Africa is experiencing a dramatic loss of biodiversity. By the end of this century, climate change alone could cause the loss of over half of African bird and mammal species, and a significant loss of plant species.
The livelihoods, wellbeing and food and water security of the poorest and most vulnerable people in Africa are threatened by habitat loss and degradation, over-exploitation of wildlife and fisheries, and the spread of non-native invasive species.
Yet, paradoxically, African leaders could also hold the key to protecting the world’s wildlife and wild places.
Namibia and Botswana have already protected 30 percent of their land. Rwanda’s mountain forests are fully protected in law. Ethiopia is investing significantly in reforestation. Bangweulu in Zambia is a unique, community owned protected wetland, home to 50,000 people who retain the right to sustainably harvest its natural resources and who depend entirely on the richness the park provides.
Fish stocks have significantly improved, poaching has been reduced, bird populations are up and Bangweulu Wetlands is the largest employer in the region.
If other African governments follow these examples and take bold action to protect nature, there is a real chance of achieving a new international agreement to halt biodiversity loss.
Last week, environment ministers, policy makers and scientists met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, at what is known as the Regional Consultation on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework for Africa. These regional consultations - which often go under the radar - are important steps in the consultation process towards a global deal for nature which will be hammered out at the next meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in October 2020.
African nations are being urged to support the Campaign for Nature by working for a global deal to protect at least 30 percent of the planet by 2030.
The Addis Ababa regional consultation is a crucial moment for African nations to show leadership and help bring the global community together around new, more ambitious goals to protect and responsibly manage the world's lands and oceans.
Of course, Africa is not alone in experiencing an alarming loss of biodiversity. Around the world, nature is under serious threat. Species are becoming extinct up to 1,000 times faster than the natural rate.
Global wildlife populations have declined by 60 percent since 1970. Nearly two-thirds of the earth’s wetlands and half of all rainforests have been destroyed in just a century. 30 percent of the world’s fish stocks are over-exploited.
The forthcoming global assessment report from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) - due to be published in early May - will confirm this depressing trend.
Written by 150 leading international experts from 50 countries, the report predicts widespread species extinctions, catastrophic deforestation and runaway land degradation. Species extinction is now ranked as one of the six most important global risks in terms of impact on humanity by the 2019 Global Risks Report of the World Economic Forum. The impacts on human health and wellbeing are only too easy to imagine.
Thankfully, there is still time to take bold global action to save nature. Moves are already underway for a global accord to tackle biodiversity loss in the same way that the Paris agreement aims to tackle climate change.
But that won’t happen without bold leadership at the national and regional level - that’s why these regional consultations are so significant.
As Dr. Donald Kaberuka, former President of the African Development Bank, wrote recently: “Unless African politicians and leaders learn the lessons of others to protect nature now, the consequences will be far worse than people realise.
"For a collapse in biodiversity across the planet does not just mean that we face an extinction of plants and animals, but a collapse in clean water supplies, food security and the health of humans.”
In terms of social, economic and environmental development, Africa stands at a crossroads. By 2050, the continent will be home to around one billion young people with aspirations for jobs, decent livelihoods, health and wellbeing.
Not long ago, Africa was viewed as the world’s economic and environmental basket case, but with wise sustainable development it could instead become the world’s bread basket, and a shining example of how to row back against environmental degradation.
No-one pretends this will be easy. As well as the immense task of persuading the world’s leaders to get behind a global deal for nature, there is a huge cost involved.
The CBD estimates up to 440 billion US Dollars are needed annually, yet the current spend is only 52 billion US Dollars a year. However, the cost of inaction is much greater than the cost of action.
Scientists estimate the total value of the services provided by nature to be about 125 trillion US Dollars per year. By degrading these systems, rather than protecting them, people around the world will end up paying a higher price - which could include our very survival.
Even the World Bank - an organisation not always noted for its green credentials - recognises the economic case for protecting nature and is investing in watershed management, integrated coastal zone management and protected areas.
Together with the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the World Bank is ploughing some 360 million US Dollars into 50 projects in several African countries including Mozambique, Gabon, South Africa and Tanzania.
It’s not just political leaders and global institutions who are taking action. Local communities with indigenous knowledge and centuries of living in harmony with nature can help create protected areas, tackle illegal fishing and forestry activities, protect cultural sites and monitor the impacts of climate change.
In Kenya, community conservation programmes have protected some commonly held lands for wildlife, and in turn are generating eco-tourism revenues. Community-based natural resource management in Namibia now covers more than 166,000 km2, home to around 228,000 people.
The African Sahel Great Green Wallinitiative is being delivered by local communities from Senegal in the west to Djibouti in the east.
African leaders have a crucial role to play in the run-up to the 2020 CBD meeting. They can demonstrate the political will needed to achieve the Campaign for Nature’s ambitious global deal to protect 30 percent of the earth’s land and oceans by 2030, then scaling up to 50 percent by 2050.
I urge them to take the lead not only for Africa, but for the world.
Abiodun Jacob Aderibigbe is a member of the the Sustainable Environment Food and Agriculture Initiative (SEFAAI) in Nigeria and works at the Department of Agricultural Economics and Farm Management at the University of Agriculture, in Abeokuta. He specialises in the sustainable use of natural resources through education, advocacy and research.
Image: Nyungwe National Park. Rwanda Government, Flickr.