WWF hosts sustainable development conference ahead of FOCAC

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On 1 December 2015, in the build-up to FOCAC6, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) hosted a conference on China-Africa relations and sustainable development. In his opening speech, Dr Deon Nel, acting Executive Director for Conservation at WWF International, stated that “the WWF believes the relationship between China and Africa is one of the most important relationships regarding sustainable development. This relationship can forge a new development pathway.”

He mentioned that interesting developments and policy directions can be seen in China regarding sustainability. According to Nel, about $400 bn will be invested by China for African infrastructure development in the coming years. “Infrastructure unlocks everything. But if planned poorly it can have disastrous environmental effects.” He therefore emphasized WWF’s support for green energy: “The renewable energy revolution allows the sustainability of our forests and heritage.”

Wildlife trade

The first panel of the conference focused on the issue of poaching and wildlife trade. A sense of urgency around ivory and rhino horn poaching was highlighted throughout the panel discussion. Julie Thompson, the East Africa coordinator of TRAFFIC, reminded the audience of how the word “poaching” tends to bring up the images of rhino horn or ivory from elephants being exported to China. There has been a dramatic increase in poaching of both these animals, particularly in South Africa: in 2007 about 13 rhino were poached, and that number reached about 1200 for 2014. But wildlife trade also involves a lot of other species going under the radar. Thompson highlighted that large numbers of pangolins, abalone, lion bone and even the timber trade are increasingly exported to places like China. “We see Chinese involved in this trade. But they are not doing this alone, they are doing this in collaboration with their African counterparts,” Thompson said.

Jo Shaw, the manager of the Rhino Programme at WWF SA, described the African continent as one of the richest sources of natural resources in the world, and probably the richest remaining. “Globally what comes to mind when speaking of Africa is an African elephant roaming on the savanna. But for conservation to work today we need to acknowledge it is not just about biodiversity but we need to include people in this equation.” She explained that biodiversity could be a source of protein for people on the African continent living a subsistence lifestyle. It could also be a source of income generation for some, in the form of agriculture or tourism. Concerned about an intense period of over-exploitation that is currently visible, Shaw calls for “community-based resource management.” She maintains that the situations of poaching and violence are becoming more sophisticated. “This leads to an increase of militarization by government: is this the most useful or holistic solution to the problem? Government is simply providing more guns.” Shaw and her fellow panelists agree that the problem is transnational, and therefore the solution should be as well.

For example, Julian Rademeyer, an analyst at the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime, stated that an international approach is needed to tackle the particular chain of wildlife trade: African countries to Laos, Vietnam and China. “The poachers on the ground are easily recruited by international crime organisations. They are expendable and easily replaced. Thus shooting and arresting on-the-ground poachers is not the key solution,” Rademeyer said. He referred to the syndicates as “ruthless” and explained that their reach goes beyond wildlife trade to weapons exchange and the drug trade. “There’s an appalling human cost here” Rademeyer said. “People are dying – for example three rangers and a soldier have recently been gunned down, and roughly seven soldiers have died in SA.” Additionally about 300 poachers have been killed in the last five years. This has a huge impact on poor communities as these are the breadwinners of the communities. Poaching in many ways gives people a way to escape poverty. “Kingpins are the ones least at risk. Therefore the linkages need to be drawn between various countries that are involved. This is a big organized crime network that requires collaboration at a global level.”

Fei Zhou, the Head of the China office of TRAFFIC concluded the session by discussing interventions from China in wildlife trade. “China’s top leadership places great value on global security and ecological civilisation.” He touched on China’s 13th Five-Year Plan that includes the aim to eliminate illegal wildlife trade. Among other policies China has also issued the “Guidance on Accelerating Building of Ecological Civilisation” policy in 2015 and launched a national Inter-Agency CITES Enforcement Coordination Group in 2011. “This has helped to increase the effectiveness of combating illegal wildlife trade in China,” Zhou said. Furthermore in 2014 $10 million in aid had been committed for wildlife protection in Africa from the Chinese government. 2015 also saw the implementation of policies in China banning ivory import and export, banning ivory carving and banning trophy hunting.

Poaching is subject to severe punishment in China. China is doing outreach in among other places, Ethiopia and Mozambique to educate people over wildlife trafficking. The panel found that corporate sectors have a role to play in curbing poaching. Because of the complex financial flows, the issue of wildlife trade goes beyond government. Some of the major challenges in addressing wildlife trade is the lack of people with communication skills. Rademeyer said that cases have been thrown out of courts because there were no Vietnamese interpreters available. There is also a lack of understanding how these syndicates operate, research seems to be incredibly dated and there is very little expertise from law enforcement. It was also mentioned that addressing the corruption and collusion involved in this issue is crucial.


During the second panel Sahondra Rabesihanaka from Madagascar’s Ministry of Forests spoke about her home country’s relationship with China in terms of illegal logging. “China should put into place a system to eradicate the import and illegal trade of Rosewood to China from Madagascar,” Rabesihanaka said. She then suggested that China help Madagascar set up the industry and infrastructure that is currently lacking to transform and use Rosewoord in Madagascar itself. “Madagascar hasn’t received support from China, even though other African countries have,” she said. Rabesihanaka also suggested that Madagascar work and cooperate with other countries who have already done trade with China. “They have experience and African countries should share that with each other.” She also explained that she had gone to China to see what happened to the Rosewood when it entered the country, and found that there was no strict control over logging imports. “China should put into place a strict control mechanism to prevent the Rosewood logs from entering China’s borders,” she said.

Jing Tao from China’s State Forestry Administration responded by emphasising China’s aim to enhance the quality of forestry cooperation. He stated that the Chinese government firmly opposes and combats illegal logging and associated trade. Tao explained that in 2014 China held 13 forestry training courses themed on aiding Africa, and aid forestry supplies to some African countries. One such aid programme that Tao mentioned is the ongoing “Egypt Desertification Prevention and Experimental Demonstration” programme.

Next, Dominic Walubengo from the Direct Action Forest Network highlighted the fact that sustainable forestry is important not only for logging purposes, but that there are people living in African forests. “There is no sustainable forest management” Walubengo said. “Civil society can mobilise communities to participate in forest management. We have done this in Kenya.” He also suggested that civil society plays an important role in explaining contracts to locals so that they aren’t exploited. “There is lots of conflict around land, civil society can help point out the positive areas of the contracts to locals.” According to Walubengo, not all the logging done within the China-Africa relationship should be exported to China, but some should remain in African countries to create local products. “Locals can get an income from producing seedlings and providing labour. This will improve the relationship between companies and locals,” Walubengo added.

Hannah Ryder, a representative from UNDP China in the audience stated the results of a report they had recently published with the government of China. With a response from 250 countries, it was found that great efforts are being made from the Chinese companies to improve their sustainable development. “33 policies have been implemented in the past few years in China directly related to sustainable development,” Ryder said. She mentioned that one of the challenges facing these companies is that a Corporate Social Responsibility Annual Report was compulsory in China, but not mandatory abroad. She added that Chinese companies conduct Environmental Impact Assessments, generally done by third parties, but have a lot of difficulty following up on suggestions or recommendations. Furthermore, the Chinese government provides a report containing the rules and regulations of every host country, but unfortunately not all Chinese businesses consult this report.

Mining and infrastructure

Dr Deon Nel opened the third panel on sustainable mining by making the case for infrastructure development in Africa. He did this by presenting the audience with the following range of statistics: Less than 30% of Sub-Saharan Africans have access to modern electricity, less than 7% of Africa’s hydropower potential is developed, Africa holds 60% of global untransformed arable land – yet has a 30% food import deficit, less than 10% of Africa’s irrigation potential is developed, and road density in Africa is 20% of the global average. Regarding China’s One Belt One Road prodigy, the WWF and African Development Bank (AfDB) determined and mapped the ecological assets of the African continent. They found three key building blocks to creating ecologically resilient landscapes in Africa: integrated land-use planning, financial market safeguards, and civil society empowerment. The AfDB representatives discussed their progress on the Africa Growing Together Fund, a fund created in collaboration with the People’s Bank of China.

Landry Ramarojohn, Senior Advisor to Madagascar’s Ministry of Environment, claimed that when it comes to mining and infrastructure, it always boils down to issues of land ownership and land use. To address this successfully, Ramorojohn argues that you need knowledge of domains that are governed by different departments. “You also have to know the social side. Madagascar has ancestral land, and this concerns the entire population. A small part of this land is owned by indigenous people. A lot of land is also used for graves – the rituals say you must not touch them.” Ramorojohn furthermore said that investors have billions of dollars to spend on developing land, but this cash doesn’t necessarily reach the subsistence farmer. Development then becomes an issue of small owners vs big money. “We have to reconcile the two extremes,” Ramorojohn said.

Christine Tam, WWF’s Sustainable Trade and Investment Coordinator Coastal East Africa, concluded the session with background information, as well as a future look, on the One Belt One Road Initiative. This land-based economic belt stretches from central Asia all the way to Europe. The 21st century maritime Silk Road passes through India to East Africa as well. 65 countries and 4.4 billion people are involved in this connection, which encompasses 30% of the global economy. “It has been estimated that trade will double between China and countries in this road. There is increasing connectivity and substantial funding mobilized behind it,” Tam said. “These nodes of development are connected by infrastructure, particularly land-locked areas to connect them with ports.”

The fact that these nodes open markets and diversify economies across African can contain benefits but also pitfalls such as major land-use change, and the effects on future patterns of migration. Tam furthermore highlighted the potential issues of habitat destruction, conflict around natural resources and the breakdown of ecological services that are crucial to investment. She recommends, among other efforts, an increased cooperation in integrated planning, as early as possible in the timelines of these strategies and plans.

Renewable energy

The final panel covered the topic of China’s role in offering cost-effective renewable energy to the African continent. Robert Ddamulira, Regional Energy Coordinator at WWF, stressed the fact that the average African would only need access to a small amount of electricity, compared to what the average U.S. citizen currently uses. He believes that an investment in consumer financing is necessary, as a lot of Africans simply cannot afford renewable energy. “China has been able to install in one year what Africa has been able to do overall,” he said. Renewable energy provides Africa with many opportunities, particularly in the realm of job creation.

Sakkie Leimecke, Nedbank’s Head of Energy spoke about their collaboration with the South African government regarding renewables. “90 projects have been awarded by government in a space of 4 years, and Nedbank is participating in about 40 of those.” Leimecke attributes the success of their programme to setting deadlines, clarifying criteria and a lot of interaction with financial institutions to formulate the programme. “Government acknowledged they don’t know a lot about renewable energy,” he said. He encouraged neighbouring countries to learn from this programme’s successes and failures.

According to Moritz Weigel from UNDP China, the degree to which China invests in Africa, lies in the hands of African countries. “Financing is perhaps not the key impediment to the proliferation of renewable energy in Africa,” he claims. He referred to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) under the UNFCCC’s Kyoto Protocol as an example. “This mechanism was designed for developing countries, particularly least developed countries, to reduce their emissions in an economically meaningful way. But Africa was least benefited by this.” China, on the otherhand, has made use of CDMs, and managed to successfully mobilize the opportunity. “There are many other climate financing sources that Africa can make use of,” Weigel said.

Weigel focused on the South-south cooperation of China investing in renewable energy in Zambia and Ghana. “Here we have seen a shift from the mere provision with technology to China really partnering with countries to create enabling environments. This helps Africa use these technologies independently in the long run.” He states that China has been a leader in increasing rural electrification and the country has lots of policy experience that Africa can gain from.

Finally, the conference was concluded with another look at China’s contribution to renewable energy, and ultimately sustainable development on the African continent. China has been providing funding for renewable energy in Africa since the 80s, and its government has shown a strong commitment in this area. Renewable energy has formed part of China’s Africa policy, not just China’s environmental plan. African countries feel collaboration with China in renewable energies is a priority, and about $3.1 bn has been committed to this issue by China. China’s contribution to renewable energy under the new climate change agreement is currently being negotiated in Paris. A promising initiative for Africa called the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative, was also to be launched in Paris under the African Union.