotiations, they have been promising that they would provide resources to support the victims but that has not been forthcoming.
There have always been promises and pledges that were made but at the end of the day there is no result. Personally, I think we need to take a different approach and one option is to mobilise domestic resources.As a continent I believe we have got enough resources and funds.
If there is political will to mobilise those resources, we could be able to finance ourselves and if we become independent, those same people will run to us and try and dish out money. Also, what is critical is to make sure that we continue to focus on both adaptation and mitigation through NDC and also use climate change finance development projects like renewable energy.
Talking of financing, African governments rely a lot on donors, how will they mobilise the resources you mentioned?
It is true we are used to begging or what is called dependency syndrome, but it is possible for us to stand on our own. Unfortunately most of the countries that have tried to stand on their own are always getting victimised.That is the reality we should not try to shy away from, but in general terms we need to get united and share knowledge and experiences and countries can support one another. I believe we can make it.
Has there been any fallout from the conference held in Ghana on addressing illegal exploitation of rosewood?
We have had some encouraging results.Some of the community leaders have responded and taken actions to try to address the issue of illegal harvesting of rosewood and some governments have also taken measures. Basically we feel that these are positive results and as such we want them to continue with the campaign.Now, we are thinking of taking it to southern Africa as well.
What is AU doing in regards to women participation in addressing environmental challenges?
We have been trying to encourage women in terms of environment and now they are also working on forming an association, which we are hoping to present at the ministerial conference on environment.
Apart from that, when it comes to climate change negotiation, AU has been supporting and sponsoring women to participate in those negotiations as well as providing the necessary resources to sustain them during the negotiations.
Also,at the commemoration of African Environment Day or Forestry Day, we try as much as possible to sponsor some women so that they can take charge of the process.
What other thing will you like to speak on?
Just to say it is important that journalists help in disseminating our work, because most of the work we do does not get out to the public.Sometimes people ask what does the African Union do? For some reasons people don’t get information.