Africa is one of the most rapidly-developing continents on Earth. While this high rate of urbanisation is improving lives and building strong economies, it is also taking a toll on the environment. Previous research on this added environmental pressure has focused on threatened animal species and how protected areas are affected.
However, the socio-economic factors that underpin environmental strain in Africa have largely been ignored. This means that we do not fully understand which socio-economic conditions lead to better or worse environmental states. It also limits the ability of lawmakers and heads of state to make sound choices for a more sustainable future.
A group of researchers from Flinders University in Adelaide, Australia, decided to study the social and economic factors that underlie environmental degradation in Africa. Their work has culminated in a ranking system that indicates the best and worst-performing countries in terms of their environmental protection regulations and sustainability.
What the researchers studied
The researchers included information that is very specific to Africa. They combined a range of data points to assign an average value rank to each country for their environmental health. This ranking system now allows other researchers, governments and lobbyists to understand environmental degradation from an African perspective. This will help countries to improve their performance and enforce necessary changes to protect their environments.
To provide a wider measure of environmental performance, the researchers looked at a number of additional factors that are specific to Africa. These include:
- A ‘megafauna conservation index’ that rates a country’s ability to protect its largest animal species.
- A national ecological footprint that measures the ecological assets needed by the population to reproduce the natural resources that it consumes.
- The proportion of a country’s species that are threatened with extinction.
- The number of forests a country has lost over the past few decades.
- How much freshwater is consumed and removed from rivers and lakes.
- How much livestock and crops cover the land area.
- What volume of greenhouse gases are emitted by the country.
Results of the study to ranks Africa’s environments
With these unique social and economic factors included in the ranking system, the researchers managed to rank Africa countries by the state of their environments. They found that best-performing countries are:
- Central African Republic
- Democratic Republic of Congo
The worst-performing countries are:
- South Africa
The researchers also found that the population density is directly related to environmental performance. The higher the average number of citizens per square kilometre, the worse the environmental performance. The wealth of a country also has an impact on environmental degradation. The richer the country is, the more damage it does to its habitat.
Interestingly, the team found that governance does not necessarily affect environmental performance. Countries with poor governance did not necessarily have worse environmental outcomes. It is no secret that Africa’s ecological systems are facing mounting pressure. So how do we improve?
The researchers suggest that multilateral environmental agreements need to be signed in order to protect the environment and introduce accountability on a national scale. Every country should aim to improve its internal policies and laws as well. Importantly, everyone has a responsibility – governments, businesses and citizens need to play their part and look after the natural resources.
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