The ministers have been discussing cooperation for development and protection of the marine and coastal environment in sub-Saharan Africa.
At the opening of their meeting Thursday, South Africa's deputy president, Thabo Mbeki, urged them to form an African commission to implement an environmentally based sustainable development on the continent.
He said Africa's concept of sustainable development was not a mere academic exercise.
"Its definition and meaning must be understood from the point of view of what Africa must do to eradicate poverty, unemployment, the burden of debt and achieve economic growth, socio-economic development, political and social stability on an environmentally sustainable basis," Mbeki stressed.
According to him, the proposal to set up an African commission on sustainable development was a necessary instrument to ensure the result of streamlining, rationalisation, reorganisation and proper functioning of existing institutions.
Two of these institutions -- the Abidjan convention of 1981 covering west and central Africa and the Nairobi convention of 1985 covering eastern and southern Africa -- have not implemented their objectives effectively due to lack of financing and political commitment.
Efforts to salvage this situation led to the July Pan African conference on sustainable integrated coastal management in Maputo, Mozambique.
UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer told the gathering to recognise that the marine and coastal resources of Africa were important assets for the promotion of peace and security as well as equity and sustainable development.
He said UNEP, which jointly organised the meeting with the advisory committee on the sea and the South African government, had now focused its regional seas programme to the management and development of the marine and coastal environment through integrated management.
In a message of encouragement, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan said Africa was not alone in its quest for a peaceful and sustainable path of development.
But to get there, he stressed, "we must take multilateral cooperation to a new level. This conference is an important step in that direction, and the United Nations will continue to be your close partner."
By Nelson Magombo, PANA Correspondent