Advancing Conservation in West Africa through the ECOWAS Environmental Action Plan

Advancing Conservation in West Africa through the ECOWAS Environmental Action Plan
September 14, 2018 11:06 am Blog

Image: Participants at the Environmental Action Plan Validation Workshop in Abuja, Nigeria.

In May 2018, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the West Africa Biodiversity and Climate Change Program (WA BiCC) hosted a workshop to validate two critical documents to support the work of the Directorate. One was the revised version of the ECOWAS Environmental Action Plan (EAP), which defines and sets the priorities and approaches for addressing the most pressing environmental issues across the region. It is the major guiding tool for the implementation of the ECOWAS Environmental Policy (ECOWEP). The revision was undertaken at the request of the Directorate to better reflect the emerging environmental issues facing the region, such as the Paris Agreement on climate change, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the African Union (AU) Agenda 2063 and Decisions Heads of States and other strategic policy frameworks.

ECOWAS is a regional authority that promotes economic trade, intergovernmental cooperation and a common currency among its members. WA BiCC works as a partner with ECOWAS to improve governance and policy over critical natural and human systems and increase the capacity of governments to address wildlife trafficking, coastal vulnerability to climate change, deforestation, forest degradation and biodiversity loss.

Dr. Johnson Boanuh is the Director of the ECOWAS Directorate of Environment in Abuja, Nigeria. The following is an interview with Dr. Boanuh, who shares insights and outcomes from the recent Environmental Action Plan Technical Validation Workshop.

Dr. Johnson Boanuh
Dr. Johnson Boanuh


WA BiCC: Why did the ECOWAS Environment Directorate decide to review the Environmental Action Plan and how was this need identified?

Dr. Boanuh: The role of the Environmental Action Plan is to guide the implementation of the ECOWAS Environmental Policy across West Africa. Both documents were validated at the end of 2008 and the timeframe of the first EAP ended in 2014. Over the past 10 years, the Directorate has been working steadily to implement this action plan but as you can imagine, in 10 years, new environmental issues have emerged and the context has evolved at the international, African and West-African levels.

The United Nations Millennium Development Goals have been replaced by the Sustainable Development Goals which put a lot of emphasis on natural resources management and sustainability. This new framework led to the adoption of new multilateral environmental conventions such as the Paris Agreement on climate change; and the Minamata Convention on Mercury which has been effective since August 2017. It is important to note that mercury is used for small scale artisanal gold mining throughout West Africa which is causing significant pollution on the water bodies and impacting the environment and communities across the region. This particular issue highlights the need to integrate these concerns into the new EAP.

At the African level, we need to take on board in our implementation strategy the Agenda 2063 from the African Union and the various decisions taken by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). Also, at the West African level, emerging environmental issues such as plastic and electronic waste management, deforestation and desertification are now affecting the region.  ECOWAS and its Member States have developed regulations, adopted strategies and action plans to cope with these challenges which should now be integrated into the new EAP.

Finally, the means of implementation of the EAP also needed to be reviewed. At the time of the first EAP, ECOWAS was seen as the unique owner of the plan and was solely held responsible for its implementation. We need to change this paradigm. We need to build more synergy and collaborate with other stakeholders to promote a joint implementation approach. This can only be achieved through the establishment of common goals with responsibilities at different levels to maximize the use of resources.

WA BiCC: Can you describe how collaboration with WA BiCC helped facilitate the EAP review process?

Dr. Boanuh: WA BiCC and the ECOWAS Environment Directorate are institutional partners. WA BiCC is providing institutional support to the Directorate. In 2015, WA BiCC supported us in developing an Institutional Strengthening Plan (ISP) and the revision of the EAP is a key element of this plan. WA BiCC provided technical assistance and necessary resources throughout the revision process, for both the EAP and the Monitoring and Evaluation Plan. The revised Environmental Action Plan now takes into account issues on Gender and Social Inclusion and now better aligns with international standards.

WA BiCC: What were your expectations regarding the Validation Workshop and were your expectations met?

Dr. Boanuh: The first element to appreciate is the high level of expertise from the regional bodies and national environmental institutions who attended the Validation Workshop. All the participants reviewed and provided constructive inputs to this regional action plan. ECOWAS is very satisfied with the positive outcomes of the workshop. Mr. Sangare SEKOU, the ECOWAS Commissioner for Agriculture, Environment and Water Resources praised the Members States for their active participation to “equip the West African Region with a regional framework to collectively manage natural resources and the environment.”

WA BiCC: What are the next steps in terms of EAP implementation?

Dr. Boanuh: The highest priority now is to finalize the workshop report in collaboration with all the stakeholders and present it to the various ministers of environment of Member States, who will then adopt it, effectively moving the revised EAP for the 2018-2025 period into implementation. Furthermore, a new monitoring and evaluation system that was also reviewed and validated during this workshop will provide better oversight on implementation activities, but will require additional support in order to be properly operationalized. If all goes well, this should take us all the way to 2025, when the EAP will be reviewed again.

WA BiCC: How do you foresee the collaboration with WA BiCC on the EAP and other related activities?

Dr. Boanuh: There are strong synergies between WA BiCC’s activities and the EAP especially on natural resources management and landscape restoration. We have been a core partner to WA BiCC alongside with the Abidjan Convention Secretariat and the Manor River Union since the start of the program in 2015. We are now in the third year of the program’s implementation. At this stage, we can say that a lot has been done in the past years and the collaboration between ECOWAS and WA BiCC has been very fruitful but there is more to be done. We are committed to seeing the implementation of the ISP through, and hope to go beyond the development and validation of the EAP.

New areas of collaboration are also emerging such as the Fouta Djallon program, which has gone through various processes to be transferred from the African Union to ECOWAS. The Directorate could benefit from WA BiCC’s experience working in the Mano River Union (MRU) Member States especially in the forestry sector. We also intend to strengthen our involvement in coastal zone management activities which can be achieved through our partnership with the Abidjan Convention who is also receiving similar support from WA BiCC. A real added value in our partnership with WA BiCC has been the strengthening of our collaboration with other regional institutions such as the Abidjan Convention and the Mano River Union Secretariat. For all these reasons, the partnership between WA BiCC and ECOWAS has been a successful one and we hope to continue working with WA BiCC to preserve the environment and improve the quality of life in West Africa.

Beyond these key milestones, both organizations are now planning the next steps and exploring how the Directorate, with WA BiCC’s support, can implement this new EAP in collaboration with the core partners, the Mano River Union and the Abidjan Convention.  Future areas for collaboration may include the implementation of the Forest Convergence Plan, the development of the regional strategy on wildlife trafficking and strengthening regional and national capacities for implementation, the development of the first communication strategy and monitoring and evaluation system of the Directorate.

These joint efforts bring ECOWAS and WA BiCC closer to their shared vision of harmonizing the policy framework in West Africa and improving the lives of West Africans through improved natural resource management.

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