Africa’s first high level pan-African conference on biodiversity opened today in Libreville, on the theme ‘Biodiversity and the Fight Against Poverty: What opportunities for Africa?’ The opening ceremony on Monday morning included an address to the audience of scientific experts by Gabon’s Environment Minister, Mr Pacome Ruffin Ondzounga, and Mr Serge Bounda, representative of the United Nations Environment Programme in Africa.
Taking the stand at the High-Level Pan-African Conference on Biodiversity, Gabon’s Environment Minister, Pacôme Ruffin Ondzounga, warmly welcomed a prestigious delegation of scientists and internationally renowned researchers and experts who have convened in Libreville to contribute to the elaboration of a common African position ahead of the forthcoming international meetings, namely the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York in September, and the 10th Conference of the Parties (COP10) Conference on Biodiversity which takes place in Nagoya, Japan, in October.
Addressing the experts this morning, Minister Ondzounga reminded them of Africa’s important mission during the next three days, namely to reflect at regional level on concrete actions that can be taken to increase the value of biodiversity, eco-systems services and renewable natural resources as factors in economic growth and the reduction of poverty in Africa, and to arrive at a common African position on that issue ahead of the international meetings.
Insisting upon the importance of the work of the experts during the conference, the Minister spoke of the need for Africa, as ‘the cradle of humanity’, “to weigh decisively in the final decisions that would be taken at the forthcoming international meetings”, reminding the delegation that “what is decided in Nagoya will concern all of Africa and the rest of the planet for the next ten years!”.
Addressing the delegation, Mr Ondzounga implored Africans not to be insensitive to the destruction of the continent’s natural habitat, the overexploitation of resources, the erosion of Africa’s heritage and of its future, and insisted that “we are, without doubt, the last generation who will be able to put a stop to, and hopefully significantly reverse, this destruction of life.”
However, he also drew attention to the fact that many African countries had already shown willingness to engage in crucial preservation work, despite the lack of a common continental policy and often insufficient funds, and that many initiatives were already underway under the direction of Heads of States, highlighting the efforts of the Gabonese Government in this regard. Gabon is playing a key role in protecting the forests of the Congo Basin – the planet’s second largest carbon sink after the Amazon. In 2002, President Omar Bongo Ondimba classified 11% of Gabon’s national territory as a protected zone, with the creation of 13 national parks.
This environmental policy has been continued by his successor, Ali Bongo Ondimba, who since his election in 2009 has multiplied initiatives within the Gabon Vert project, in which protection of the environment is inextricably linked with sustainable social and economic development. Gabon is playing a beacon role not only in regard to climate change, but forest management, ecotourism, the development of renewable energy and clean industrialisation. That the country has considerable expertise and experience in this regard is the main reason for it choosing to host this important pan-African conference in 2010 – the International Year of Biodiversity.
In highlighting the importance of the conference, Minister Ondzounga referred the participants to the success of the intergovernmental group on climate change which successfully established scientific consensus on an issue which many had wanted to ignore, and said that he hoped this conference would mark a decisive step in the right direction in terms of developing both a common African position and, eventually, a global strategy for the management of biodiversity and its integration into global economic development policy.
“Our natural heritage in priceless.” Mr Ondzouga declared, “It has, first of all, an ecological value. But it also has an economic value that is often exploited. Intelligently managed, it can serve as an object of economic development.”
For his part, Mr Serge Bouanda, UNEP’s representative at the African Union, said that African leaders must seize the opportunity in this International Year of Biodiversity, to concentrate the continent’s efforts on solving important strategic issues, such as access to genetic resources and the sharing of their benefits; a strategic plan for biodiversity; the development of the green economy and the fight against poverty.
The first three days of the conference is devoted to a technical segment attended by biodiversity experts, while Thursday will see the arrival of the Ministerial delegations who will consider the findings of the experts over two days before adopting, on Friday, the ‘Libreville Declaration’ of common African positions ahead of the international meetings in New York and Japan.
Courtesy: Presidential Press of the Gabonese Republic, Libreville