• Heads of Rwandan Higher Institutions;
• Mr. Achim Steiner, Executive Director of United Nations Environment Program
• Mr. Abdoulie Janneh, Executive Secretary of United Nations Economic Commission for Africa;
• Delegations from the African Development Bank and DFID
• Honourable African Ministers of Finance and Environment;
• Distinguished Invited Guests;
• Ladies and Gentlemen:
I extend to you all a very warm welcome to Rwanda and to this important meeting involving African Ministers of Finance and Ministers in charge of Environment or their representatives – the first joint ministerial conference on our continent involving these two portfolios.
This Conference is timely – it should not only enable us to discuss the environmental challenges our continent faces, but even more importantly, permit us to achieve a key imperative: placing the environment at the centre stage of development processes, where it belongs.
It is in this context that I thank the organizers of this meeting for convening us all this morning – we look forward to a constructive dialogue and practical advice on the environment, both of which should be sustained beyond this Kigali Conference.
As we are all aware, the African continent, like other developing regions, relies mainly on agriculture, natural resources extraction, fisheries, and tourism for its economic growth.
With the exception of Africa's landlocked countries, there is potential for large-scale fishing industry on the rest of the continent.
Clearly, none of these activities can be carried out sustainably without effective and efficient environmental management.
The environment is our life-blood; indeed the real surprise is not that ministries of finance are now talking to ministries of environment – but that it has actually taken this long.
Even when we look beyond agriculture, tourism, mineral wealth and fisheries, our economies depend critically on good environmental stewardship.
Countries that depend on hydro-electric energy, geothermal electricity or even methane gas – as we propose to do here in Rwanda – must put appropriate water management policies in place as Africa is one of the world's driest continents.
From a labor perspective, the bulk of our continent's employment comes from utilization of the environment – the agricultural sector alone employs over seventy percent of the African population and in Rwanda's case, over eighty percent.
This being the case therefore, mitigating environmental challenges, including climate change, water availability, sustainable extraction of minerals and soil fertility management, should be among Africa's top priorities.
There is no escaping the fact that we live off the environment – however, the downside of this dependency is that as a continent, we are extremely vulnerable to sudden changes to the environment – particularly climate change resulting in rising sea levels and the destruction of fragile ecosystems.
Take for example the tourism industry that constitutes the top three sources of foreign exchange earnings on the continent – and therefore, a critical sector for creating prosperity and improving African lives.
Much of the tourism in sub-Saharan Africa is principally based on natural resources, including rain forests, mountains, game reserves and bio-diversity in general – most of which are greatly affected by climate change.
Research shows that prominent African tourism landmarks such as Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Mount Rwenzori in Uganda have experienced drastic losses in terms of snow and glaciers. Evidence of unpredictable seasonal patterns leading to harsher dry seasons, heavy rains and floods is there for us all to see.
Here emerges a contradiction that we will have to address at this Kigali conference: despite the importance of the environment to our livelihoods, issues concerning its protection have tended to be relegated to the confines of small groups of specialists and external support.
When we consider domestic resources allocated for managing the environment, for instance, we find limited financing based on the mistaken perspective that this does not constitute a priority development objective.
This is why, very often, national agencies in charge of the environment primarily rely on donors for funding as well as professional solidarity.
Clearly it is time for Africa to lead in mobilizing technological and financial resources, and join global efforts to save our environment.
Let me touch on the urgent need to change our mindset on this issue.
Just as we have not given sufficient attention to the environment in our countries and continent, we seem to be the least active in global debates and actions.
Take for example the various fora that aim to address regional political and socio-economic issues such as the African Ministerial Conferences on Environment, Finance, and Science and Technology, NEPAD, and AU-associated discussions.
It has been well documented that whereas principles and plans are developed and agreed upon in such gatherings, there is generally a lack of effective implementation – a harsher critic of African commitment to policies we formulate would, with reason, conclude that we are not results-oriented.
This is also true in the case of international conventions where our implementation rate leaves a lot to be desired.
And finally in this regard, I should re-state here that there is a marked over-dependence on external support in terms of technical and financial requirements at each point in the value chain of environmental policy development – from conception to program implementation.
I trust therefore that this Conference will address this fundamental flaw in our approach to the environment with a purpose to renew our determination in taking greater ownership of these key development assets.
This first joint meeting that has brought together our ministers in charge of environment and finance sends a strong signal to our continent and beyond, that we are opening a new chapter with regard to environmental protection.
This is a critical milestone.
We should utilize this opportunity to address practical assignments to guide our future actions on protection of the environment, including the following:
First, this meeting should provide quality advice to African governments and institutions on ways and means of making the environment a priority and indeed, a key to national development planning and management.
Second, recognize that the environment presents considerable opportunities and encourage entrepreneurs to enter innovative and cutting-edge fields of renewable technologies.
Presently, the African private sector remains largely on the sidelines – as opposed to being part of the solution to environmental problems .
Third, we should ensure that our continent engages more robustly in global dialogue on the environment, and undertakes binding commitments, including resource mobilization not only externally as has been the tendency, but from within as well.
In this respect, we should also explore innovative financing schemes for protecting our environment more aggressively, including global carbon markets in which Africa remains a marginal participant.
This joint Ministerial conference in Kigali is a major step in this direction.
Following this meeting we should plan to be heard as a coherent, united voice at the Copenhagen Summit taking place this December, thus demonstrating that Africans are equal partners with the rest of the world in working to protect our environment.
Thank you once again for devoting your energies to this important matter, and for your kind attention.