The late Kenyan environmental activist  Wangari Maathai once said, “We need to promote development that does not destroy our environment.” The environment gives humans physical sustenance for every-single day at the same time allowing us to shape it. It is because of the environment that we are able to survive, strive for intellectual, moral, social and spiritual growth. With the acquisition of new knowledge, technological advancements and research we have acquired the ability to transform our environments, sometimes for the best and unfortunately at time for the worst.

Today we commemorate the World Environment Day, a day in which we aim to encourage worldwide awareness and action for the protection of our environment. “Connecting People to Nature”, the theme for World Environment Day 2017, implores us to get outdoors and explore nature, to appreciate its beauty and importance, and to take forward the call to protect the Earth.

Official UN Logo

This year’s celebrations come after the announcement by the United States of its decision to pull out of the Paris AgreementParis climate accord and Paris climate agreement, is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gas emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance starting in the year 2020.

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The U.S.’s decision to pull out is despite the fact that the country is the world’s biggest polluter. Writing for All AFRICA, Wanjira Mathai says, “With or without the US, countries will push ahead with their own pledges to bring down carbon emissions and pursue alternative sources of energy.” Activists and leaders across the continent have also condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s move, which they say will hurt Africa particularly in agriculture, the biggest source of many people’s livelihoods.

In a 2013 interview with the South African Broadcasting Cooperation, Najia Bounaim of Greenpeace said, “African governments face several challenges in implementing environmental protection mechanisms. Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from some serious environmental problems, including climate change, water pollution, coal mining, nuclear waste, deforestation, overfishing and industrial agriculture…” Bounaim also indicated that about 180 million people in the region alone could die as a result of climate change by the end of the century.

Experimental rice field at the Africa Rice Center: Wikimedia Commons

Furthermore, a recent study of 30 African countries by the Washington DC-based think tank, the Brookings Institution showed that two-thirds are warming faster than the world as a whole. We have unpredictable rainfall patterns, lower crop yields, soaring food prices and dwindling natural resources which are already causing increased human migration, tension and conflict.  The report also indicates that some countries such as Ghana, Ethiopia, Morocco, and South Africa have been taking climate change issues seriously in national development planning and other countries could learn from them.

Read: Kenya bans use of plastic bags to protect environment

How can African governments protect the environment?

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) says there is a strong link between poverty and degradation of natural resources. Land degradation and desertification contribute to increased poverty, insecurity and the deterioration of the lives of African people. On the other hand, the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development states the resolve “to ensure the lasting protection of the planet and its natural resources”. In particular, Goals 14 and 15 focus on protecting under water and on land ecosystems.

Here are some of the suggested solutions by Conserve Africa:

  • Promoting organic agriculture, combining traditional agriculture and utilising both traditional and scientific knowledge, based on appropriate agro-ecosystem management rather than on external inputs that famers cannot afford.
  • Researching and promoting natural resources, biodiversity and crops that are best suited to higher temperatures.
  • Developing alternatives to reduce reliance on biomass and to introduce clean energy in rural areas, dissemination of energy efficient tools, introducing fast growing energy trees and training in agroforestry.
  • Increasing public awareness of environmental concerns, and the influence they have as citizens and consumers.