Past, present and future perspectives


The Africa Environment Outlook (AEO) report provides a comprehensive and integrated analysis of Africa's environment. AEO contains a detailed assessment of the current state of the environment in the region, indicates discernible environmental trends and examines the complex interplay between natural events and the impacts of human actions on the environment. Against this background, the report analyses the effects of environmental change in terms of human vulnerability and security, presents a set of scenarios for Africa's future and gives recommendations for concrete policy actions to steer the region, ultimately, towards the most favourable of those scenarios.


1972-2002 The historical focus of AEO is the 30-year period since the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, held in Stockholm, Sweden in 1972. However, much of the degradation of Africa's environment today is part of a legacy from less favourable times, including the periods of the slave trade and colonialism. The historical scope of AEO therefore widens to discuss that legacy, and to show how the march of history has often overshadowed traditional African ways of life and knowledge that were inherently more respectful of the environment than some modern forms of development.

The 'winds of change' that began to blow across Africa in the early 1960s and the gathering momentum of African countries' struggle for independence are also described. An understanding of this process is vital to appreciate the emergence of a common African will to address the problems of environmental change and sustainable development.

In the 1970s, it was largely as a result of the 1972 Stockholm Conference that environmental concerns moved centre stage in the social and political debate in most parts of the world, and its conclusions helped to set the modern environmental agenda in Africa as elsewhere. But the conclusions of the Stockholm Conference have, perhaps, special significance for Africa. First because they state firmly that a healthy environment is not only a fundamental right but that it is one that cannot be attained while apartheid, racial segregation or colonial domination persist, and second because they call for the earth's resources to be protected for the benefit of present and future generations. Such a call had immediate relevance for a region that was throwing off colonial ties and where many people are poor and therefore rely directly on natural resources for their livelihood. AEO traces the efforts made by African organizations, governments and institutions throughout the focus period to meet the challenge of that call, to translate a common will into careful, planned and appropriate management of Africa's huge wealth of natural resources, and to set the region on a course for sustainable development.


1972-2002 The causes of environmental change up to 2002 are examined, including those relating to policy and governance. The impacts of environmental change on the functioning of ecosystems and on social and economic development are also considered, in seven major areas.

Atmosphere: Africa is extremely vulnerable to climate variability and climate change. Variations in rainfall patterns have led to incidences of drought and flooding, often with disastrous consequences for populations and for the environment. The predicted consequences of global climate change-worsening impacts of drought, desertification, flooding, and sea level rise-may well worsen the situation of Africa's people, even though the region's greenhouse gas emissions are, on the whole, negligible. Analysis of the consequences of activities such as deforestation, inappropriate coastal development, and poor land management shows that these can exacerbate the effects of climate variability and climate change. Air quality is an emerging issue of concern in many parts of Africa, especially in expanding urban areas where concentrations of population, industry and vehicles are increasing air pollution.

Biodiversity: Africa's biological resources are declining rapidly as a result of habitat loss, overharvesting of selected resources, and illegal activities. Formal protection has been strengthened at the national and international level over the past 30 years. However, additional measures are required including additional research and documentation, particularly of indigenous knowledge, implementation of strategies for sustainable harvesting and trade, wider involvement of stakeholders, and more equitable sharing of benefits.

Coastal and marine habitats: Coastal and marine habitats and resources in Africa are under threat from pollution, overharvesting of resources, inappropriate development in the coastal zone, and poor inland landmanagement. Oil pollution is a major threat to resources, habitats, and economies along the African coastline. Policies and regulations for sustainable coastal development and use of marine resources are in place but require sustained resources such as trained personnel, equipment, financial resources, and more effective policing, monitoring, administration and enforcement.

Forests: Africa has the fastest rate of deforestation anywhere in the world. In addition to its ecological impacts, deforestation also means definitive loss of vital resources causing communities to lose their livelihoods and vital energy sources. Political commitment to protection of indigenous forests, sustainable harvesting practices, and community ownership require strengthening. Development of alternative energy sources is also a priority.

Freshwater: Lack of availability and low quality of freshwater are the two most limiting factors for development in Africa, constraining food production and industrial activities, and contributing significantly to the burden of disease.

Land: Degradation of soil and of vegetation resources is largely a result of increasing population pressures, inequitable land access and tenure policies, poor land management, and widespread poverty. The results are declining agricultural yields, affecting economies and food security; desertification of arid areas, raising competition for remaining resources; and increased potential for conflict. Land tenure reform, international cooperation, and integration of land resource management with development goals are required.

Urbanization: Although most Africans currently live in rural areas, the region's rates of urbanization are among the highest in the world. Poor economic growth and low investment in infrastructure have left provision of housing and basic services in urban areas lagging far behind rates of inward migration, resulting in a proliferation of informal settlements in urban Africa.