African elephants at Chobe River in Botswana. Photo by: Tiffany Roufs.
Last month ten African nations, led by Botswana, pledged to incorporate “natural capital” into their economies. Natural capital, which seeks to measure the economic worth of the services provided by ecosystems and biodiversity—for example pollination, clean water, and carbon—is a nascent, but growing, method to curtail environmental damage and ensure more sustainable development. Dubbed the Gaborone Declaration, the pledge was signed by Botswana, Liberia, Namibia, Mozambique, Rwanda, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Tanzania following a two day summit.
“We leave this Summit with a strong and robust commitment to give life to the good ideas that came from the debates, and to scale up the commitments contained in the Gaborone Declaration across the whole African continent and indeed the wider world,” Ian Khama, President of Botswana, said at the end of the summit.
The signing of the pledge came less than a month before the UN’s Rio+20 Summit on Sustainable Development, which marks twenty years since the landmark environmental summit in Rio in 1992.
The Gaborone Declaration declares that “the historical pattern of natural resources exploitation has failed to promote sustained growth, environmental integrity and improved social capital.” Noting that the Africa’s people and economy are imperiled by ecosystem destruction , the leaders pledge to protect ecosystems and biodiversity from “overuse and degradation.”
To do so, they commit to adding natural capital into “national accounting and corporate planning.” In addition, the ten countries pledged to transition major sectors (agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and mining) towards sustainable practices and to restore degraded ecosystems.
“What we have achieved has been a statement that really underscores the importance of valuing natural capital and the endorsement of ten key nations in committing to the valuation of natural capital as a means for making intelligent decisions about the future land use of their territories and their nations for the well being and benefit for all their citizens,” said Peter Seligmann, the head of Conservation International and co-host of the summit, in a press release.
However, it should be noted that complying with the declaration is not legally binding.
President Khama addressed this in his remarks: “This meeting will not be of any value to our peoples if we fail to achieve the objectives that formed the core of this Summit, that is, integrating the value of natural capital into national and corporate accounting and planning. We must continue building social capital and reducing poverty by transitioning agriculture and extractive industries to practices that promote sustainable employment and the protection of natural capital.”
Still, Seligmann calls the Gaborone Declaration, “a big step forward.”
“It is truly a beacon on the hill for the rest of societies and it will be held up on top of that hill in Rio de Janeiro,” he says.
Expectations for a landmark agreement at Rio+20 have been dampened by a declaration, also not legally binding, that has been significantly watered down. Ongoing spats between countries threaten to further erode the document, but, even if governments fail, observers hope the meeting will prove productive at least for the the thousands of attending NGOs, businesses, and experts.
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