Remarks by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, at the Special Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment on Climate Change

Nairobi, 29 May 2009 -  Excellencies,

Honourable ministers,

Permanent Representatives to UNEP and Habitat,

Distinguished delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is my great pleasure to be here with you today and at this special session on climate change and a common negotiating position for Africa of AMCEN. 

I am sorry I could not be here earlier, but my staff and colleagues have kept me well appraised of progress and discussions during the past few days.

Indeed looking out into this room of delegates here at UNEP headquarters I see people from all corners of this extraordinary Continent in all their diversity.

But I also see unity - unity of purpose in delivering a constructive and transformational position for Africa at the crucial UN climate change meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark.

There was a similar sense of purpose, a similar sense of the new and emerging opportunities in Kigali last week at the High Level Forum on Financing for Development with Africa’s finance and environment ministers.

Here a new unity was also forged between Africa’s economic and environmental policy-makers crystallized perhaps best by Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

He said many inspiring and quite electric things but let me mention five.

  • 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”.
  • Clearly it is time for Africa to lead in mobilizing technological and financial resources, and join global efforts to save the environment
  • 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.
  • 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.

And this is precisely what is happening here today - that unified position within a diversity of economies has been forged.

Honourable ministers, ladies and gentlemen,

Africa is not starting from ground zero.

There are already green shoots of a low carbon, more resource-efficient Green Economy sprouting in spite or despite the current international arrangements in terms of carbon markets and in terms of support for technology transfer and financing for adaptation.

Last week I learnt that one of Africa’s biggest solar farms is planned for Rwanda and that energy efficiency is being mainstreamed in that economy including in the agricultural sector which employs more than 50 per cent of the population.

Here in Kenya the government has set a target of Kenya has plans to generate 1,300MW of geothermal electricity by around 2020.

Currently several hundred meggwatts of extra capacity is being or is about to be installed including 35MW under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) of the Kyoto Protocol.

Intriguingly, however much of this capacity is also coming from the private sector - why, because it makes sense economically, from a development perspective and from the standpoint of reducing imports of fossil fuels.

300MW of wind power is also being developed in northern Kenya by a private consortium.

In other words, given the right and supportive government policies and market mechanisms, Africa’s potential as a green power-house will attract the private sector.

The prize from a unified position in Copenhagen is to accelerate these developments with more pump-priming from the urgency for developed economies to address their emissions.

UNEP’s Risoe centre in Denmark, which crunches the numbers on the CDM in terms of projects approved and projects in the pipeline has data telling two stories.

One that confirms that Africa, apart from perhaps some of the former Soviet-bloc countries, is accessing the least number of projects.

But also another story, that in partnership with the UN including UNEP, the World Bank, regional banks and the private sector, the CDM is now sparking in many countries too.

The latest survey, carried out by UNEP’s Risoe Energy centre in Denmark, show that in 2004 only two countries and only two projects were emerging - one in Morocco and one in South Africa.

The latest figures show a change with a total of 100 projects in place or in advanced planning in a total of 21 African countries.

The survey estimates that carbon credit flows to Africa from all current schemes will eventually worth just under $300 million.

Africa-wide, some 260 CDM projects could be up and running or in the pipeline by 2012 triggering close to $1 billion in carbon credits.

Some even quite curious CDM projects are being proposed. Niger loses an estimated 60 per cent of the national onion crop. As they rot they trigger emissions of methane, a potent global warming gas.

The idea is to finance, via the CDM, solar dryers and other systems to preserve the onions to cut greenhouse gas emissions while also boosting farmers’ incomes.

Indeed, this is a story behind the headline figures - the number of projects in the ‘ideas-stage’ which are urgent need of bringing forward.

The Africa Carbon Finance Facility, which has support under the government of Germany’s auctioning of carbon credits via the European Emissions Trading Scheme, aims to shepherd more of those ideas to fruition.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Copenhagen also opens the door to perhaps one of the biggest sustainable development prospects for Africa - namely enhanced funding for carbon storage in its vegetation and soils or biosequestration.

Your unified position of Reduced Emission from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD) is likely to encourage agreement on REDD being included in a post 2012-deal.

Payment for the carbon removing services of Africa’s forests is long overdue - and where next?

Reduced emissions from agro-forestry schemes and sustainable agriculture up to perhaps even coastal ecosystems like mangroves.

Village communities in Western Kenya alongside ones in Niger, Nigeria and China could become the key to unlocking the multi-billion dollar carbon markets for millions of farmers, foresters and conservationists across the developing world.

They have been chosen as a test-bed for calculating how much carbon can be stored in trees and soils when the land is managed in a sustainable, climate-friendly ways.

The initiative, known as the Carbon Benefits Project, was launched today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Agroforestry Centre, along with a range of other key partners. The project is being funded by the Global Environment Facility.

Instead of developed economies investing billions in capturing and storing carbon from power stations in the ground, Africa's natural and nature-based assets could be doing the same job - with multiple benefits in terms of water supplies, biodiversity and conservation-related jobs.

Benefits too in terms of soil stabilization services provided by forests and vegetation - a country like Kenya loses in terms of economic value more soil every year into Lake Victoria or to the sea than it generates in tourism, its main foreign exchange earner.

On World Environment Day, 5 June, UNEP will publish an assessment of those wider bio-sequestration possibilities underlining the carbon storage benefits of drylands  as well as mangroves on the coast.

Benefits as well in terms of advancing the poverty-related Millennium Development Goals across areas of energy access to new kinds of alternative livelihoods in areas from renewable energy to improved resource management.

These kinds of developments are one level likely to happen anyway - but Copenhagen could give them real lift off if a scientifically–credible, deep and decisive is sealed.

So congratulations to you for your work here in Nairobi and since the Bali climate convention meeting of 2007.

The position forged here will assist the other more than 100 countries in Copenhagen achieve an equitable global deal.

Africa is open today for real and serious green business in terms of combating climate change on behalf of Africa, on behalf of the rest of the world.

Open for green business too on advancing its own ability - in partnership with the internationally community - to adapt its economies to the climate change already underway.

Africa is indeed rising to the opportunities and rising to its responsibilities on behalf of its citizens - let us now look to the developed economies in particular and the rest of the international community as a whole to rise to theirs.


 © United Nations Environment Programme | privacy policy | terms and conditions |contacts