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Liberia’s EPA: Global challenges and benefits

By. Morris Koffa  


The EPA is mandated to protect the human health and well being of the Liberian people and others living within in our jurisdiction.

This directive also includes the protection of our ecosystem and biodiversity to include our species and waterways, the air we breathe as well- so the emphasis while on human, also considers the health and life of our natural habitat including our wilderness and mountains.

Understandably, the EPA is less than a decade old, and as such may not be in a “prepared mode” to confront or catch up with most of the 21 century challenges of global environmental problems, regimes, and politics. But with a vision that encompasses a wide range of strategic planning, teamwork, and leadership that can reconcile scientific expertise with democratic values, progress can be made.

Domestically, we are still faced with the environmental problems of household and solid wastes collection and disposal. With teamwork from the municipal authorities, other line ministries, and the availability of logistics, handling and disposal of toxic or chemical wastes could be resolved.

Maybe, another small problem could be the building of engineered landfill sites for the disposal of garbage – one that should be out of the reach of the community and constructed in a way that does not affect our ground water and surface water. A need for extension in rural Liberia is necessary.

Historically, global environmental movements have been noted for raising issues that are sometimes based on limited scientific evidence and simply on self-centered emotionalism. At other times it has been simply a reactionary targeting for political purposes.

However, of commonality between environmental movements and governments is the consensus that adverse human interaction with the environment is responsible for global warming- the climate change phenomenon.

Actions to mitigate the impact of global warming have resulted into nations taking voluntary actions to reduce CO2 emissions. While the European Union has set an emission trading system (ETS), the US is proposing a Cap and Trade (Waxman- Markey) or carbon tax as a means of reducing emissions. Less we forget, deforestation constitutes 20% of carbon emissions, which is more than emissions from transportation.

But what is the role of Africa in this context? The continent, a member of the Group of 77, and China initially contended that developed countries should take ownership for the level of greenhouse gas emissions from their rapid economic activities. But pollution knows no boundary and that action from one country could eventually affect another innocent country through transboundary air pollution (TAP).

This proposal by the G/77 and China after series of negotiations of the COP ranging from Kyoto, Marrakech, and Bali consummated into the adoption
of first, the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). This seeks to reduce GHG by allowing firms in developed countries to meet some of their emissions targets by initiating GHG reduction projects in developing countries where costs are lower) – and later, the Reducing Emission from Deforestation and Forests Degradation (REDD) framework.

REDD is a policy approach that has emerged in global climate talks and is intended to safeguard the loss of forest and the conservation of biodiversity as well. Simply put, developed countries will be able to buy carbon credits from developing countries by investing in the protection of their forests. The Congo River Basin just got around $500m from Norway and the UK for this exercise.

Liberia, like many African countries stands to benefit from this arrangement given the fact that we have one of the largest rainforest in the West Africa region. But there may be serious hurdles in our way. First, the capacities of the following entities the EPA, FDA, Fish and Wildlife Services (if we have one), Bureau of Land Management (if we have one) must be enhanced through training and education.

Second, the FDA must amend or design rules that avoid “investment in influence” and enforcement mechanism that protects out forests from poachers and illegal loggers. The Fish and Wildlife Service must ensure the management of our ecosystem and biodiversity. I guess, the FWS must also organize a list of our endangered species by designing a habitat conservation plan so that they do not go extinct.

Third, land has become a disputable issue in Liberia. Traditionally, rural dwellers do not have title deeds to their land and this poses a real problem for the effective implementation of a carbon credit program.

The UN framework on sustainable forest management calls on governments to take into consideration the role and place of indigenous people in the governance of natural resources. It is necessary to engage the rural poor through a deliberative democracy approach so that their views, though customary, may find their way into a statutory arrangement. Respecting the moral agency of our indigenous people in the economic and political decision-making process cannot be overstated.

Lastly, EPA must work with carbon credit developers or industries from developed countries seeking carbon to design a workable framework (measuring forests carbon and baselines), so that rural or local communities benefit from these arrangements.

The EPA must also put itself in a strategic bargaining position so that Liberia does not become the victim of global carbon prices manipulation.

Further, EPA must begin the process of engaging the international community for the purpose of tapping into some of the resources that are available under the Global Environmental Facility, and the Global Forest Fund. Given our steps towards democratic governance these benchmarks may not be difficult.

The most important problem that may arise is how we create a balancing act between the drivers of deforestation such as farmers, loggers and forestry related agri-businesses and the various institutions that should ensure the effective and efficient governance of our natural resources.

The move to adaptation (from reliance of forests to other economic alternatives) is difficult, and finding the right policy alternative out of series of rational policy analyses to this question is a real challenge to the governing authority.

This calls for sound economic and governance reform policies that consider all of the complexities and players involved in both domestic and international environment activities. Is this difficult?

Yes! Is this insurmountable? No! Can we? Yes we can, but with the right public policy framework and knowledge base in place.

Morrs Koffa is Founder and CEO, Africa Environmental Watch, based in Bowie, Maryland, USA.



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