Achim Steiner calls on African nations to scale-up transition to a Green Economy

Delivered at the 2011 Joint Annual Meetings of African Union Conference of Ministers of Economy and Finance and the Economics Commission for Africa Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development

28 March 2011- Addis Ababa, Ladies and Gentlemen,

We meet some 13 months before what could prove to be one of the most transformative moments in international affairs.

Nearly 20 years after the Earth Summit of 1992-which established much of the sustainable development of the intervening years-nations are again traveling on the Road to Rio for the UN Conference on Sustainable Development 2012-or Rio+20.

In 1992, we could only perhaps glimpse the scale some of the challenges emerging on the radar from climate change and the loss of healthy, productive cropland.

But in the world of the here and now, many of those challenges have become all too real-there is an urgency to swiftly and decisively evolve the sustainable development agenda onto a far more focused and far reaching level.

There is now an essential need to implement the vision of 1992.

Two themes have been agreed in order to achieve that.

A Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

An International Framework for Sustainable Development.

What do they mean for the world and what do they mean for Africa in particular?

To my mind they could mean quite a lot if the countries of this Continent decide to fully engage on these twin agendas and through the numerous preparatory meetings of the coming months and year.

On the one hand the nations of this Continent face the same challenge that now faces every country on Earth.

How to grow and how to generate good and decent jobs, but in a way that does not push humanity's footprint beyond planetary boundaries.

But Africa has many challenges and opportunities that are unique.

While not diminishing the challenges, let me set aside these issues as they are well known and familiar to everyone in this room.

Let me instead dwell on the opportunities.

Firstly, this Continent is in many ways the envy of the 21st century world.

Africa is rich in the kinds of natural resources that in many parts of the world have been over-exploited and diminished by centuries of unsustainable development.

Many rapidly developing economies are also finding scarcities are now emerging too.

I am not just referring to precious and semi-precious metals.

But also nature-based resources such as forests and biodiversity-biodiversity that underpins tourism, but which will also underpin the inventions and pharmaceutical breakthroughs of the emerging biological age.

Land too, which as we know, is increasingly attracting investors from overseas for growing crops to feed their growing and more affluent populations.

Meanwhile, many parts of this Continent are rich in what one might term natural fuels-wind, solar, geothermal; hydro both large and small and perhaps soon the possibility of wave energy.

Meanwhile Africa is now undergoing some of the fastest-if not the fastest-urbanization rates in the world and in many places and in many ways almost from scratch.

I could go on. But the fundamental question is how will all this potential be harvested for the benefit of Africa's citizens and in a way that promotes stability in Africa and beyond.

In an economic mode of the 20th century-or in a way that maximizes the true value of these resources.

In a way that weighs all the economic, social and environmental options rather than just one or two-

Will Africa's forests be exported as logs to overseas buyers?or will they be managed in ways that reflect not only their commodity value but their multi-trillion dollar services they provide for the Continent but also the world?

Will the urbanization of Africa leapfrog the unsustainable paths of Europe, the United States or the development paradigms of many rapidly emerging economies in Asia or Latin America?

Because the fact is that in many parts of the world, countries will have to re-build and retrofit sustainability into their economies if sustainable development is to be realized.

Whereas in Africa you have the chance to build it up and build it into your growth early on.

Honorable delegates, ladies and gentlemen,

UNEP's work on the Green Economy and now the work of many organizations and institutions world-wide have gone from theory to the potential for a new development reality in just two to three years.

It is not a substitute for sustainable development, but a way of realizing it.

It is as relevant to developing economies and it is to developed ones: it is as central to more state-led economies as it is to more market-led ones.

It is not a straight-jacket, nor is it prescriptive.

The Green Economy is about shaping public policy including market mechanisms and fiscal strategies in a way that unleashes the private sector into a more meaningful notion of wealth creation that achieves the aims outlined above.

Our report-Towards a Green Economy-which was presented to environment ministers attending UNEP's Governing Council in Nairobi in February, outlined how investing 2 per cent of global GDP in 10 sectors can catalyze that transition.

It also provided a global compilation of case studies from across the globe, including Africa, where forward-looking policies by governments are watering the green shoots of that Green Economy everywhere.

  • Uganda - policies to promote organic agriculture have generated 200,000 certified farmers and exports growing from close to $4 million in 2003 to nearly $23 million now

  • Rwanda's initiative on forest ecosystem restoration is another landmark in the shift

  • The Democratic Republic of Congo's accessing of the emerging potential under the UN's Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (UN-REDD) is another.

  • The solar power partnership between countries in North Africa and European companies under Desertech promises to be transformational.

  • South Africa's Green Economy Plan with a primary focus on investments that create more decent jobs, and related to this, investments in infrastructure-nearly $ 1 billion is being spent in railways, energy efficient buildings, and water and waste management..

  • Kenya - its new green energy policy, including a Feed-In Tariff and 15 year power purchase agreement, is catalyzing an initial target of 500MW of geothermal, wind and sugar wastes-into-energy systems: a rise in the country's installed capacity of over 40 per cent.

Indeed later this week UN Secretary-General Ban ki-moon will visit Kenya's main geothermal sites north west of Nairobi to learn at first hand how these developments have been achieved.

And how they are also set to generate thousands of new jobs in the clean tech, clean energy sector while reducing dependency on imported fossil fuels.

UNEP is in discussions as to how to integrate and computerize all these different renewable energy components in order to maximize efficiencies in the evolving Kenyan grid and in ways that may also benefit the planned East African Power Pool.

The rest of the world can learn from Africa, but Africa can also learn from other Continents.

Currently only 25 per cent of the world's waste is reused or recycled-a waste of raw materials and a waste of opportunities for transforming hazardous, informal jobs into decent, formal ones.

  • The Republic of Korea has, through a policy of Extended Producer Responsibility, enforced regulations on products such as batteries and tyres to packaging like glass and paper, triggering a 14 per cent increase in recycling rates and an economic benefit of $1.6 billion

  • Brazil's recycling already generates returns of $2 billion a year, while avoiding 10 million tones of greenhouse gas emissions; a fully recycling economy there would be worth 0.3 per cent of GDP

Ladies and gentlemen,

As we head down this Road to Rio, the question now emerging is not whether a Green Economy is desirable but how to realize a Green Economy in practical terms.

Firstly, all countries are at different points in their development path and with different mixes of sectors.

How you realize a Green Economy in say Nigeria or Mauritania will no doubt be different in say South Africa, Sudan or Gabon.

Secondly, it is loud and it is clear that good public policy is central and that the cross fertilization of experience and directions already being implemented in and outside Africa are invaluable.

Third, directing domestic investment flows into sustainable wealth generation that reflects national circumstances, deals with multiple challenges and realities and maximizes multiple opportunities is key.

Fourth-the role of the international lending and financing institutions, from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to regional development banks and bilateral assistance flows, need to support national transitions to a Green Economy.

Rio+20 offers an opportunity to accelerate and scale-up transitions, already underway across this region and indeed across the world in order to catalyze growth and employment opportunities for around nine billion people by 2050.

But in a way that also maintains and enhances the regional and global planetary services that underpin wealth generation in the first place.

Africa's experience on what has worked and what has not worked over the past two decades offers an invaluable foundation upon which a transformational outcome next year can be built.

Africa's determination to adopt a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy development path can also inspire others to take the kinds of next steps that can ensure that both poverty eradication and wealth generation happens faster for those that need it most.

Africa's decision to engage fully on the Road to Rio will make it an equal partner in a new era where sustainability, equity and fairness win out over instability, imbalance and the interests of the few over the many.

Indeed investing analytical and political capital in this process may be one of the best investments that you as ministers could make in Africa's future.

It may well define Africa's strategy for new kinds of wealth generation that in turn may define a new and more sophisticated era of trade and cooperation with the rest of the world and a fast track to prosperity for many if not all of this Continent's citizens.


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