Africa seizes Green Economy opportunity

UNEP Joins Forces with Africa's Finance, Economic and Development Organizations to Fast Track Low Carbon, Resource Efficient Growth

Addis Ababa/Nairobi, 13 October 2010 - A major Africa-wide conference highlighting on how the more than 50 nations on the Continent can transit to a low-carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy will take place next year in response to the call by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN).

The conference will showcase how smart policy moves and creative investments across sectors, ranging from agriculture and transport to fisheries and forests, can drive green and sustainable growth alongside job creation and livelihood for Africa's one billion citizens.

The conference will be among the first fruits of a partnership on Africa's options for a Green Economy -backed by the African Union; the African Development Bank; the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP)-which emerged today at the VII African Development Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director who is attending the forum, said: "Africa is at key crossroads in its history. It is facing multiple challenges from overcoming poverty and coping with climate change to rising water scarcity and food insecurity in part linked with sharp levels of desertification."

"But it is also a moment of rising opportunities that many leaders in Africa are glimpsing from the potential for renewable energy such as wind and solar to the extraordinary economic importance of Africa's nature-based assets such as its forests, river systems and coastal waters-not to speak of a young and in many cases, an increasingly skilled work force," he added.

Mr. Steiner is among 700 delegates from Africa and beyond including the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the Prime Minister of Norway, Jens Stoltenberg; the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping; French Environment Minister Jean-Louis Borloo; Africa Development Bank President, Donald Kaberuka and UNECA Executive Secretary Abdouile Janneh.

Since launching the Green Economy Initiative in 2008, during the height of the ongoing global financial and economic crisis, many countries have come forward seeking advisory services from UNEP on how they can tailor their economies along such a path.

In Africa, UNEP has started the implementation of a regional pilot partnership covering seven countries - Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa - in advance of the Rio+20 Summit where the Green Economy is one of the two main themes.

Speaking today at sessions on climate change and the Green Economy, Mr. Steiner pointed out that the 'world was awash with crises'.

"It may seem that escalating crises and the often glacial international response means countries, including those on the African continent, are unable to respond. But Africa is not doing this," he added.

"Indeed, when you look across this Continent leaders and business, communities and citizens are seizing opportunities to re-define and re-focus their development paths along Green Economic lines," said Mr. Steiner.

"In part this comes out of understandable frustration with the pace of change internationally. And in part because many leaders here have glimpsed a future based on a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient economy in which environmental sustainability is the engine room," he added.

Mr. Steiner highlighted these transitions with several examples:

  • In July this year Heads of State meeting under the Economic Community of West African States endorsed an initiative by President Aboulaye Wade of Senegal on significantly expanding solar power in order to boost energy access.

  • Meanwhile, in Kenya, where UNEP is headquartered, a new government feed-in tariff has triggered investment in what will be one of the biggest wind farms on the Continent-300 MW in the Turkana region.

Restoration of Kenya's Mau forest complex, after decades of degradation, is also underway after assessments produced by the government and with support from UNEP were indicating that the value of that forest to the economy-including tourism, hydro power, agriculture and the tea industry- is perhaps as much as US$1.5 billion a year.

  • Ethiopia is also part of this transition, not least through some of its pioneering work in 'green accounting' which has been putting monetary values on soil erosion and deforestation in terms of the impacts on GDP and the tripling of forest cover since the turn of the century.

  • Uganda, a country where 85 per cent of the working population is employed in agriculture, has turned to organic production to boost exports and incomes. Farm-gate prices for organic vanilla, ginger and pineapples are higher than for conventional produce.

  • Since 2004, the number of certified organic farmers in Uganda has grown from 45,000 to over 200,000, the area of land under organic cultivation from 185,000 hectares to close to 300,000 hectares and organic exports have increased from US$3.7 million in 2003/4, to US$6.3 million in 2004/5, before jumping to US$22.8 million in 2007/8.

Mr. Steiner underlined that a Green Economy was as much about spotlighting the economic absurdities at large in the world as showcasing smart policy decisions.

  • Around US$27 billion of fisheries subsidizes are fueling over-fishing and threatening the lives and livelihoods of one billion people who directly rely on fish as protein.

"Why are we investing in the means of capture-over capture-rather than in the recovery of the stock?" Mr. Steiner added.

  • Fossil fuel subsidies totaling some US$500 billion a year which, according to research, rarely reaches the poor and benefits the middle classes, fuel companies and equipment makers.

"And which contribute to economic inefficiencies. Greenhouse gas emissions and the perpetuation of fossil fuel dependency or agricultural subsides, including fertilizers and pesticides allied to food wastes, represent one of the biggest market failures globally," said the UNEP Executive Director.

Earlier Mr. Steiner attended a debate on Environmental Diplomacy saying it might seem new to some, but that it was as "as old as the Entoto hills, near Addis Ababa".

He said the difference between the past and the present in which communities and countries often used time-honoured traditions to resolve natural resource disputes, was the sheer scale of humanity's contemporary footprint allied to the fact that pollution and degradation is now 'exported' hundreds and thousands of miles.

"Some of the poorest and most vulnerable can become victims as a result of pollution generated not by them but by others-Environmental Diplomacy is about finding fair and equitable solutions to such realities," Mr. Steiner said.

"And perhaps more importantly of finding cooperative and forward-looking agreements between over 190 nations for managing-down impacts en route to sustainable development-agreements that recognize the historical responsibilities of some countries and increasingly the rights of generations yet born," he added.

"Rights to a healthy and productive planet that will allow the next generation to reach its full potential rather than being marginalized or short-changed by an over-exploitative previous one," said Mr. Steiner.

Delegates agreed that evolving Environmental Diplomacy is becoming an increasingly important and strategic policy platform for international relations and called for a further workshop that engages Africa diplomats at the UN headquarters in New York.

Notes to Editors

The decision to establish an Africa-wide Green Economy conference has come in response to the Bamako Declaration.

The Declaration, including fostering a Green Economy, was made at the 13th session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, the Secretariat of which was hosted by UNEP in June this year in Mali.

The two speeches by Achim Steiner to the VII African Development Forum are available on in the newsroom under speeches:

The VII African Development Forum

UNEP's Green Economy Initiative

For More information Please Contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Tel: +254 733 632755, E-mail:


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