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China-Africa summit can lay the foundations for a sustainable future

With environmental degradation threatening to undermine Africa’s long-term economic growth and prosperity, this week’s China-Africa summit provides a critical opportunity to promote sustainable development.

Coinciding with the UN Climate Conference in Paris and following the adoption of the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the 6th Forum for China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) in Johannesburg can help to boost development and poverty eradication in Africa, while safeguarding the environment, protecting the ecosystems that sustain human well-being, and mitigating the impact of climate change.

“FOCAC has enhanced economic cooperation and development in China and Africa over the past 15 years: now it can pave the way towards a more sustainable and equitable future,” said Fredrick Kumah, WWF Regional Director for Africa. “WWF is calling on FOCAC to seize this critical opportunity to align its aims with the SDGs and incorporate concrete sustainable development goals into future action plans.”

Africa’s economies have grown considerably since FOCAC was launched in 2000, and China has contributed significantly through the Forum by facilitating trade, investments, aid and development.

However, China and Africa’s relations and long term prosperity are increasingly threatened by economic and social challenges driven by environmental degradation, such as biodiversity loss, soil erosion, pollution and climate change. There are also concerns about the potential long-term impact of infrastructure, manufacturing and mining projects if they are inadequately planned and managed, and do not follow best practices.

WWF is urging FOCAC to incorporate clear goals in its Declaration and Action Plan on the sustainable use and trade of natural resources, responsible infrastructure development, clean energy, sustainable finance, and the creation of a more inclusive process.

“FOCAC can help protect the environment and the priceless services that Africa’s ecosystems provide by directing China-Africa economic cooperation towards sustainable development,” said Deon Nel, WWF Executive Director, Conservation. “Critically, FOCAC can use policy and finance tools to promote strategically-planned infrastructure development, renewable energy and resource-efficient technologies that benefit national economies and local populations.”

Under these broad themes, WWF is calling on China and all 50 African states represented in FOCAC to commit to specific actions. For example, the organisation is urging them to encourage responsible natural resource extraction, particularly mining, and to tackle illegal logging, poaching, and wildlife crime.

Since 2008, WWF’s China for a Global Shift Initiative has promoted the mainstreaming of environmental and social sustainability in trade and investment between China and other regions.

"FOCAC has emerged as a critical platform to advance sustainable development in African countries and in China,” said Dr Li Lin, WWF’s China for a Global Shift Initiative leader.

“WWF is keen to encourage vibrant partnerships to safeguard the environment for future generations,” said Nel, who will be participating in the WWF conference. “The decisions to secure Africa’s ecological futures must be taken today and FOCAC must take the opportunity to contribute its share.”

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