With African Leadership, A New Day for Natural Capital

5/24/2012

In Botswana, leaders from ten African nations open the inaugural Summit for Sustainability in Africa, the first convening of African leaders dedicated to valuing renewable natural capital in development; expected outcome includes Gaborone Declaration

(Gaborone, Botswana) -   His Excellency Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, President of the Republic of Botswana, opened the Summit for Sustainability in Africa today with a welcoming address to heads of state and other esteemed guests, underscoring both the opportunities and responsibilities of African nations to join together to design a new economic path toward sustainable development throughout the continent. The multi-national Summit, a first of its kind in Africa, is being held in the Botswana capital of Gaborone over two days, where His Excellency is co-hosting the event in partnership with Conservation International before a live audience of more than three hundred dignitaries and ten African nations.
 
In highlighting the role of renewable natural capital in Africa, or the goods and services provided to people, economies and businesses from healthy ecosystems, HE President Khama emphasized, “We need to pay more attention to what is economically feasible, socially desirable and environmentally sustainable.”
 
“In hosting this Summit on Sustainability in Africa, our aspirations are to discuss common African perspectives on sustainable development and to find consensus about how some of us in Africa and its peoples represented here may use their natural resource wealth and transform their resources into drivers of inclusive economic growth and people-centered development," Khama said. "However, for us to do so, we need to take stock and attach value to our natural resources and ecosystems such that we may include their value in planning and decision making processes as well as in our national accounts and balance sheets.”
 
Also on day one of the Summit, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of the Republic of Liberia, Dr. Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Development Programme (UNEP), and His Excellency Hifikepunye Pohamba, President of Namibia, supported opening sentiments, calling for more leaders of African nations to take interest and control of the future of development while also protecting the continent’s renewable natural capital.
 
Explaining a concept she described as “economic invisibility” in natural capital valuation, President Johnson Sirleaf told summit audiences, “Our ecosystems, biodiversity, and natural resources underpin economies, societies, and individual well-being, but the values of its benefits are often overlooked or poorly understood. We are running down our natural capital stock without understanding the value of what we are losing.”
“Increasingly, one of the imperatives of any sustainable development is to strike the right balance between our current needs and our global future. The question before us is, how do we ensure that we do not deplete our natural capital to satisfy our daily needs? I hope this summit is when Africa speaks with one voice on how we can manage our natural capital for future generations.”
 
The Summit, which was born of conversations between President Khama, a board member of Conservation International and that organization’s Chairman and CEO Peter Seligmann, was designed to initiate new dialogues, form new partnerships and create a framework for the public and private sectors to collaboratively incorporate the immediate and long term value of natural capital in their national, regional and corporate accounting systems.
 
A relatively new concept, “natural capital” is a term for the limited stocks of physical and biological resources found on Earth.  It refers to the limited capacity of ecosystems to provide ecosystem services, or the direct and indirect contributions of natural ecosystems to people.
 
“We will not have harmonious futures if we destroy the treasure of our forests, rivers, oceans, and grasslands, that we have inherited,” Seligmann said. “This is what historians refer to as an open moment, when people come together because they understand there is a common purpose they have to address. Ultimately, we must ask ourselves: how do we take care of our future and children if we don’t take care of nature?”
 
His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales addressed attendees via a pre-recorded video message which emphasized that conservation of renewable natural capital does not need to come at the expense of economic development.
 
“It is seen in a widely held view that there is a somehow a choice to be made between protecting  the environment and sustaining nature on the one hand, and on the other hand, promoting economic growth and reducing poverty.  All economic development is in the end dependent on natural capital, in some form or other. Soil fertility, fresh water replenishment, clean air, waste recycling, flood protection, disease prevention, genetic diversity and climatic stability all enable development in different ways. And it is scarcely possible to think of an economic activity that would carry on for very long without these things being available.”
 
It is expected that the summit will conclude with the announcement of the Gaborone Declaration, which will embody a series of principles committing participants to integrating natural capital into economic development plans and policies. Attending leaders will then take these messages to the meeting of the United Nations Convention on Sustainable Development in Brazil in late June.
 
“We in Africa are determined to show leadership. Let us indeed lead by example in valuing and using our abundant natural resources for the health, education, and sustainable future of current and next generations,” Khama concluded.
 
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For all press inquiries, please contact:
For the Government of Botswana:  Charmaine Muir-Revaka, Director, Media Relations, Ministry of State President; crevaka@gov.bw / (00267) 313 3048
For Conservation International:  Kim McCabe, News + Publicity kmccabe@conservation.org s