Africa is still green and is growing. But will the continent follow the well-trodden 20th Century growth pathways? Or will Africa take advantage of the mistakes and successes of others to carve out an ecologically sustainable and socially inclusive future?

If not managed well, this is set to increase exponentially with a dire consequence to people and planet. The socio-economic trends clearly signal the ever increasing demand for Africa’s natural resources both globally and domestically. A 2012 report (a WWF and African Development Bank joint publication) showed that Africa’s Ecological Footprint had increased by 240% between 1961 and 2008.

However, with most of Africa’s natural resources still untapped, and with Africans still having a low ecological footprint, Africa has the unique opportunity to leapfrog the ‘brown growth’ and opt for green growth ensuring socio-economic transformation whilst safeguarding some of the most important and critical global ecosystems.

At WWF we believe this can be done by choosing an ecologically sustainable and socially inclusive development pathway. At this year’s World Economic Forum on Africa 2015, WWF will be presenting the findings of the newly published WWF-AfDB joint report on Africa Ecological Futures.

The report aims to lay out the choices for the future that must be decided today by overlaying the socio-economic development and investment plans with that of Africa’s rich and unique ecological bases.

The choices for African decision makers today will have lasting impact. As such, it requires leadership and foresight to take the long-term view and shun shorter-term quick wins. It requires looking at the future in an informed and pragmatic manner to optimize tradeoffs – the best outcomes for today and tomorrow. To do so, decision-makers need to better understand how eco-systems and our ecological assets function. We need to know where the ecological frontiers lie, acquire robust data and capacity to analyse it. Above all, we need to work with stakeholders in new ways that will accelerate partnership, sharing and joint accountability.

Correcting environmental degradation is a costly business. Africa has the opportunity to shape the quality of its growth and development; to do better, to be smarter, and more inclusive. This can be done by ensuring the appropriate knowledge and data on ecological assets is available and having the political commitment to deliver and embedding such know-how within economic and investment decisions.

Africa has demonstrated that it can leapfrog; the speed of penetration of mobile phone and mobile banking adoption in many parts of Africa is a testament of what is possible when innovation, good policies, entrepreneurship and unmet needs of people are matched in a smart way.

The report proposes four underlying principles that put ecological consideration at the heart of decision making today:

  1. Ensuring infrastructure policy planning and implementation that explicitly recognizes the value of ecological assets
  2. Using regional economic integration to build resilience
  3. Exploiting the opportunities of the green economy
  4. Establishing transparent and simple rules to guide investment and encourage developing private sector guidelines on responsible activities

The report highlights that a sustainable ecological future for Africa will be built on:

  1. Our ability to undertake strategic and spatial planning at various levels
  2. safeguards and frameworks under which investments are made into infrastructure and land-use development
  3. Our ability to develop new and innovative partnership models that enable government, civil society and business to drive collective action solutions to common challenges they face

Can Africa deliver its own development ‘formula’ that takes the best of the past and present to deliver a sustainable future? Of course it can. But only if the right knowledge, tools and policies are in place to guide epoch defining economic and investment decisions set to define the continent’s future.

Read the African Ecological Futures Report here.

The World Economic Forum on Africa 2015 takes place in Cape Town, South Africa from 3-5 June. 

Author: Kookie Habtegaber, Green Economies Lead, WWF International

Image: Late autumn colours mark a change in season as farmworkers begin their day near De Doorns, South Africa, May 21, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings