Despite its abundant natural wealth and favorable geographic location, Liberia is among the world’s poorest countries. In 2016, Liberia’s gross national income (GNI) per capita was just US$370. Its natural resources include iron ore, timber, diamonds, gold, fertile soil, and abundant rainfall. Liberia is also rich in fishery and forestry products. However, the economic potential of these assets remains largely untapped, and further reforms will be necessary to ensure their sustainable use .
Many of the country’s natural resources have been over-exploited, and the environment is facing increasing degradation from unsustainable agricultural practices, fuel wood and charcoal demands, mining, pollution, and a variety of other anthropogenic factors . For instance, overall, net forest depletion (as percentage of gross national income), a measure of unsustainable use of the forest, increased from 0.5% in 2005 to 32% in 2015, according to World Development Indicators (2015) .
At the same time, Liberia is highly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Coastal flooding, erosion and sea-level rise pose especially serious risks, as Liberia’s coastline includes many of its most densely populated and economically vibrant areas, as well as numerous informal settlements composed of extremely poor households with little ability to either minimize their exposure to natural disasters or cope with the effects of environmental shocks . Vulnerability is exacerbated due to the country’s high level of poverty and high dependence on climate change sensitive sectors, such as agriculture, fisheries, mining and forestry .
Managing the natural resource potential in a sustainable way while also increasing employment and adding value to both the economy and social development will be crucial if Liberia is to grow in a green and inclusive way .
Drivers of unsustainable resource use in Liberia include persistent poverty and the lack of sustainable sources of income; the lack of adequate capacity to enforce rules governing resource use; the lack of technical capacity to manage resources; the lack of information and data necessary to sustainably manage resources; the lack of widespread appreciation of the long-term value of natural resources; perverse economic incentives; ineffective land use policies and insecure land tenure and property rights; and unmet demands for energy .
Key policies and governance approach
Liberia’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development 2018 - 2023 is the second in the series of 5-year National Plans under the Liberia Vision 2030 framework and follows the Agenda for Transformation (2012-2017). The PAPD aligns with the African Union Agenda 2063 and SDGs, particularly its three dimensions—economic, social, and environmental with special emphasis on human rights and peace. The PAPD aims to address the basic needs of Liberians for income security, better access to basic services, and greater opportunities for self-improvement in a peaceful, inclusive, and stable environment .
To make progress towards the PAPD and eventually the Agenda for Sustainable Development, the strategies and interventions are built around four pillars which form the pathways for the lifespan of the PAPD: (i) To empower Liberians with the tools to gain control of their lives through more equitable provision of opportunities in education, health, youth development, and social protection (women and vulnerable people with special needs); (ii) Economic stability and job creation through effective resource mobilization and prudent management of economic inclusion; (iii) Promoting a cohesive society for sustainable development; and (iv) An inclusive and accountable public sector for shared prosperity and sustainable development . Through the PAPD, the Government intends to implement Sustainable Natural Resource Management (NRM) and promote the development of National Green Economy strategy .
Additionally, Liberia’s NDC outlines mitigation and adaptation actions across a wide range of economic sectors. In addition to focusing on more traditional areas such as renewable energy, climate-smart agriculture, water and sanitation, climate-resilient infrastructure, and forest restoration and conservation, the NDC also considers climate action in the health, education, industry, and tourism sectors. Policies will also be established to incentivize the private sector to adopt cleaner and more efficient production practices and technologies, require the use of climate-proofing construction materials in coastal infrastructure development, and ensure clear benefit sharing mechanisms for resources arising from forest carbon marketing .
SUCCESSES AND REMAINING CHALLENGES
The implementation of the development agenda remains hampered by insufficient capacity and financial resources and a narrow fiscal space. There is a dire need to expand the economic base to provide decent jobs and income to the people and increase domestic revenue to fund the development agenda as well as improve basic services and infrastructure .
As such, implementation of the country’s NDC is also constrained by financial limitations as there is inadequate funding in the national budget for climate change activities. As a result, activities are largely donor driven and project based .
Initiatives and Development Plans
Supporting A Green/Blue Economy: Liberia Blue Ocean Program seeks to promote the sustainable management of Liberia’s coastal and marine ecosystems. It will work toward the conservation and restoration of marine and coastal ecosystem services to alleviate poverty, protect biodiversity, and mitigate and adapt to climate change. The objectives of the programme are (i) enhanced science-based understanding of drivers impacting coastal and marine ecosystem health and services; (ii) enhanced circular economy approaches addressing marine pollution; (iii) effective governance and integrated management of coastal and marine ecosystems; and (iv) enhanced education and outreach/public awareness .
For the first time, Liberia’s government has mapped the country’s natural assets and how they have changed over time. The “Ecosystem Extent Maps” mean that Liberia will be positioned to more accurately measure the economic value of its nature. The maps are the result of a joint initiative between Conservation International, NASA and the Government of Liberia to pilot an innovative, low-cost, replicable approach to map ecosystems. The overall goal is to help countries measure their natural capital, and integrate its value in planning and decision-making to ensure long-term sustainability for biodiversity and human well-being.
The maps are a critical step in Liberia’s effort to implement “Ecosystem Accounts” following the United Nations System of Economic Environmental Accounting (SEEA) Ecosystem Accounting (EA), a standard framework that helps put natural capital at the forefront of economic decision-making. The system aims to help countries account for the benefits that ecosystems bring to economies and livelihoods.
The mapping initiative in Liberia, and eventually, in other countries in Africa, supports the goals of the Gaborone Declaration for Sustainability in Africa (GDSA), a commitment made by 18 African countries to invest in a new model of development that takes into account the economic value of the continent’s natural resources .
- Development of a national Green Economy Strategy.
- Inclusive governance and effective institutions for natural resource management at all levels, including the continuation of on-going activities that promote land tenure, land reform, natural-resource governance, and property rights for women.
- Sustainable livelihoods need to be developed in the context of community managed natural resources. Agricultural programs will need to be made more climate-resilient. New and innovative approaches for energy for household and light industrial use will be needed.
- Holistic, demand-driven programming that addresses community health, nutrition, food security, and natural resource use that will generate more resilient communities and more sustainable outcomes.
- A more developed small-scale manufacturing sector such as food and industrial crop processing (rubber, palm oil) and forestry operations could offer significant job opportunities.
- Studies of the energy sector in Liberia show vast opportunities for investment, huge hydropower potential, and substantial scope for solar energy.
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 USAID/Liberia (2014). LIBERIA - ENVIRONMENTAL THREATS & OPPORTUNITIES. 118/119 ASSESSMENT FINAL REPORT.
 International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank (2020). Liberia Forestry Development Authority: An Institutional Capacity Assessment.
 Climate Risk Profile: Liberia (2021): The World Bank Group.
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 USAID (2018). Foreign Assistance Act 118/119. Tropical Forest and Biodiversity Analysis: LIBERIA TROPICAL FOREST AND BIODIVERSITY ANALYSIS.
 Republic of Liberia (2020). Liberia: Voluntary National Review on the Implementation Status of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
 REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA (2018). PRO POOR AGENDA FOR PROSPERITY AND DEVELOPMENT (PAPD).
 NDC Partnership (2021). CLIMATE ACTION DRIVES LIBERIA’S ECONOMIC RECOVERY. [Online]. Available: https://ndcpartnership.org/news/climate-action-drives-liberia%E2%80%99s-economic-recovery.
 DG INTPA, European Commission (2021). REPUBLIC OF LIBERIA Multiannual Indicative Programme 2021-2027.
 Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA) (2021). Liberia’s Second National Communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
 Liberia Project Dashboard (2021). [Online]. Available: https://www.liberiaprojects.org/activities/1137.
 CONSERVATION INTERNATIONAL (2021). [Online]. Available: https://www.conservation.org/press-releases/2021/03/11/conservation-international-nasa-and-the-liberian-government-through-its-environmental-protection-agency-use-earth-observations-to-quantify-nature%E2%80%99s-economic-value.