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 [NAIROBI] As Sub-Saharan Africa strives to achieve economic growth, policy issues are often discussed during most meetings and conferences on sustainable development.

This was not an exception when I attended the fourth UN Environment Assembly held in Kenya last week (11-15 March). The biggest concern to some of the delegates was the effectiveness of environmental policies and whether they are really addressing environmental challenges such as climate change and increased pollution in Sub-Saharan Africa.

These discussions were as a result of the sixth Global Environmental Outlook report that was launched at the conference revealing little action to protect the environment, especially in the global South, thus threatening the health of the people.
Environmental problems are worsening, according to the report, questioning interventions to address the problems. One of the striking observations of the report is that air pollution is still on the increase and is the leading contributor to the global burden of diseases.

With the increasing challenges facing the environment, it clearly shows that either the existing policies are not working or they are not effective. But why?

Gilbert Nakweya

The big question for the delegates was: how effective have environmental policy innovations and governance approaches been in addressing environmental problems and achieving set targets?

Researchers suggest that many people in Sub-Saharan Africa still lack access to clean water, with women in Sub-Saharan Africa spending hours a day just to fetch water. Such appalling statistics show that indeed the situation is worsening.  From my understanding, a policy is supposed to guide a country towards set goals.  

But with the increasing challenges facing the environment, it clearly shows that either existing policies are not working or they are not effective. But why? Many of the speakers and even researchers who authored the global report on the environment believe that lack of political goodwill to formulate and implement good policies is a major drawback to addressing air pollution and climate change.

But this sounds strange to me because in most of these conferences where experts discuss development matters, key government officials and policymakers attend and actively participate. For instance, when officially launching the global assembly, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta emphasised the need for the world to unite in combating climate change because it threatens livelihoods. Kenyatta was also with France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, and heads of state of Madagascar and Sri Lanka.

Such calls from heads of state and senior government officials suggests that there is political goodwill.  Speakers at the conference said that some environmental policies, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa do not meet the criteria for effective policies. This is because such policies lack evaluation of outcomes of the challenges they are to address before and after the policies have been created.  This then makes it difficult for one to know the success or failure of such policies.

I agree with the delegates that environmental policies in Africa should be analysed to ensure that they provide for people accessing resources while ensuring the safety of the environment.

We should not keep calling for action to save the planet. Policymakers and other key actors such as research scientists should ensure that sustained and all-inclusive actions are taken to address environmental challenges especially climate change, water scarcity, pollution and biodiversity loss. Environmental policies should not leave anyone behind. The youth, the elderly, men and women should all be involved in the use of knowledge and innovations as actions towards finding solutions to environmental challenges.

Until African leaders realise that it is more than just attending conferences and making empty promises, our environment will continue receiving unchecked beating from challenges such as climate change and pollution.
This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.