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Keynote Address by Achim Steiner at the Opening Session of the High Level Forum on Forests and Climate Change for Development

Kinshasa, 10 October 2011 - Your Excellency, the President of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mr. Joseph Kabila,

Your Excellences the Prime Minister, Mr. Adolphe Muzito, the Minister of the Environment Nature Conservation and Tourism Jose Endundo,

Honourable Ministers, and members of the Government, of the National Assembly and of the Senate,

Director General Hans Brattskar from Norway, Representatives from DFID, EU, GIZ, Spain, Norway.

Distinguished guests from the World Bank, the African Development Bank, Commission des Forets d'Afrique Centrale (COMIFAC) Executive Secretary, Mr. Raymond Mbitikon; the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Fidele Sarassoro, and representatives of United Nations system and other guests,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

we meet here in Kinshasa in the UN's International Year of Forests; just over one month before the UN climate convention meeting in Durban, South Africa and some eight months before the Rio+20 conference in Brazil.

Forests- A Pathway to Sustainable Development

What links these key events to our discussions and discourse here in Kinshasa is how to deliver sustainability on a planet of close to seven billion people, rising to over nine billion by 2050.

What brings us together is a common vision that forests need to be at the centre of that response.

Across the developed world, forests have been depleted to provide timber for sailing ships and later to fuel the industrial revolution and steam engines-Europe lost 80 per cent of its forest cover from prehistoric times.

Today only one tenth of primary forest cover remains on the globe. Globally deforestation continues with some notable exceptions - yet here in the Congo River Basin either by default or design, the extraordinary forests of this region persist largely intact.

The challenge facing countries here is whether to pursue a development path that mines this formidable nature-based assets part of the urgency to lift people out of poverty and growth economies.

Or whether there is a more intelligent path that invests and re-invests in the forests of the Congo River Basin in order to accelerate a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient Green Economy-one that raises per capita incomes, catalyzes employment for young people but keeps humanity's footprint within planetary boundaries.

The evidence of the past few years is that this decision has already been taken-that the countries who are custodians of these vast ecosystems and multitrillion dollar services, have chosen sustainable management over unsustainable mining of these national, regional and indeed global assets.

In doing so, you have shown leadership not only on climate change but on a myriad of multiple challenges that can deliver opportunities to realize the poverty related Millennium Development Goals and meet targets from reversing biodiversity loss to conserving and enhancing water supplies.

In doing so, this region is making a deliberate and decisive contribution to an area of the global economy which supports the jobs and livelihoods of 1.6 billion people.

In Durban, UNEP will issue a series of posters on key climate related themes. Our headline for forests will be "Insurance Policy".

The journey countries of this region have embarked upon, is an insurance policy in terms of adapting to climate change and providing vital, global mitigation services -deforestation as we know accounts for around 18 per cent of current greenhouse gas emissions.

It is an insurance policy not just for this generation, but is an inter-generational insurance policy- two thirds of the planet's life forms inhabit forests.

This rich and varied treasure-trove of biodiversity and genetic resources will be part of this century's biological, industrial revolution that will mark a fundamental departure from those industrial revolutions of the past that were premised on clearing rather than conserving forest ecosystems.

Congo Basin-a Forest Partnership Unfolding

Your Excellency, the direction you have embarked upon is at its heart premised on partnership.

Partnership between the Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Cameroon and indeed all the nations of this region.

It is also premised on a wider partnership, bringing in forward-looking developed countries such as Norway and the multilateral system of which UNEP is proud to be part.

It is also a partnership with science-sound science that is underpinning policy.

A partnership with transformational economics that is underlining the enormous value of nature which in the past was all but invisible in national and global accounts.

That science and these economics spotlight that the DRC alone hosts about half of Africa's tropical moist forests, and 50% of Africa's freshwater resources.

Up to 43 billion tons of carbon could be emitted from land use change in the DRC, equivalent to 4 years of worldwide emissions, under an old, one might say out-dated model of development.

REDD+-the Opportunity

One of the principle vehicles for catalyzing positive environmental change and sustainable development is the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation initiative (REDD or REDD+).

The UN-REDD programme- involving UNEP, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) of the UN-is now just over three years old.

The Programme currently has 36 partner countries spanning Africa, Asia-Pacific and Latin America, of which 13 are receiving support to National Programme activities to ready these nations for a fully-fledged REDD+ regime.

The importance of the forests of the Congo Basin was recognized in this partnership from the outset with other partners in Africa including Tanzania and Zambia. Discussions are also underway to bring Nigeria and the Republic of Congo into the programme too.

There will be those who might say that the programme, and parallel initiatives for example under the World Bank, could have moved further and faster in these brief intervening years.

But Your Excellency, honourable guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is perhaps better to manage the complexities of this bold initiative during this preparation period than afterwards.

REDD+, if it is to be sustainable over the long term, requests and requires all partners to fine tune the operations and ensure they it meet the highest standards of rigour.

That the emission reductions estimated are verifiable, well monitored and above all benefit the widest number of local and indigenous people.

We know from the past, that many well-intentioned initiatives in respect to forests and the wider environment have floundered not for want of enthusiasm but for want of prudent, in-depth planning and preparation.

DRC-Leadership on REDD+

That said, we are now seeing a real dynamism here in the DRC with the pace and scale of engagement moving ahead.

  • DRC is the first country in the world to have its $60 million Forest Investment Programme (FIP) strategy accepted.

  • Your ambitious participative process in the building of the national REDD+ strategy, through the network of 'groupes de coordination thématique', is notable as is the pioneering of a comprehensive and transparent web-based national REDD+ registry.

  • The financing of a key set of REDD+ projects here under the Congo Basin Forest Fund (CBFF), with support from Norway and the United Kingdom, is yet another example of accelerating progress.

The DRC is, through the leadership of the Ministry of Environment, Nature Conservation and Tourism, and the Coordination Nationale REDD, also making great strides in terms of outreach to local people, bringing the notion of partnership to the grass roots.

Through dialogue and stakeholder engagement, and the development of standards and safeguards, you are bringing an understanding of REDD+ and its potential to a wider public and in many ways demystifying its transformative aims and objectives.

Meanwhile, the DRC is also joining up the dots-making REDD+ part of Vision 2035, part of the Plan de Climat and the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers.

In doing so Your Excellency, your country is embedding REDD+ and the sustainable management of forests in the very fabric of your current and future development goals rather than leaving them to the vagaries of some separate, stand-alone initiative.

In doing so, the DRC is assisting Africa in expressing its aims and charting its direction in terms of the upcoming and future climate negotiations.

Your experience in terms of operationalizing REDD+ here can also act as a learning curve for other countries in the Congo River Basin and beyond - a centre of REDD+ excellence.

Your Excellency, these important strides forward in respect to REDD+, clearly have several more steps to go before fully maturing.

The finalization of the national strategy, backed by a solid and cross-sectoral implementation framework, is benefiting from your personal, political leadership.

There is also leadership needed from donor nations to ensure sufficient and timely flows of funds support and extend the ambition of countries in this region.

Green Economy-the Wider Strategic Goal

But through the lens of REDD+, one can see the foundations of a broader evolution of the DRC economy and the economy of countries in the region into the Green Economy space.

A space that prizes not only investments in sustainable forestry, but in sectors such as sustainable transport to clean and renewable energies.

UNEP's Green Economy initiative estimates that if two per cent of global GDP is - with the right enabling policies - invested in ten central sectors, this could grow the global economy and generate at least the same if not more jobs than the 'old economy' yet without the shocks and disruptions of food to fuel price hikes being increasingly witnessed today.

The main and final report, to be launched in a few weeks in China in advance of Rio+20, underlines that the opportunities are as much for developing as for developed countries.

Indeed in many ways, countries on the continent of Africa are better placed than most, to seize this Green Economy opportunity and catalyze this shift.

Africa is now growing significantly and is developing new, rather than being challenged to retrofit old, infrastructure to meet the opportunities of a new century.

The boom in renewable energy globally, which in 2010 saw $2011 billion invested and more than in new fossil fuels, has only touched this Continent - yet I am sure that over the coming years and decades investors will be flocking in increasing numbers.

Why? Because policies here are changing and Africa has some of the highest wind, solar, biomass and other renewable potential.

Indeed, almost everywhere you look, countries in Africa are putting in place many of the elements that can green their economies.

Apart from REDD+ in the DRC, Kenya has taken a deliberate decision to pursue renewable energy rather than oil or coal via the introduction of a feed in-tariff.

  • Kenya's geothermal electricity generation has, in just a few years, expanded by several hundred megawatts with targets of well over a 1,000 MW in three or four years-the largest wind farm in sub Saharan Africa is also in the advanced stages of planning there.

  • By 2007, Uganda had witnessed 296,203 hectares of land under organic agricultural production with 206,803 certified farmers. This constitutes an increase of close to 360 per cent in terms of number of farmers and 60 per cent in terms of acreage, respectively, from 2002 to 2007.

Organic farmers there are seeing profits some three times higher as a result of premium prices for organic produce on global markets, while being less dependent on pesticides and man-made fertilizers and their impacts on health and the wider environment.

And there are many, many more examples. These are not just opportunities for the countries concerned; they are living Green Economy laboratories from which other African countries can benefit.

While REDD+ evolves here in the Congo Basin, what about other opportunities-from sustainable harvesting of non-timber forest products and sustainable and certified timber operations. New global markets including voluntary ones are emerging in respect to payments for environmental services.

A strengthened management capacity for DRC's protected areas could be part of developing a flagship ecotourism business while policies prioritizing gully and soil erosion protection measures in urban areas as they rapidly expand can be a contribution to safer and more sustainable cities.

Your Excellency, honourable guests UNEP and the UN system as a whole stands ready to support these transformations in the DRC and in Africa.

They represent not only a sustainable development direction but one that can allow more than 50 countries on this Continent to prosper in a peaceful way-and can send a clear and unequivocal conviction on how a family of more than 190 nations can cooperate to bring peace and stability in a complex world of competing demands.

Moving Forward at Durban En Route to Rio

As nations prepare for the Durban, UN climate negotiations, the developments here in the DRC offer an anti-dote to the frustration that many face when contemplating action on climate change.

Progressing REDD+ in Durban offers one positive outcome that can allow the global public to feel and to perceive that world leaders are shouldering their responsibilities to keep a global temperature rise under 2 degrees C by 2050.

And in doing so send a positive signal to the Rio+20 meeting in Brazil next June. The world is a very different place to what it was in 1992-geopolitically, economically, socially and environmentally.

The developments in the DRC and the Congo River Basin are part of that changed world.

Rio+20 needs to be a moment in history when governments cooperate and fast forward a route out of dilemma and distraction, towards a development path that embraces the realities and inordinate opportunities for a fundamental break from the past in order to break into a future of positive environmental, economic and social change.

The actions and activities here in the DRC point to how such cooperative efforts can be realized through a broad alliance of partners and a committed interest in pulling together in common cause.

Your Excellency,

I am sure there will be surprises and detours along the journey you are taking to realize a sustainable and peaceful DRC and a springboard and beacon for the Green Economy.

But the biggest risk of all is to stand still and exist in the comfort zone of the status quo - your country and your people are signaling by word and by deed that this is not the DRC's destiny and you are seizing a fresh and progressive future with both hands.

Full Release

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director UN Environment Programme