Why Conservation should be high on agenda of ongoing summit

The African Wildlife Foundation hopes that conservation will take precedence during the 36th Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the African Union which opened yesterday.

The increased destructive impacts of climate change, ranging from prolonged drought spells and wrecking floods that have rendered millions of people homeless, underscore the need for conservation and biodiversity to be high on the agenda of the AU meeting. Africa is also facing increased cases of rising insecurity and conflict across several countries, further highlighting the need for unity on a continental front.

I must congratulate Africa and our leaders for the strides we have made this far. We have already seen the fruits of a unified front based on how we participated last year in the numerous biodiversity-focused conferences, namely, The African Protected Areas Congress, the 27th Conference of the Parties; The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora; and the Convention on Biological Diversity COP15. This is proof enough that if we band together and focus on the common goal, we can make huge strides.

The theme of the summit is continental trade which under the circumstances may be significantly hindered if the previously highlighted aspects are not addressed sooner. Trade promotes development and conservation is a development priority particularly in Africa.

There is no separation of the two. Africa's natural capital underpins the development aspirations set out in AU Agenda 2063 and contributes significantly to global goals for addressing climate change, biodiversity loss, and desertification.

The integral role of conservation in Africa should be a priority focus during this summit as it greatly impacts the future of Africa and the world.

Africa offers the world a unique path where development happens in harmony with wildlife and their habitats. We are the home of 25 per cent of global biodiversity including almost a third of global fresh water.

As a rapidly developing continent, it is imperative that African heads of state urgently reconsider how growth is defined, mapped, and planned. Africa must prioritise development that mitigates climate and biodiversity threats, putting people at the core.

This is because much of Africa's wildlife and wildlands are in crisis, threatening both nature and the natural resource base for much of Africa and the world's population. We believe that wildlife and wildlands have intrinsic value worthy of protection.

We can and must chart a course that leapfrogs development in Africa into a green economy, where growth and nature coexist.

Mr Sebunya is the CEO of African Wildlife Foundation