Past, present and future perspectives

World Conservation Strategy

'The environment is the business of everybody, development is the business of everybody, life and living is the business of everybody. I think the solution will be found in encouraging mass environmental literacy so that there can be democratic and literate decisions, because if decisions are taken by a few without the incorporation of the opinion of the masses, the NGOs especially included, the likelihood is that the situations will not succeed.'

Joseph Ouma, Moi University Dean of School of Environmental Studies, at a WCED public hearing in September 1986, in Nairobi, Kenya

The 1980 World Conservation Strategy (WCS), which was developed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN), introduced the concept of sustainable development.

The WCS influenced African governments to undertake their own national conservation strategies, satisfying one of the objectives of the 1972 Stockholm Conference, that is, to incorporate the environment in development planning. While such policy documents became common, particularly in the 1980s, the environment did not immediately become part of mainstream activity, as indicated by the small annual budget allocations for environmental management.

World Commission on Environment and Development

The WCED was established in 1983 in response to the United Nations General Assembly (UN GA) Resolution 38/161, which mandated the WCED to:

The UN GA asked the WCED to formulate 'A Global Agenda for Change' on the environment and development. The WCED's Environmental Perspectives: examine issues in their relationship to the challenges of social and economic development; set out goals for environmentally sound and sustainable development; and call upon governments, international organizations, industry, financial institutions and NGOs to take specific actions to achieve those goals (UNEP/OAU 1991). The WCED, or the Brundtland Commission, popularized sustainable development in its 1987 report, Our Common Future. The WCED's definition of sustainable development-development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs- is now part of the environment lexicon. The WCED process also popularized public participation in environmental issues, because it convened many public meetings in Africa, and in other developed and developing regions.

Some of the actions recommended by the WCED for African countries are shown in Box 1.3.

Box 1.3 Key issues faced by Africa

The WCED has defined sustainable development as 'a process in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are made consistent with future as well as present needs'. For Africa, this entails massive house-cleaning exercises, and international negotiations yet unmatched among national governments, including:

  • providing more resources to meet the priority needs of the people, rather than satisfying the needs of international creditors;
  • utilizing the ability and the aspirations of the people in development plans, so that poverty
    alleviation becomes a core element as they move towards sustainable evelopment;
  • setting up democratic domestic mechanisms to harmonize the activities of NGOs operating in Africa with development policies defined by governments;
  • negotiating for commodity prices which reflect the real cost of production for Africa; and
  • carrying out intensive intra- Africa trade.

These are the issues that put the destiny of Africa at stake. They can only be ignored at great cost to an environmentally sound future for the region.

Source: UNEP/OAU 1991