Our work in Africa

Africa is rich in natural resources ranging from arable land, water, oil, natural gas, minerals, forests and wildlife. The continent holds a huge proportion of the world’s natural resources, both renewables and non-renewables.

Africa is home to some 30 percent of the world’s mineral reserves, eight per cent of the world’s natural Gas and 12 per cent of the world’s oil reserves.  The continent has 40 percent of the world’s gold and up to 90 percent of its chromium and platinum. The largest reserves of cobalt, diamonds, platinum and uranium in the world are in Africa. It holds 65 per cent of the world’s arable land and ten percent of the planet’s internal renewable fresh water source.

In most African countries, natural capital accounts for between 30 percent and 50 percent of total wealth. Over 70 per cent of people living in sub-Saharan Africa depend on forests and woodlands for their livelihoods. Land is an economic development asset as well as a socio-cultural resource. A significant share of these resources is, however, used unsustainably while others are lost through illegal activities, meaning that the stream of benefits generated from these resources is being reduced over time. For instance, Africa loses an estimated USD 195 billion annually of its natural capital through illicit financial flows, illegal mining, illegal logging, the illegal trade in wildlife, unregulated fishing and environmental degradation and loss.

Collectively, the continent has a lot to gain in pulling together and harnessing its vast natural resources to  finance the development agenda towards greater prosperity; and it must also ensure that future growth and exploitation of natural resources is results-oriented, climate resilient and sustainable.

The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) recognizes that natural capital underpins the continent’s economy, affirming that using natural capital as a getaway to wealth creation and investments will allow for actions towards achievement of the United Nations 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and the AU Agenda 2063 through financial, economic, social and environmental contribution.

Work of UN Environment

The GEO-6 Regional Assessment for Africa points out that the environment is deteriorating faster than previously thought, emphasizing that governments must act faster to reverse the worst trends. The report recognizes Africa’s natural capital and observes that the economic growth of Africa hinges on the sustainable management of its natural capital. However, unsustainable exploitation of Africa’s natural resources by its burgeoning population, and the tardiness by authorities to effect sound and regulations to tame abuse and over exploitation of these resources is brewing trouble. Nature is issuing red alerts, as evidenced by the many catastrophes we are experiencing which if left unchecked, will keep aggravating food shortages, water scarcity, diseases, conflicts, migration and poverty, all of which could culminate in the destabilization of economies.

Towards sustainable development in Africa

In order for Africa to reap the economic and social benefits inherent in this natural wealth, it is necessary to urgently address such issues as the management and the economic and environmental impacts of, their sustainable use.

The UNEP Africa Office supports African governments to translate decisions and statements made on natural resources into practical actions and innovative solutions at regional, national and local levels for the benefit of their populations. This will lead to wealth and job creation, revenue generation, food security, social equity and a healthy environment.