Erik Solheim just concluded a two-day visit to Abidjan, a first for a Head of UN Environment in Côte d’Ivoire. The visit provided an opportunity to present the priorities of his mandate and discuss key environmental challenges constraining the country’s development process as it aspires to lift thousands out of poverty.
During his visit, Mr. Solheim met with Prime Minister Daniel Kablan Duncan, and Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Remi Allah-Kouadio. He also helped launch the Integrated Ecosystem Management Project to rehabilitate the Banco National Park within the city of Abidjan.
In 2011 as Norway’s Minister of Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim witnessed the bloody political upheaval that cost the lives of thousands of Ivorians and displaced many more. He was impressed by the progress made in the five short years since the end of the conflict.
“Many of the countries that were disrupted are still in crisis. Côte d’Ivoire is not. It’s a testament to the will and optimism of Ivorians and to the leadership of President Ouattara that they have put their country back on track. With a steady eight per cent, the country now boasts one of the strongest economic growth rates in the world, and is a West African powerhouse,” he said.
“I’ve seen Côte d’Ivoire rapidly develop in the last five years. I want to see it continue to build and improve its economy long into the future. For it to do so, economic development must not come at the expense of the environment. Any development that is unsustainable can only take the country so far. To grow the economy past the short-term, Côte d’Ivoire will need to integrate nature and development in an inclusive way,” he added.
The political crisis has generated a lot of social and environmental problems, particularly in the city of Abidjan. The conflict had a dramatic impact both on the process of urbanization and on the infrastructure of Côte d’Ivoire. The population of Abidjan is reported to have doubled between 2002 and 2006 due to large-scale migration from villages and towns.
In a post-conflict environmental assessment report produced by UN Environment in 2015, experts recommended that an alternative urban policy be developed to reduce the burden on Abidjan and its overwhelmed capacity.
Top environmental challenges for the country include the clean-up of the Abidjan Lagoon, air pollution, deforestation and wildlife conservation, marine erosion and the need to undertake an audit of the mining sector and remediation.
Most of these issues, according to Erik Solheim, can better be tackled through partnerships, bringing together different stakeholders including the UN system, the private sector and development partners under the leadership of the government.
“Côte d’Ivoire has exhibited a great recovery from the height of its difficulties. Five years ago, supporting the country in its rehabilitation was a priority for me as Minister. Today, in my new role as head of UN Environment, I look forward to helping Côte d’Ivoire build on its recent growth and success in a sustainable way,” he said.