Africa celebrates Africa Environment Day and life of Wangari Maathai

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Celebrations to mark this year’s Africa Environment Day and Wangari Maathai Day commenced with the burning of 15 tonnes of contraband ivory by Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta at Nairobi National Park, with 1,000 guests in attendance, including the African Union Commissioner, Cabinet Secretaries, the United Nations and members of the international community.

The role of women in sustainable natural resource management and the fight against wildlife crime are the major themes of this year’s event, which will feature a week-long Kenya Wildlife Festival. The festival is seen as an opportunity for more Kenyans to learn about wildlife through music, theatre, and debate—and the importance of ending a US$213 billion illicit trade that includes elephant poaching, great ape theft and the illegal transport of timber.

In celebration of the life and work of Wangari Maathai, Africa’s first female Nobel laureate, a champion of grassroots environmental activism and founder of the Green Belt Movement, special emphasis will this year be placed on the importance of empowering women in sustainable natural resource management.

A one-day Regional Forum on Women and Environment will be held on the 4 March in honour of Wangari Maathai at The World Agroforestry Centre Headquarters in Nairobi, which will feature expert panel discussions on several gender-related themes, including: gender equality in Africa, and the impact of climate change and desertification on women and their response in addressing the challenges.

Professor Maathai was the inspiration for the Billion Tree Campaign launched by UNEP in 2006, which inspired the planting of 12.5 billion trees worldwide, and is now run by the Plant for the Planet Foundation.

The work of the Green Belt Movement and the UN Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD) programme found just cause for further inspiration in September, when an innovative public-private partnership of multinationals, governments, civil society and indigenous peoples pledged to reduce enough forest loss to eliminate the emission of between 4.5 and 8.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide each year.

UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “The pledge at the UN Climate Summit in New York—to which Kenya is a signatory—to cut the loss of forests in half by 2020 and end deforestation by 2030 is testament to the importance of Professor Wangari Maathai’s pioneering spirit. Her brave journey began in 1974 with the planting of a single nursery tree in Karura Forest. The Declaration came alongside an extension of the global restoration target to at least 350 million hectares by 2030—an area greater than the size of India—which would bring significant climate benefits and take pressure off primary forests.”

As UNEP’s African Adaptation GAP 2014 report makes clear, reducing forest loss is critical to African climate change resilience measures, which are already costing the continent in the region of US$7–15 billion per year.

Similar efforts are also helping to support the livelihoods of 65 per cent of Africans, as well as helping to ensure that the impacts of climate change—including a projected 20–50 per cent decline in water availability—do not reverse decades of development progress in Africa, according to UNEP’s Keeping Track of Adaptation Actions in Africa 2014 Report.

The Africa Green Economy Report, replete with data and case studies of successful green economy initiatives across the African continent, will be launched at this year’s African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, which is taking place in Cairo, Egypt from March 2–6.

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