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Brazzaville Hosts First Sustainable Development Forum in Africa

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BRAZZAVILLE, November 4, 2008 — Several heads of state, environment ministers, and environmental experts gathered in Brazzaville, Congo last week to ponder the issue of sustainable development, assess the level of progress achieved so far, and discuss remaining challenges. The meeting, the sixth Global Forum on Sustainable Development, took place October 27-30. 

Bringing together key stakeholders from various countries, the forum is part of ongoing discussions around forming an alternative global framework on environmental policy to replace the controversial Kyoto Protocol. It was also the occasion for African states to revive the environmental action plan of the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) with a shared view that encompasses the concerns of their various geographical constituencies, which range from African islands to Sahelian countries facing the expansion of the desert. 

The theme for this year’s forum—Africa, Environment, and Globalization—allowed participants to delve into some of the issues associated with sustainable development. These topics ranged from eco-agriculture to trade policies and subsidies to environmental governance. Participants expressed the common concern that African views be taken into account as part of a broader theme related to global governance. In particular, delegates expressed the view that power dynamics within the Bretton Woods system (the World Bank Group and International Monetary Fund) allow for more African participation, specifically with greater representation at key international financial institutions.

Notable participants included Jean Ping, chair of the African Union Commission; Nobel Laureate and Goodwill Ambassador for the Congo Basin Forests Wangari Maathai of Kenya; several heads of state; ministers in charge of forest management; environmental experts; and Congolese President Denis Sassou N’Guesso.

Although no pledge was made at the conclusion of the forum, participants agreed that an advocacy program will be implemented to promote the proposal made by President N’Guesso to establish an African Fund for sustainable development.

“No lasting solution to the current crisis can be found without an infusion of solidarity,” N’Guesso said, adding that this African-sponsored fund should serve as a token of the continent’s commitment to sustainability, while also potentially attractive matching contributions from external sources.

Speaking on behalf of the World Bank, Congo office Country Director Marie Françoise Marie-Nelly highlighted the Bank’s leading role in finding sustainable solutions.

“It is the vision of the World Bank Group to contribute to an inclusive and sustainable globalization – to overcome poverty, enhance growth with care for the environment, and create individual opportunity and hope,” she said, quoting President Robert Zoellick.

She reiterated the Bank’s commitment to promoting the sustainable development agenda in Africa, with support ranging from financial assistance and policy advice, to capacity-building programs.

The largest tract of Congolese rainforests can be found in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Since 2002, the Bank has played an instrumental and supportive role in helping the DRC Government to cancel illegal concessions covering 25 million hectares, establishing a moratorium on new concessions, and financing a legal review of the remaining logging contracts, the results of which were announced in September.

Beyond DRC, the Bank has promoted comparable reforms in other Congo Basin countries, and supported the establishment of key coordinating entities such as the Central African Forest Commission, and the Network of Parliamentarians for Sustainable Management of Central African Moist Forests.

The Forum called for a proposal to establish an African Fund for sustainable development, and to have a permanent Secretariat to the Forum to follow up on recommendations during the annual meetings.

In the Brazzaville Declaration, a joint statement issued at the close of the meeting, participants called on the international community to abide by previous commitments to protect ecosystems in Central Africa. The statement also asked to include sustainable forest management in all discussions related to a post-Kyoto global framework. The document also called for next month’s summit on the global financial crisis to include African states.

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