What UNEP can do to reduce poverty

UNEP’s Governing Council (GC 21/15) undertook to develop, promote and provide: By Bakary Kante

  • understanding of the linkages between poverty and the environment;
  • understanding on ways of making people’s livelihoods more productive and environmentally sustainable;
  • policy options for governments to address poverty reduction through an ecosystem approach.

There are compelling reasons why UNEP should address these issues.

To achieve sustainable development, there needs to be a comprehensive plan to reduce poverty. This would include environment and natural resources management. It is not enough to acknowledge that the environment is a key factor in poverty: we need to understand the limitations of the environmental system and take them into account when devising programmes to
reduce poverty. For this we need an organization that understands ecological systems and the role they play in preserving life support systems for the poor.

Poor people are more dependent on basic amenities (clean air, healthcare, nutrition, energy) since they have few assets to help them cope if resources are degraded. Environmental systems provide basic resources. So we must introduce patterns of development that will help build sustainable natural resource management for local communities in the battle to reduce
poverty.

As the Norwegian State Secretary for International Development, said at a UNEP meeting in Oslo in March 2002,

“While the importance of the environment for poverty reduction may be obvious, we face major challenges in [turning] the notion of ecosystems goods and services into decision-making, as a means of alleviating poverty and addressing the poverty-environment linkages in a coherent and consistent manner.”

This explains UNEP’s decision to develop guidelines on these issues. The guidelines will provide developing countries with a step-by-step process to better integrate environmental concerns in their poverty reduction strategies. The guidelines will be tested in five African countries from March 2003 and finalized between late 2005 and early 2006). The Norwegian government has proposed an International Partnership with UNEP on Poverty and Environment in Africa based on the guidelines. This partnership will be officially launched during the upcoming WSSD meeting in Johannesburg and the guidelines will be presented in a draft form as a working document.

Bakary Kante
Director, UNEP DPDL
bakary.kante@unep.org

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