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Speech delivered by Minister Creecy at the 8th special session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment

Opening remarks for H.E. Barbara Creecy, Minister of environment, Forestry and Fisheries of South Africa for the 8th special session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment

04 December 2020

  • Honourable Ministers and Deputy Ministers;
  • Your Excellency, Ms Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme;
  • Your Excellency, Ambassador Josepha Sacko, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture of the African Union;
  • Heads of UN Agencies;
  • Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
  • Senior officials from African Union Member States;
  • Representatives of Regional Economic Communities;
  • Representatives from Partner Organisations;
  • Officials from the AMCEN Secretariat and the African Union Commission;
  • Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen; 

Good morning or good afternoon depending on where you are located in this beautiful continent of Africa!

It is my pleasure to welcome you all to this 8th Special Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment being held virtually today. I trust that you and your families are in good health during this challenging time.

The global health emergency brought about by the COVID-19 Pandemic that we are faced with, calls for review of our plans and priorities so that we respond accordingly and with urgency. The socio-economic impacts of the Pandemic have also hit Africa hard.

The World Bank estimates that an additional 23 million people on the Continent will be pushed into extreme poverty and 20 million jobs could disappear, costing Africa up to US$500 billion in revenue. Food insecurity and debt are rising, and hard-won development gains within the context of the 2030 Agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are under threat.

We have witnessed that the Pandemic has exposed our socio-economic vulnerabilities, increased debt burdens and triggered new challenges towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and the associated targets, responding to Climate Change as envisaged in the Paris Agreement, as well as attaining our Agenda 2063 aspirations.  

Given the rising numbers of infections, it is clear that the COVID-19 Pandemic is still raging across the world. We wish to therefore extend our sincerest condolences to all who have experienced loss as result of the global pandemic and express our solidarity with all of those otherwise impacted by Covid-19.

Whilst this Pandemic is having a profound negative impact on sustainable development and our efforts to combat environmental degradation and eradicate poverty, it also presents opportunities to set our recovery on a path of transformative sustainable development. Many governments and regions are prioritizing a green recovery as part of their stimulus packages to address the crisis.

It is therefore befitting that the theme for this Special Session is ‘Enhancing environmental action for effective post-COVID recovery in Africa’. This theme builds on the theme of the AMCEN 17th Ordinary Session held in Durban in November last year and calls for increased environmental action to protect and restore the environment, contribute towards building back better and more sustainably, to increase resilience to future crises, and steer the Continent on a more sustainable path.

This meeting comes soon after the African Union Special Session on Environment and Natural Resources of the Specialised Technical Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Water and Environment which took place on 13 November 2020, where we deliberated on the challenges and opportunities for Africa as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The 8th Special Session is intended to build on the outcomes of this recent AU STC meeting, and deliberate on Africa’s common approaches and key messages for the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5), the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) COP15 and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP26.

It is recognised that Africa is amongst the most vulnerable, especially to Climate Change, and that our Continent has Special Needs and Circumstances. Notwithstanding the COVID-19 pandemic, it is essential to maintain the momentum behind a collective, multilateral response to the climate crisis through the UNFCCC, its Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement. We need a coherent and strong Common African Position for COP26, which calls for enhanced action and greater ambition from all Parties.

For Africa, true to the language of the Paris Agreement, there have always been three related and equally important aspects to ambition: ambition with regard to improving our Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), Ambition with regard to an Adaptation Goal and associated action and Ambition on means of implementation. It is important that all three global goals in the Paris Agreement must be advanced with equal determination.

As adaptation continues to be of central importance for Africa, therefore, access and deployment of adaptation finance remains crucial for Africa’s people in the face of increasing extreme weather events and slow-onset phenomena associated with climate change.

Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic also offers an opportunity to re-set our relationship with nature. Safeguarding biodiversity through ecosystem management and /or restoration interventions is both cost-effective and sustainable, which can deliver measurable positive climate change adaptation and mitigation contributions as well as socio-economic development co-benefits in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In this regard, the Special Session will also provide an opportunity for the Continent to reflect on the 15th session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD-COP15) scheduled for 17 to 30 May 2021, in Kunming, China. The COP comes at a critical time, taking into consideration the COVID-19 pandemic and the increase in the number of zoonotic diseases due to unprecedented destruction of habitats by human activity. The COP will also be finalizing the post-2020 biodiversity framework that is expected to play a significant role in building resilience and galvanizing international cooperation.

This Special Session will consider Africa’s common approach for engagement in the fifth United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-5) to be held from 22-26 February 2021. The UNEA-5 aims at consolidating environmental actions within the context of sustainable development and provide impetus to more effective implementation.

Honourable Ministers,

In my capacity as the President of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, I convened an AMCEN Bureau meeting on 28 May 2020 where we recognised the need to prioritise a sustainable socio-economic recovery to the impacts of the Pandemic, and for our interventions to be directed towards enhancing the implementation of the outcomes of the 17th Ordinary Session of AMCEN.

At this AMCEN Bureau meeting, we considered a proposed African Green Stimulus Programme, as an innovative African-led initiative developed to support the Continent’s recovery. The African Green Stimulus Programme seeks to address, in a sustainable manner, the devastating socio-economic and environmental impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic and to, more importantly, harness the opportunities which this approach brings for the Continent.

Within this context, the African Green Stimulus Programme aims to mobilise additional financial and technical resources to upscale and enhance the implementation of the portfolio of programmes within the 12 Key Priority areas, whilst identifying areas requiring new interventions to support Africa’s Green Recovery.

The Concept Note for the Programme was circulated to all Member States and I wish to thank honourable Ministers for the positive feedback and constructive comments which were provided. We will be considering the African Green Stimulus Programme during our meeting today, with a view to adopting this programme for implementation.

In conclusion, it is clear that Africa will require environment and sustainable development initiatives to be implemented at a much larger scale, in order to contribute significantly to Africa’s recovery from the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Now more than ever, it is imperative to work together as Africa and take collective and resolute action to deal with the socio-economic and environmental fallout from this crisis, for the benefit of the Continent.  There is indeed a compelling case for the environment and rich natural resources of the African Continent, if utilised in a sustainable manner, to contribute significantly to the Continent’s recovery from the impacts of the Pandemic.


I thank you.


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