Developing the African Environmental Education and Training Action Plan

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The African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) recently agreed that it was necessary to develop an African Environmental Education and Training Action Plan to guide regional organisations, donors and national governments. African Ministers, in their 14th session and via the Arusha Declaration that emanates from this meeting, agreed to strengthen environmental education and training and develop an action plan for Africa, covering formal and non-formal education, capacity building and information networking components, among others, and to explicitly include a focus on technology enhanced learning in this action plan.  

Agreeing to develop an Action Plan, and actually producing one are two different things. In November 2012 a meeting was hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Mainstreaming Environment and Sustainability in African Universities Partnership at Addis Ababa University to start discussions on the African EE&T Action Plan. Professor Lotz-Sisitka, from Rhodes University’s Environmental Learning Research Centre was tasked to develop a framework for the Action Plan.  She has recently returned from a second consultative meeting in Nairobi, at the UNEP headquarters on 12-13 May 2013, where she presented the ‘zero draft’ of the African EE&T Action Plan for discussion.  Professor Lotz-Sisitka will continue to co-ordinate the drafting of the Action Plan, and the next consultative process on the Action Plan will be held in Morocco in June 2013 at the 7th World Environmental Education Congress.  “The Action Plan will be presented to African Environmental Ministers at their next session in Tunisia in October 2013”, said Mahesh Pradhan, Head of Environmental Education and Training at UNEP.

Professor Sisitka reflects “the AMCEN Environmental Education and Training Action Plan is a significant development for environmental education in Africa, as it is the first time that governments are co-operating across the continent to put in place a real ‘Action Plan’ for environmental education and training”.  This is a welcome development given the challenges facing the continent. As Charles from UNEP’s Africa office stated, it is high time that such an Action Plan is developed as stronger participation in Africa’s environmental concerns are needed. The environment is critical in and for Africa’s development and her people need to have knowledge of this, and the skills and values to act on environmental aspects of development. He said “At least 40% of all intrastate conflicts have had a link to natural resources in the last 60 years, while 26% of the overall per capita ‘wealth’ in low income countries tied to environmental assets”. Additionally, he reported that Africa’s economies and livelihoods are heavily dependent on natural resources, and sectors such as agriculture are particularly sensitive to the impacts of climate change and variability.  

In response to the ongoing and increased challenges facing African environments, AMCEN have defined five Regional Flagship Programmes which include a focus on sustainable energy; green economies; integrated environmental assessments for sustainable development; land use, biodiversity and ecosystems management; and sustainable consumption, production and integrated waste management. Efforts to deal with these issues on the African continent, must also contribute to poverty alleviation and sustainable livelihoods development. Environmental education and training is critical to this process, especially since the African continent is soon to be the most youthful continent on Earth.  Professor Lotz-Sisitka said that the Action Plan will focus on formal education (including early childhood education, basic education, vocational education and higher education), and lifelong learning and community education contexts. It will also consider issues such as leadership training, and capacity building for networks and social learning. “There are also interesting research opportunities arising from the strategy development” she said, and noted that one of the ELRC PhDs will investigate the use of Green Economy Conversion Centres as a means of strengthening work integrated learning approaches in Higher Education. How to strengthen curricula for a low carbon future is but one of the questions raised by delegates involved in the drafting of the Action Plan. Of interest to universities, is the question raised by delegates working on the Action Plan, on how we may better translate research knowledge of the social-ecological context into educational praxis.