New Africa Report: advancing human welfare in a resource-constrained world

06/20/2008 04:08 PM

While Africans per capita consume very little of the world’s biological resources, Africa’s growing population is bringing the region close to reaching it’s ecological limits, according to a groundbreaking report that Global Footprint Network, in conjunction with WWF, presented on June 9, 2008 at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment in Johannesburg.

Offering the first in-depth look at the Ecological Footprint of Africa and its constituent countries, Africa: Ecological Footprint and Human Wellbeing examines the role natural resources can play in advancing the region’s goals to end poverty and disease – or conversely, if mismanaged, in thwarting these goals. The report is the result of a multi-year effort by Global Footprint Network and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation to explore how ecological limits apply and relate to human development in the region. 

Understanding Africa’s ecological assets and pressures

As the ongoing world food crises makes clear, human welfare is critically linked to mankind’s use and stewardship of biological resources. Nowhere is this more true than in Africa – a region with tremendous natural wealth, yet which often suffers first and most tragically when humanity’s demand on nature exceeds what nature can provide.

“There is a strong international commitment to improving human well-being in Africa and advancing the Millennium Development Goals to reduce poverty, hunger and disease,” said Global Footprint Network Executive Director, Mathis Wackernagel. “Yet, to advance these critical goals and produce lasting success, we need to work with, rather than against, ecological budget constraints. If development ignores the limits of our natural resources, the gains that are made cannot persist, and the most vulnerable people such as the rural poor will be the first to suffer.”

The report finds the average African had an Ecological Footprint of 1.1 global hectares in 2003, well below the global average of 2.2 hectares per person. However, a growing number of African countries are now depleting their natural resources or will shortly be doing so – faster than they can be replaced. Clear dangers loom from a projected more than doubling of Africa’s population by 2050, taking it from about one eighth to nearly a quarter of the total world population.

Egypt, Libya and Algeria head the list of African countries living well beyond their ecological means, with the Ecological Footprints of Morocco, Tunisia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Senegal, Nigeria, South Africa and Zimbabwe also exceeding national biocapacity.

However, several African nations are “ecological creditors:” they produce more biocapacity than they consume. This stands in contrast to U.S. and Europe which are ecological debtors. The U.S., for example, has a Footprint more than 100 percent larger than its biocapacity. According to the report, many opportunities exist in Africa to manage and use biocapacity more effectively.

The Africa Report helps chart a course for progress founded on a solid understanding of the region’s ecological assets and pressures.

“There are huge opportunities to improve well-being in lasting ways while staying within our ecological constraints,” Wackernagel said. Among these are giving women access to health choices, education and economic opportunities; designing infrastructure that will make cities more resilient to resource scarcities; and leapfrogging directly to the most resource-efficient technologies instead of using older, more resource dependent ones.

Click here to view a full copy of the report.

Categories: Ecological Limits, Human Development

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