By Oliver S. Gbegbe (Liberia Development Consortium (LDC) and Department of Geology, University of Liberia)
Liberia faces numerous environmental challenges including land degradation, fragmentation, deforestation, soil erosion, and pollution. The dependence on forestry presents a unique environmental risk as Liberia’s forest is part of the West African Hotspot. This (once) rich ecosystem has faced severe deforestation; only ten percent of the original forest remains, of which around 40% lies in Liberia. Unfortunately, this remaining forest is at risk, serious risk of deforestation. Over the past two centuries, Liberia has lost over 60% of its forest cover (Republic of Liberia, 2004), and deforestation rates have increased since 2000. Increases in deforestation and land degradation are largely due to displaced people clearing land. Also contributing to deforestation, biodiversity loss, and land degradation is unsustainable farming practices, mining, charcoal production, invasive species, hunting, and unregulated timber extraction. Poaching is also rampant and mitigation measures are lacking.
There are related impacts and similar socio-economic linkages between sustainable land management, climate change & biodiversity; which are the components of the Rio Conventions that Liberia is a signatory to, and therefore declared her readiness to participate in the process to ensure that environmental considerations are factored into her national social and economic decisions.
These Conventions, United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD), United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), help Governments rethink economic development and find ways to prevent the destruction of irreplaceable natural resources and avoid global pollution.
The three conventions, jointly as well as separately, define various ways in which the Sustainable Development Goals, articulated in Agenda 2030, can be achieved. They provide support to Parties for undertaking the full adaptation cycle, commencing from the assessment of impacts, risks and vulnerability, to planning and implementation of adaptation and mitigation actions and monitoring and evaluation.
The underlying principle is that a well-coordinated approach to responding to climate change, desertification, and biodiversity loss can have multiplier effects and multiple benefits to the world. The Rio Conventions act as catalysts for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
Socio-Economic Linkages between Sustainable Land Management, Climate Change & Biodiversity in Liberia
There is a growing recognition that while each Rio Convention does stand on its own, with its own defined objectives and commitments, there are also mutual dependencies and inherent relationships among them.
The Rio Conventions share a socio-economic concern for many of the same environmental and sustainable development issues, and operate within the same ecosystems. Land is the source of employment, income generation and environmental services and food security; on the other hand, biodiversity socially and economically supports cultural, spiritual and human health. It is also a source of employment, income generation and ecosystem services and food security. However, Climate change and its associated impacts negatively affect human health, food security, employment, income generation and ecosystem services. So, if the Conventions can be implemented collaboratively and in a coordinated manner, synergies may result that will lead to greater progress on all fronts; for example:
- Addressing climate change can impact rates of desertification and biodiversity loss, for which climate is a key factor
- Introducing renewable energy technologies for the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions can also reduce pressure on land and forest biodiversity by providing an alternative to unsustainable biomass fuels
- Combating deforestation reduces net carbon dioxide emissions, land degradation, and the loss of biodiversity
- Land Degradation (i.e. Deforestation, Erosion, Unsustainable Production) contribute to biodiversity loss and lead to reduced ecosystem resilience, economic vulnerability and poverty, and also climate change that leads to CO2 emissions
- Sustainable Land Use (i.e. Conservation, and Restoration Management) contribute to biodiversity gain and lead to increased ecosystem resilience, reduced economic vulnerability, improved livelihoods, and also reduced climate change that supports CO2 uptake
Liberia has demonstrated tremendous efforts in addressing the mitigation and adaptation approaches to the impacts of climate change in Liberia. This is indicative of her signing and rectification of several
Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs). However, climate change or environmental issues have not begun to be clearly prioritized and integrated into national development documents, policies and agendas.
Climate change has adverse effects on developing countries like Liberia, where populations are most vulnerable and least likely to easily adapt and that climate change will affect the potential for development in Liberia. Climate change and environmental issues have intricate inseparable link to sustainable national development in Liberia; such as energy, transport and sustainable land-use, biodiversity loss, agriculture, employment, food security; livelihood and disaster risk reduction, among others.
Biodiversity is important in supporting vital ecosystem services (ES) such as provision of clean water, air quality, health care, social benefits; such as improved employment, among others. The interaction and inter-dependence among the various components of biodiversity make the Earth habitable for all species, including humans. There are undisputed socio-economic impacts/linkages of biodiversity on employment, food security, and livelihood, and disaster risk reduction, etc. The consequences of climate change, threaten species diversity and endemism and the value of biodiversity and the services provided for vulnerable people from rural communities in Liberia.
Sustainable management of our environment and natural resources can reduce the vulnerability and impacts of climate change; especially on women and children. Major social-economic sectors of Liberia; such as Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry are threaten and vulnerable to climate variability. Some climate variabilities that impact the socio-economic sectors of Liberia are higher temperature, more extreme weather events such as heavy rains, rising sea levels, storms, droughts, erosion and flood. These sectors are critical to Liberia’s inclusive economic growth and poverty reduction goal under the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity & Development (PAPD).
Global warming induced by Climate Change remains a serious challenge to the world, especially for Least Developed Countries (LDCs) like Liberia. It poses threat to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Climate Change impacts such as coastal erosion, flooding and drought, land degradation/deforestation and the unsustainable use of biological diversity poses threat to Liberia national development goals. So, curtailing the effects of climate change at national and international levels require concerted collaborative approaches. The most important economic sectors threatened by the impacts of climate variability in Liberia are water, agriculture, health, biodiversity (fisheries & forest) and coastal zones.
Sustainable Land Management (SLM) is a knowledge-based procedure that helps integrate land, water, biodiversity and environmental management to meet rising food and fibre demands, while sustaining ecosystem services and livelihoods (World Bank, 2008), and whereas, unsustainable land management practices are considered the main drivers of land degradation, in
particular desertification and deforestation, causing reduced agricultural productivity (GEF, 2013b). Liberia faces numerous environmental challenges. Also contributing to deforestation, biodiversity loss, and land degradation is unsustainable farming practices, mining, charcoal production, invasive species, hunting, and unregulated timber extraction. Poaching is also rampant and mitigation measures are lacking.
The country has demonstrated a desire to improve and incorporate environmental concerns into policy framework with the preparation of several environmental policy frameworks, which include:
• National Environmental Protection and Management Law (2003)
• National Environmental Policy (2003)
• Environmental Protection Agency Act of 2003
• New Mineral and Mining Laws (2000)
• Liberia’s National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan II (NBSAP)
• Liberia’s 2008 National Adaptation Plan of Action (NAPA)
• Liberia Protected Areas Network Strategic Action Plan 2008-2013
• Protected Forest Area Management Act of 2003
• National Forestry Reform Law of 2006
• National Wildlife Conservation and Protected Area Management Law of 2016
The Government of Liberia, through the EPA has also signed and ratified key international environmental conventions and protocols that include:
- Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)
- Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety
- Clearing House Mechanism
- Nagoya Protocol on Access and Benefits sharing
- RAMSAR Convention on Wetlands
- CITES (Convention in International Trade in Endangered Species)
- Convention on Migratory Species
- Convention on Plant Genetic Resources for food and agriculture
- United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
- Kyoto Protocol
- Clean Development Mechanism
- Doha Amendment on the Kyoto Protocol
- Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)
- Basel Convention on Trans-Boundary movement of Hazardous Wastes and Chemicals
- Rotterdam Convention on Hazardous Chemicals
- The Montreal Protocol on Ozone Layer
- International Tropical Timber Agreement (ITTA)
- The United Nations Convention Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC)
- Abidjan Convention
- The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification UNCCD)
- Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
- Elephant Protection Initiative (EPI)
- Voluntary Partnership Agreement and European Union Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (VPA-FLEGT)
However, much efforts are now actually needed to mainstream those Multilateral Environmental
Agreements (MEAs) and National Environmental Policies into national developmental documents (policies, decisions, agendas, etc.), and also to ensure awareness, compliance and enforcement of these laws.
The socio-economic consequences fall particularly on the 70% rural populations of the country whose livelihoods depend on natural resources and for whom prevailing poverty persists. Over 60% of Liberians live in poverty, of these, over 40% of citizens live in extreme poverty (Dorliae, 2012). The outbreak of Ebola in 2014 and COVID-19 of 2020 also threatened Liberia’s progress, as the crisis became a priority for the government and stretched its already limited resources.
The Liberian challenges of human compliance and enforcement are the political will to consider environment as a priority indispensable asset for socio-economic development. Inadequacy of state logistics and resources as well as ineffective enforcement of policies and strategies for environmental resources management, and poverty, especially among rural populations hamper effective compliance and enforcement activities by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other sectoral Ministries and Agencies. So, against this backdrop, it is recommended that, to save guard intergenerational equity on the environmental resources offered through ecosystems services, national policy models should be made to work through institutions such as the Environmental Protection Agency, Ministry of Mines and Energy, Forestry Development Authority and other sectoral commissions and agencies. Rules and regulations that enforce judicious use of our natural resources such as the Polluter Pay Principles (PPP) and Precautionary Principles (PP) should be made to work and enforced smoothly. It is in view of these enforcements that biodiversity and its associated ecosystems instabilities could be stabilized to enhance the proper and sustainable functioning of the ecosystems for the continuous supply of their services.
Some Threats/Risks that cause or lead to climate change, Biodiversity loss and land degradation are:
- Sea erosion
- Sand mining
- Clearing of mangroves swamp for construction
- Subsistence farming
- Cutting of reeves along the coast
- Storms, etc.
Some Challenges/Barriers in addressing Sustainable Land Management, Biodiversity and Climate Change:
- Poverty/Resource constrains
- land tenure/users right
- No/limited technical capacity
- Weak enforcement mechanism
- Ineffective enforcement of existing national environmental policies and MEAs
- Limited capacity to access climate funding
- Low adaption to alternative energy sources
- Inadequate national budgetary supports, etc.
Some Recommendations in addressing Sustainable Land Management, Biodiversity and Climate Change:
- Capacity building & supports to sectoral MACs and improve communication, coordination and collaboration among stakeholders
- Enhance municipal zoning & solid waste management
- Development & enforcement of sustainable land management policies and ensure mangrove trees planting along coastal cities to enhance ecosystem based solution and construct coastal defense
- Develop project for ecosystem restoration and payment for Ecosystem Services and promote ecotourism
- Establish Environment Conservation Funds
- Wetlands and Forest boundary demarcation and gazettement
- Environment conservation led banking – confirm due diligence before signing forest agreements
- Mainstreaming of Environment sustainability concerns into policies, plans and programs
- Conduct study and establish Natural Capital Accounts on the economic values from Natural Resources to GDP
- Encourage greening the economy through massive tree planting
- National Wetlands Restoration
- Ensure effective checks and balances to harmonize development objectives, poverty alleviation and conservation efforts
- Strengthen robust implementation mechanism for exiting MEAs and national environmental policies and create national awareness on change phenomenon and impacts in vulnerable communities
- Prioritize accessing climate change funding
- Adaptation of technological farming and agroforestry
- Train community dwellers/stakeholders to create awareness
- Improve vegetation cover; drainage system and water waves and stop sand mining and construction in water ways
Sustainable development which encompasses Rio Conventions requires partnership and also a consolidated efforts by all actors; including, line Ministries, Agencies, Commissions (MACs), Civil Society Organizations, and the Private Sector, if success is to be attained. It offers a unique opportunity to move national development agenda forward and should therefore be embraced with that view in mind.
Benefits of Biodiversity Conservation:
- Biodiversity conservation provides the bases for livelihoods, cultures and economies of several hundred of people, including farmers, miners, forest dwellers, hunters, fisher folks, and artisans
- Preserve fish and wildlife habitats, endangered species, and biodiversity
- Manage and protect watersheds, forests, soil and wetlands
- Maintain scenic landscapes and recreational amenities
- Prevent soil erosion and improve soil quality
- Provides raw materials for a medicinal and health care system
- Build Capacities of people
- Create employment for many people in society
- Medium for income generation/revenue
- Strengthen forest and natural resources management and forest law enforcement and governance
Liberia has three (3) established wildlife sanctuaries under joint institutional MOUs and legal framework agreements: Marshall Wetland Island Chimp Sanctuary; LIBASSA Wildlife Sanctuary; and Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection Wildlife Sanctuary (LCRP). There are three (3) National Parks in Liberia (Sapo National Park, Gola National Park and the Grebo-Krahn National Park) and one nature reserve (East Nimba Nature Reserve).
Basic climate change impacts on the Agriculture Sector:
- Warmer temperatures causing reduction in chill hours thereby affecting some crops like maize, rice, rubber, and cassava
- May and June are wetter than expected, an implication for farm productivity
- Change in farming calendar
Basic climate change impacts on landlocked communities:
· Flooding in some lowland farms
· Warmer temperatures
· Climate intense heat
· Climate change hazards and animal diseases
Basic climate change impacts on coastal communities:
· Sea level Rise
· Coastal Erosion
· Brown tides
If sea levels rise one meter, areas of major cities such as Monrovia, New Kru Town, River Cess, Buchanan and Robertsport will be submerged, incurring losses of land and infrastructure worth about $250 millions. In addition, rapid coastline variation (both from sea level rise and sand mining) already puts settlements and infrastructures at risk in areas like Buchanan, Greenville, Harper and Robertsport. Rising sea temperatures and intense rainfall levels will impact unique mangrove ecosystems through erosion, leaving the coast even more exposed to storms and wave damage. These factors will also negatively impact fish and other marine species that rely on mangroves as a habitat and food source.
The socio-economic impacts/linkages of biodiversity on employment, food security, livelihood and disaster risk reduction, the consequences of climate change, species diversity and endemism and the value of biodiversity and the services provided for vulnerable people from rural communities in Liberia. Threats that substantially contribute to the higher degree of degradation and loss of biological diversity and ecosystem services are categorized as direct threats and indirect threats. And direct threats can either be termed as external or internal; however, some threats can be classified as both.
- Forest , wetlands and arable lands are being depleted due to urbanization, mining, farming, population growth and overconsumption
- Wildlife are being lost due to illegal poaching, illegal wildlife trade, habitats loss, climate change and global warming, and industrialization
- Water resources are being contaminated/drying up due to industrialization
What are the importance of Sustainable Land Management (SLM)?
- SLM helps to increase food security, primarily for smallholder farmers
- Provide local energy
- Provide local fresh and clean water
- Mitigate soil degradation and enhance soil development
- Increase soil moisture, enabling soil development and function’s
- Enhance primary production and nutrient cycling
- Preserve biodiversity at the farm level through agroforestry, intercropping, fallow, and preservation of locally adapted seed
- Reconstitute carbon pools in soil and vegetation cover
- Decrease atmospheric CO2 and global warming
- Preserve soil moisture (for plant production)
- Increase primary production
- Regulate river, lake and groundwater levels
- Regulate water discharge from highland to lowland areas, reducing floods and increasing low flows
- Keep alive cultural and natural landscapes and protect cultural heritage
- Enhance ecotourism
There is an undisputed close linkages that exist between biodiversity conservation, poverty reduction and socioeconomic development in Liberia. Economic and development decision-makers frequently undervalue biodiversity, both in terms of its overall economic worth as well as in the way that it contributes to national and local development processes. Biodiversity contributes directly to poverty reduction in at least five key areas: food security, health improvements, income generation, reduced vulnerability, and ecosystem services. (Koziell, I. and C. McNeill. 2002)
Clearly, national statistics authorities in Liberia have not calculated our Natural Capital in determining the economic value of our biodiversity in the Liberian economy. They have also under-estimated the importance of biodiversity to some of the country’s key development goals. For example, analysis of the full value of biodiversity may show how it contributes, directly or indirectly per capita GDP, in terms of more job creation, social services and foreign exchange earnings.
It is possible to discern important — and quantifiable — ways in which biodiversity contributes to poverty reduction and to other key elements of Liberia’s Socio-Economic Development Plan. For example the main purpose of the PAPD is to reduce poverty in rural areas through income generation and service improvement. Biological resources underpin not just people’s basic requirements for food, fuel, medicines and shelter, but also provide significant income-earning opportunities.
In addition to the role of biodiversity in meeting day-today needs, it typically provides vital fallback when other sources of livelihood fail and in times of stress and emergency. At the same time, biodiversity degradation and loss poses real threats to economic development and poverty reduction.
Land degradation and resource depletion are occurring, and other renewable and nonrenewable natural resources are being rapidly depleted. Biodiversity degradation and loss is not just an ecological issue, it is also incurring high economic and development costs. Most rural communities in Liberia depend on biological resources for their livelihoods, and are hit hardest by biodiversity degradation. Biodiversity loss impacts the most on the poorest and most vulnerable sectors of the population, whose livelihood bases are already limited and insecure, who lack alternatives sources of income and subsistence, and who are least able to bear these social and economic costs.