The COVID-19 crisis has not only led to a health crisis in the developing nations but has been also accompanied by a socio-economic and economic fallout. The Non-Aligned Movement, being the largest representative of the developing world, has stressed on devising measures aimed at mitigating socio-economic and environmental fallout from COVID-19 in a sustainable manner and through cooperation among the developing world.

One of the major initiatives in the developing world to address the social and environmental aspects of the COVID-19 crisis was taken recently by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). Established in December 1985, following a conference of African Ministers of Environment held in Cairo, Egypt, AMCEM’s mandate is to provide advocacy for environmental protection in Africa, to ensure that basic human needs are met adequately and in a sustainable manner, to ensure that social and economic development is realized at all levels; and to ensure that agricultural activities and practices meet the food security needs of the region.

An AMCEN Bureau meeting was convened on 28 May 2020 where the need to prioritise a sustainable socio-economic recovery to the impacts of the Pandemic was recognised. The meeting also proposed an African Green Stimulus Programme to address, in a sustainable manner, the devastating socio-economic and environmental impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic and to, more importantly, harness the opportunities which this approach brings for the Continent.

On December 4, 2020, the Eighth special session of the AMCEM was held virtually under the theme ‘Enhancing environmental action for effective post-COVID recovery in Africa’. During the session, AMCEN stressed on the need to accelerate the protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems as part of an effort to sustainably build back African economies from the impacts of COVID-19 pandemic.

The AMCEM meeting came after the African Union Special Session on Environment and Natural Resources of the Specialised Technical Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment, which took place on 13 November 2020, and deliberated on the challenges and opportunities for Africa as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic. The 8th Special Session was built on the outcomes of this recent AU STC meeting, and deliberate on Africa’s common approaches and key messages for the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5), the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP26.

Barbara Creecy, Minister of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries of South Africa and President of AMCEN in her remarks stated that Africa is amongst the most vulnerable, especially to Climate Change, and that “our Continent has Special Needs and Circumstances. Notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to maintain the momentum behind a collective, multilateral response to the climate crisis through the UNFCCC, its Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. We need a coherent and strong Common African Position for COP26”, which calls for enhanced action and greater ambition from all Parties.

AMCEN noted the importance of policies and programmes linking public health, pollution abatement, climate action, biodiversity conservation, ecosystems integrity, socio-economic equity, and prosperity for an effective recovery from COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. While noting the impact COVID-19 pandemic has had on Africa’s socio-economic development, the Ministers acknowledged it has particularly undermined efforts to achieve sustainable development and eradicate poverty.

AMCEM recognised effective recovery strategy from COVID-19 pandemic is essential, and it can present opportunities to further mainstream environmental considerations across all facets of African economies, striving towards a more environmentally friendly, resilient, low-emissions and inclusive sustainable development.

During the session, the participating Environment Ministers committed to working with the global community to secure a robust, ambitious and transformative post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework that aims at reversing biodiversity loss by 2030. The AMCEN special session also considered Africa’s common approach for engagement in the Fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) to be held from 22-26 February 2021 and reiterated the support to UNEA-5 and also their continued support for multilateral cooperation at regional, continental and global levels. AMCEM emphasised the need for further elaboration of adaptation planning and implementation under the Paris Agreement to address extreme weather and slow-onset events.

By Dr. Ankit Srivastava

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