May 15, 2012
Photo: WFP/Phil Behan
“This article is part of UNU’s Rio+20 series, featuring research or commentary on the conference’s themes
of green economy, poverty eradication and the institutional framework for sustainable development.”
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Institutional deficiencies are hindering African efforts to transition to a green economy framework. In the lead-up to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), this issue is gaining attention and needs to be addressed if Africa is to be able to achieve its sustainable development goals.
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Before the presentation of a report on institutional and strategic frameworks for sustainable development in Africa was even over, almost every hand in the conference room was up, vying for the attention of the Chair.
Tasked by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), the “Africa Report on Institutional and Strategic Frameworks for Sustainable Development: Summary for Policy Makers” was launched at the Seventh Session of the Committee on Food Security and Sustainable Development (CFSSD-7) and the African Regional Preparatory Conference for Rio+20, held in October 2011 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
From the tone of the questions and comments flowing from the floor, one could sense the frustration and despair of most of the experts, who happened to be national focal persons or key members of national councils of sustainable development (NCSDs) or related bodies. It became apparent that their sentiments echoed the negative scorecard for the progress of institutional frameworks for sustainable development in Africa outlined in the report.
Their despair stemmed from the fact that most are concerned about the current demise or dormancy of their respective NCSDs. Those fortunate enough to have NCSDs that are still in operation are nonetheless saddled with inadequate institutional, technical and financial capacity to support their national sustainable development agenda. For Africa, these deficiencies are hindering a transition to sustainable development via a green economy framework.
The UNEP report “Towards a Green Economy” defines a green economy as “one that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities”. A green economy is buttressed by three major pillars: (1) low-carbon technology, (2) resource-use efficiency and (3) socially inclusive growth.
Such a framework is of particular relevance to Africa. The severe poverty and environmental deterioration across the region are in many ways linked to a high dependence on the exploitation of natural resources in inefficient ways for livelihood activities, which entrench cycles of underdevelopment. A shift to a green economy framework could provide Africa with tremendous opportunities to benefit from the region’s rich endowment in natural resources as it strives to pursue sustainable development.
Achieving the benefits of a green economy, however, will require African governments to put in place the right institutional framework, of which the NCSDs will be pivotal. Thus, rectifying their current flaws is imperative.
Given that the two core themes of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) are (1) a green economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication and (2) the institutional framework for sustainable development, the flurry of attention on the upcoming conference could provide a conducive environment in which Africa can make real progress towards these goals.
It may be helpful to reiterate what Nitin Desai, the former Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, noted about NCSDs at the First International Forum of NCSDs in April 2000, in New York:
“The National Councils for Sustainable Development…almost mirror the CSD’s [Commission on Sustainable Development] mandate (trustee of the “Spirit of Rio”) at the national level. They monitor the state of affairs in national sustainable development efforts; keep sustainability as a key national priority; enable broad-based partnerships towards sustainable development; generate participatory processes in national sustainable development decision-making; and ensure that sustainable development actions taken in their countries are in harmony with each other as well as in harmony with similar actions taken by other countries in their regions and around the world … A missing link for the CSD since its creation has been its lack of direct connection with national sustainable development coordination mechanisms and efforts. National Councils for Sustainable Development … have the potential to help close this gap.”
NCSDs were, therefore, intended to play a key role in pursuit of the goals of Rio+20. African governments should develop their national institutions to best take advantage of green economy initiatives.
The current troubled situation of NCSDs in Africa should not come as a surprise. An earlier report released in 2005 also by the ECA, “National Councils for Sustainable Development in Africa: A Review of Institutions and their Functioning”, warned that the current institutional crisis was bound to transpire if the critical deficiencies were not dealt with expeditiously by African governments.
There are four major reasons why the current institutional framework for sustainable development in most African countries may not work for green economy governance.
Dominance of environment-related issues — The green economy framework forges greater convergence between the three pillars of sustainable development: economic sustainability, environmental sustainability and sociopolitical sustainability. Within African NCSDs, however, there is a predominance of environment-related mandates and activities.
For these institutions to be relevant to current governance challenges for a green economy, they should be given broader mandates and should be provided with adequate resources and capacities to develop and coordinate activities covering all three pillars of sustainable development. Currently, only about 9% of the NCSDs fall into this category.
Excessive centralization and exclusion of non-state actors — The report noted the excessive government control of most of Africa’s NCSDs, with a majority of NCSDs are either chaired by or located entirely within the office of the Prime Minister, President or Vice President. While this may demonstrate political commitment, the practice has great potential to politicize sustainable development issues as they become entangled in highly centralized bureaucratic systems.
Representation and participation of equally legitimate non-state actors is limited; only 36% of the NCSDs are multi-stakeholder entities and most lack representation from the private sector or academia. Furthermore, most NCSDs are without adequate decentralized institutional structures and have not established financing mechanisms to generate additional funds, depending instead on government budgetary allocations and donor funding to run their activities.
The green economy framework is results-focused in terms of increasing innovation for new low-carbon production technologies; increasing productivity from the efficient use of resources; recycling, reusing and reducing waste; and increasing the potential for employment from “green” jobs, alternative income and socially inclusive growth.
This may require stakeholders to come together with diverse resources and capabilities (investment, technologies, capital assets, knowledge, etc.) for collective action. For the NCSDs and related institutions to be relevant, their representation and participation structure should be broadened to cover competent private actors.
Insufficient capacity to integrate diverse mechanisms — The green economy framework seeks to integrate other sustainable development mechanisms, such as Agenda 21. This could be a welcome improvement considering the current proliferation of mechanisms, some of which overlap or duplicate the objectives and activities of others.
For example, the green economy framework touches on socioeconomic development, conservation and environmental management, as does Agenda 21. In addition, it incorporates environmental management, low-carbon technology and renewable energy of the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol. The green economy framework also embraces the low-technology, renewable energy, resource efficiency and sustainable lifestyles, cities and societies of the Sustainable Consumption and Production (SCP) initiative. NCSDs in Africa need to have adequate capacity to coordinate and merge these diverse mechanisms.
Less relevant structure and mandate — The changing dynamics of the multilateral diplomacy have made the structure, composition and mandates of the NCSDs and related state institutions in Africa less relevant to the current context and to the vital elements of a green economy governance such as multi-stakeholder networks, informal partnerships, collaborative and collective action for sustainable development.
The Johannesburg World Summit on Sustainable Development (Rio+10 Earth Summit) highlighted the significance of networks and partnerships for environmental governance and sustainable development, which the current structure of NCSDs does not aptly support.
A network that emerged from the Rio+10 conference that may be relevant for green economy governance in Africa is the Marrakech Process, designed to support the implementation of projects and strategies on SCP. This is a global and informal multi-stakeholder process in response to the call by Chapter III of the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation (JPOI). Africa was the first region to develop a 10 Year Framework of Programmes (10YFP) on SCP (in March 2005).
There currently are 13 African countries with national cleaner production centres (NCPCs). These NCPCs have played key roles in mainstreaming SCP policies in their nations and in replicating best practices for SCP across the continent.
Although these NCPCs are multi-stakeholder networks, and in some countries have not yet received political support and commitment from their national governments, the processes they have initiated over the past seven years to mainstream SCP policies and to encourage the development of sustainable technologies could serve as a solid foundation for national initiatives to establish networks and partnerships for green economy governance.
As this is an area in which solid progress is being made, it is important that leaders recognize the need to consolidate and integrate this initial success into their broader sustainable development agendas and institutional structures. The involvement of NCPCs in any national institutional arrangements for green economy governance, such as NCSDs, cannot be overemphasized.
There is overwhelming evidence that current institutional arrangements for sustainable development governance in most African countries are deficient. The paradox of Africa having enormous wealth in natural resources and yet being the poorest continent with worsening environmental degradation may still be the case 20 years from today. Without the appropriate governance structures, Africa may enter Rio+40 with the same moderate results in terms of sustainable development.
The green economy framework could, however, offer African countries an opportunity to bypass the inefficient, resource-intensive and environmentally harmful development pathways of most developed countries and leapfrog onto a sustainable and efficient development route. To do this, African countries should take advantage of Rio+20 preparatory processes to establish governance structures that are relevant to the current context and to the vital elements of a green economy.
Addressing the deficiencies of NCSDs will be key in this process.