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Speech by Achim Steiner at the 12th Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN)

Johannesburg, 10 June 2008 - Honorable Mr. André Okombi Salissa, Minister for Tourism and Environment of the Republic of Congo and President of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN),

Honorable Ministers and Heads of delegations,

Your Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This 12th session of the African Ministerial Conference for the Environment (AMCEN) comes amid momentous events in the world.

Countries across the globe are pre-occupied with the 'food crisis', the rocketing oil price and fears of recession in many places.

The way we respond to these challenges will in part define the development path of the coming decades - whether it is one that embraces sustainability or the unsustainable paths of the past.

- The instant and quick fix response to the current calamities may be to look for more of the same-to seek safety in a 20th century model of agriculture and simply ratchet it up.

-To put political pressure on oil producers to markedly increase production or to invest heavily in finding new oil and gas fields or in squeezing the last drop from existing ones.

-And to stimulate economies, at least in the developed countries but also in the rapidly developing ones too, by courting increased consumer spending and accelerated consumption.

-But this would seem to ignore some essential truths and to defy the scientific evidence that has been accumulating over the past 20 years.

-Those essential truths are that many of these 'shocks' have been in the making for years but are perhaps starting to come home to roost.

-Many of these current concerns, whether it be oil prices or food crisis are in part, or in whole, linked and intertwined-they are not separate phenomenon.

Take agriculture: According to some estimates that costs of artificial fertilizers have trebled following the hike in oil prices.

Meanwhile, emissions from fossil fuels are already changing the climate.

The persistent droughts in Australia and the droughts and extreme floods in China are in line with the forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

And there are other sobering scientific realities that, while temporarily off the headlines, have not been faded away and remain to be addressed.

Biodiversity loss continues apace; forests continue to be logged at unsustainable rates and land degradation and water scarcity are intensifying.

Today we will launch Africa: Atlas of Our Changing Environment compiled by UNEP and partners for AMCEN.

It is the first Atlas to use satellite images for each and everyone of Africa's 53 countries.

The atlas pulls no punches.

From the disappearing glaciers in Uganda's Rwenzori Mountains-which decreased by 50 per cent between 1987 and 2003-to the widening corridors of deforestation that have accompanied expanding roads in the northern Democratic Republic of the Congo since 1975.

From the northern edge of Cape Town, which has seen much of its native 'fynbos' vegetation replaced with farms and suburban development since 1978, to the disappearance of a large portion of Madagascar's South Malagasy spiny forest between 1973 and 2003 as a result of farming and fuelwood gathering?

But the Atlas also tells another story - it also chronicles where deliberate choices have been made by governments and communities to embrace a different development path.

Action on overgrazing in the Sidi Toui National Park, southeastern Tunisia has produced a dramatic rebound in the natural ecosystem. The park has seen the reintroduction of the Scimitar-horned oryx (Oryx dammah) which is currently on the verge of extinction.

A new management plan for the Itezhi-tezhi dam in Zambia has helped to restore the natural seasonal flooding of the Kafue flats, as shown in the 2007 satellite image.

Ladies and gentlemen,

AMCEN, as part of the African Union and as the driving force on the environment in New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD),  has a critical role in shaping current and future choices.

Africa is vulnerable to climate change, but does not have to be a victim of climate change.

The defining moment for action and for influencing the future is now. Here in Johannesburg.

The Bali Road Map - the two year negotiation under the climate change convention - has 18 months to run.

A deep and decisive agreement must be achieved by the climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in 2009.

An agreement that is inclusive - that involves all nations with common but differentiated responsibilities.

An agreement that includes not only deep cuts in greenhouse gases by developed countries.

But one that addresses the needs and opportunities for developing nations not least those in Africa.

Opportunities for cleaner and renewable energies of which Africa has abundant but untapped potential.

Opportunities to include tropical forests - in which Africa is also rich - in the suite of climate change solutions either via a fund or via inclusion in the carbon markets.

Opportunities to 'climate proof' economies and in doing so contribute to addressing poverty and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.

Here in South Africa, an African Road Map that reflects Africa's interests within a global deal needs to be forged.

We know there are many challenges - from the need to accelerate access to the carbon markets up to capacity building of ministries including ones of finance, development, transport and health.

But the opportunities are also significant too.

And there are other opportunities emerging.

Governments meeting in Bonn, Germany last month at the Convention on Biological Diversity, agreed to a 2010 deadline on negotiations for an international regime on access and benefit sharing of genetic resources.

Africa, a Continent with a treasure trove of nature-based assets stands to benefit substantially from such an agreement - one that would require companies using such assets for devising new pharmaceuticals to foods to share the profits.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also announced 500 million Euros in funding for biodiversity over the next four years and a further 500 million annually after that.

Countries in Africa are being asked to come forward with proposals not least in the under-represented area of marine protected areas.

Currently marine protected areas cover less than 0.5 per cent of the world's seas and oceans although some countries are well ahead of the curve.

South Africa, our hosts, should be complimented on having listed close to 20 per cent of its coastal waters alongside its significant progress with terrestrial areas.

Ladies and gentlemen, UNEP as part of the multilateral response is assisting Africa and stands ready to do more-not least in boosting access to clean and green energy markets and in advancing the economic arguments for a the conservation and improved management of natural and nature-based assets.

Under my tenure as Executive Director, the Nairobi-based institution is under going reform to enable UNEP to better meet the challenges and the opportunities of the new century including in Africa.

I look forward to discussing how Africa can assist UNEP in advancing these reforms further towards a strengthened UNEP under the theme of International Environment Governance.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Government of South Africa for hosting this event and for its support for its excellent support the environmental component of NEPAD.

Ladies and gentlemen,

If we fail to combat climate change, the recessions of today will be as nothing to those of the future.

But if we can navigate the Bali Road Map to a successful conclusion-putting an ever higher price on carbon-there is every chance that we can unlock some and indeed more of Africa's huge potential.

How about a solar powered Africa and one that becomes a net exporter of electricity from its deserts and drylands? Far fetched?

Well according to the Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation initiative-an international network of scientists and experts founded by the Club of Rome -  there is enough solar power hitting one square km of Africa's deserts to produce the equivalent of 1.5 million barrels or oil or 300,000 tons of coal.

The German Aerospace Center estimates that the solar power in just the deserts of North Africa is enough to supply 40 times the present world electricity demand.

We need to look at the challenges and the opportunities differently in a new century.

Instead of considering renewables as a supplement to fossil fuels, perhaps the time has come for Africa and the world as a whole to look at fossil fuels as supplements for renewable energy.

Thank you




Further Resources

Forging African Strategies on Climate Change Adaptation
UNEP Press Release

12th Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN)
Johannesburg, 7 – 12 June 2008

12th Session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN)
Johannesburg, South Africa, 7 – 12 June 2008


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