Sirleaf urges Africa to promote sustainable use of its resources
Gaborone, Botswana –President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia has called on participants to use the Summit for Sustainability in Africa to promote the sustainable use of natural capital worldwide.
To do this requires the change of incentives faced by the people of the African continent, she said, and indicated that there is a need to put value on the contribution our biodiversity makes to the global environment.
Delivering the first Plenary Address at the Summit, held in the Botswana capital, Gaborone, the Liberian leader indicated that the first task would be to imagine new approaches and launch a dialogue on how to bring to the fore their thinking on aligning the natural capital of Africa’s environment with its policy-making decisions. She emphasized that the Summit must lead to a concerted continental discourse on how to integrate, and account for, every element the countries of Africa have into government policies.
President Sirleaf, who spoke on “The Importance of Natural Capital to Development”, said one of the imperatives of any sustainable development in Africa is to strike the right balance between current needs and the global future. She said that in countries where economies rely heavily on the exportation of minerals and agricultural commodities, such a balance is a top priority.
The President argued that African nations, in general, produce and export commodities around the world; in return, they import much of their modern technology. “In such a situation,” she pointed out, “the question before Africa is: How does Africa ensure that it does not deplete its natural capital to satisfy its daily needs?”
To address the inquiry, President Sirleaf advised that would-be producers of raw materials participate in setting the price system on a global scale. “Such capacity is lacking, even in some of the most developed economies,” she lamented, warning that African leaders must bear in mind that every decision they take has universal implications, citing the example of how a failing banking system in Reykjavik, Iceland, had repercussions across the globe.
She reminded participants that the state of global trade is such that countries which depend solely upon their export of “natural capital” face challenges in trying to set a conservation agenda. She recalled how, in the 1970s, the price of iron ore fell from $600 to less than $100; while at the same time the price of oil went from $15 to $75. “Faced with the realities of the free market system, Liberia had no choice but to dig more iron ore, at the cost of abusing its environment,” she said, adding that this situation left the country with big craters and artificial lakes on the landscape and not much else to show for the millions of tons of ore exported.
President Sirleaf said that, learning from the lessons of the past, she had vowed, upon taking office, not to repeat the mistakes. As a result of such commitment, her government decided to renegotiate every concession agreement in the country for mineral extraction and agri-business. “What we sought to show was that the people, who work the land, have decent living conditions and also send out a message that when there is equity between the people and the government, and between the government and investors, everybody wins,” she indicated.
The President also told participants that the agenda now is to redefine the relationship that exists between Africa, its ecosystem, development imperatives and what it leaves for future generations.
President Sirleaf reminded the participants that there have been many fine commitments to sustainable development over the years: from the African Convention of the Conservation of Natural Resource in 1968, to the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, to the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference in 2009. She recalled that, at Copenhagen, countries, like Liberia, heard promises made of US$100 billion in funding for climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives. Three years later, Africa is still waiting, she stated. The Liberian leader hoped that the Summit marks the moment when Africa speaks with one voice on how it can manage its natural capital for future generations. COURTESY OF LIBERIA EXECUTIVE MANSIONTweet