By Thuku Kariuki

Kenya has just finished hosting another vital conference in moving forward conservation efforts across the African continent. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), chose Nairobi as the site of its inaugural Africa Conservation Forum.

The event brought together over 700 key actors, from governments to civil society organizations, academics to scientific experts, including women and youth leaders. For the first time, the continent wasn’t separated into three regional groupings.

The IUCN feels it is time for African conservation efforts to unite! Thus the theme for the forum: “African solutions for nature and people – creating transformative responses to the biodiversity and climate crisis in Africa.”

Putting people at the center of the discussion was no accident. The host nation has seen its population nearly double in the last two decades, from 26 million to over 50 million citizens. Similar populations booms are seen across Africa, with the continent now home to over a billion people.

Naturally, this creates new strains on ecosystems as people seek to provide for their growing families. Noting the increase in human-wildlife conflicts, Alfred Mutua, Kenya’s Minister of Tourism and Wildlife, in his opening remarks said: “For conservation to be truly effective and sustainable, we must ensure that local communities are not only involved but are also primary beneficiaries…Kenya, with its rich biodiversity, is actively implementing the National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan, focusing on locally-led and appropriate solutions for nature and people.”

IUCN warns that biodiversity and indeed whole ecosystems are under immense pressure. Their research shows that 6,400 animals and 3,100 plants in Africa are at risk of extinction. Statistics on birds and fish are less complete, but populations of vertebrate species in Africa are estimated to have declined by 39 percent since 1970.

The continent’s development is of interest to the entire world. Africa is home to one-quarter of the world’s mammal species; one-fifth of the world’s bird species; at least one in six of the world’s plant species; and 369 wetlands of international importance. If action is not taken, people will continue to encroach on land and resources that these species need to flourish.

“We’ve run out of time: existing actions are inadequate and true transformation means moving from transformation rhetoric to integrated actions in the biodiversity-climate-energy nexus now,” stated Imèn Meliane, IUCN Vice President and Regional Councillor.

Much of the focus of the three day event was on climate change, a subject explored in Nairobi at last year’s inaugural African Climate Change Summit. According to IUCN data, climate change is exacerbating human-driven biodiversity losses.

At global warming levels (GWL) above 1.5°C the continent will lose 30 percent of the area of suitable habitat for various species. Also, more than 10 percent of plants, vertebrate, and invertebrate species across 90 percent of Africa will face risk of local extinction.

At 2 degrees GWL, the effects are event more dramatic, with local extinction of more than 50 percent of plants, vertebrate and insect species across one-fifth of Africa; and total extinction of a third of freshwater fish and more than 90 percent warm-water coral reefs.

By the end of the event, delegates determined that Africa needs to ramp up investment in its natural assets in support of its economies and society. New business models that engage women and younger generations prove that investing in nature brings benefits for all.

Governments and the private sector working together with civil society organizations, accompanied by enhanced education and communication actions, were identified as templates for a better integrated method of working.

“Africa is a youthful continent, and innovative solutions require the voices and aspirations of its youth to make them a reality,” said Fatima El-aaraby, Young Professional Regional Focal Point – Africa, IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy (CEESP).

While participants stressed that it is vital to get local communities, particularly indigenous groups, to buy in to saving eco-systems, they also recognized that funding must come from a variety of sources.

Combatting climate change and protecting biodiversity, require education programs, promotion of sustainable livelihoods, and the diversion of commercial projects. These costs can be borne by governments, international environmental organizations, global financial institutions, commercial enterprises and ordinary citizens, working from within their local communities.

The IUCN will continue to push its pro-biodiversity agenda in Africa at upcoming forums. Its 1400 member organizations and 16,000 experts will contribute to shaping the agenda for the IUCN World Conservation Congress, to reflect African concerns and resources. This event is to be held in the United Arab Emirates in 2025. The IUCN Congress will in turn set the global conservation agenda for the years ahead. This will be informed not only by the just-concluded event, but will also receive constant updates from continous engagement with key African actors.

The IUCN Director General Grethel Aguilar summed up the hoped impact of the conference, saying: “The Africa Conservation Forum saw IUCN Members from this vast and beautiful continent united for people and nature. We heard the voices of Africa coming from governments, civil society, Indigenous Peoples organisations, local communities, and youth, all under the umbrella of IUCN – building bridges and demonstrating that we are stronger together. One thing is clear: this is a continent full of biodiversity and vibrant people, ready to embrace and demonstrate African solutions for nature and people.”