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Speech by Achim Steiner to the Regional Consultation Meeting on the Development of the Global Climate Change Adaptation Network in Africa

Nairobi, 19 January 2009 - Distinguished representative of the Permanent Secretary, Mr.Richard Mwendando, Ministry of Environment & Mineral Resources, - Kenya,

Friends and colleagues,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Human beings are reckoned to be the most intelligent creatures on the planet.

Intelligence is defined as ‘the ability to understand and to learn’ and ‘to deal with new or trying situations’.

Over the coming years and decades climate change is set to present perhaps the most ‘trying situations’ humanity has ever faced.

It will thus require a mobilization of all our powers of intellect, all our legendary adaptive skills and all our abilities to understand quickly and to learn fast.

This will be the situation across the world but especially in Africa - a vulnerable Continent prone to impacts of climatic change.

Climatic changes that will aggravate existing vulnerabilities, in part as a result of weather systems become more extreme and unpredictable due to rising greenhouse gases.

Vulnerabilities too linked with poverty and with the existing economies many of which in Africa rely on rain-fed agriculture.

As we meet here in Nairobi, Kenya is among several countries in the grip of yet another drought with an estimated 10 million people likely in need of food aid.

According to a paper prepared by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), Kenya on average experiences a flood costing about 5.5 per cent of GDP every seven years.

And a drought costing eight per cent of GDP every five years.

These do not just impact agriculture and livestock. The 1999/2000 La Nina-related drought also hit the hydro-electric power generation, tourism and forestry sectors to name but a few with total costs estimated by the World Bank to have been around USD 3.2 billion.

Unless nations agree on a  decisive climate agreement in Copenhagen later this year that combines deep emission reductions for developed economies and serious commitment to assist vulnerable ones adapt, these kinds of events, costs and human suffering will increasingly define the 21st century

Only last week scientists reported that half the world’s people - many of whom will be in developing countries and in Africa - face a climate-induced food crisis by the end of the century.

Ladies and gentlemen,

UNEP’s involvement in climate change dates back several decades.

Many will know that it was UNEP, along with the World Meteorological Organization, that established in 1987 the global authority on the issue - I refer of course to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

Perhaps less well known is that much of the science on adaptation, carried in the IPCC’s landmark 2007, fourth assessment came from a report by UNEP and the Global Environment Facility, (Note: Assessment of Impacts and Adaptation to Climate Change-AIACC).

The more than $ 9 million assessment was executed by the START secretariat in Washington DC and TWAS, the Academy of Science for the Developing World in Trieste, Italy.

Twenty-four case studies were carried out under the AIACC project, including eleven in Africa.

They encompass food security in the Sahel; smallholder farmers and artisanal fishing communities in South America; coastal townships of small islands in the Pacific; pastoralists in Mongolia; rice farmers in the lower Mekong basin.

More than 350 scientists, experts and 'stakeholders' from 150 institutions in 50 developing countries and 12 developed ones took part.

Pilot adaptation programmes have been drawn up in some cases and some of these have already been tested with many encouraging results.

But we now need to go much further and faster if we are going to equip vulnerable countries and communities with real and tangible adaptive strategies over the coming years and decades.

UNEP is in this for the long haul through our climate change strategy and the four main pillars of the organization’s strategic priorities of which ‘adapting by building resilience’ is one of these. (note, the other three: facilitating a transition towards low carbon societies, improving understanding of climate change sciences, and communicating and raising public awareness).

The Global Climate Change Adaptation Network to be discussed in this meeting will be a strategic vehicle to support implementation of the UNEP adaptation strategy.

Ladies and gentlemen,

The Global Climate Change Adaptation Network, the development of which is the central issue today, needs to be a key response to the challenges and a litmus test of the international communities commitment to ‘deal with new and trying situations’ before us.

Some say adaptation is simply about making development ‘smarter’ and in part it is. But it is much more.Already one is seeing adaptation being parceled across ministries so that you have energy and adaptation; health and adaptation; agriculture and adaptation and so on.

UNEP’s view is that what is really needed is a systems approach rather than a parceling approach if a fundamental difference is to be made.

The need for such a network has been recognized by the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Bali Action Plan, agreed in Indonesia at the climate convention meeting of 2007 as the negotiating path to Copenhagen, also made adaptation a prerequisite for a comprehensive and transformational deal.

We all recognize the urgent need for adequate financial resources and technology for adaptation in developing countries, the two building blocks of the Bali Action Plan.

A UNEP-Stockholm Environment Institute study shows the current investment for adaptation is approx $300million/yr, yet the implementation rate is only about 5%.

This boils down in part to a question of the capacity to use these relatively modest resources now and begs the question of the capacity needs for utilizing $50 billion/yr by 2030 - the needs figure estimated by many studies

It is against this backdrop that UNEP, along with a rich and varied number of partners including many UN agencies and research institutes, came together to propose the Global Climate Change Adaptation Network.

And last October in Changwon, Republic of Korea we convened an international consultation where a clear consensus was reached by developing countries on the need for such an initiative which was endorsed at the last climate convention meeting in Poznan, Poland.

Here countries across Africa set out their vision and priorities, not least on the need ensure coherence rather than fragmentation of this effort alongside the need for a network that reflects the realities of Africa rather than the perceived needs imposed by those outside.

The Network is meant to support adaptation actions by governments and communities through effective mobilization of knowledge and technology for capacity adaptation building, policy setting, planning and practices.

 Ladies and gentlemen,

This is a brief, potted history of the background which has brought us here today and in a sense sets the stage for your discussions.

You have a busy agenda before you on how to establish the elements of an effective and fully functioning Network ranging from how to integrate regional centres of excellence and issues of thematic areas such as water to capacity building and mobilization of funds.

I will not go into all the issues that need and must be addressed here in order to get such a network up and running this year. They are comprehensively covered in the documents before you.

But let me assure you that UNEP is fully committed to supporting the Network in Africa and in other developing regions responding as it clearly does to the nine areas of the Nairobi Work Programme and their integration.

Before I end, let me just share a few thoughts of my own.

Last October UNEP launched its Global Green New Deal and Green Economy initiative, in part in response to the financial crisis unfolding around the world and also to try and re-focus and re-shape global markets into a more sustainable path.

The Green Economy is not just a developed country agenda but a developing one too.

At its heart is how we can shape the world towards resource efficient, low carbon and more intelligently managed economies that generate decent jobs and investments in infrastructure including the natural resource base and its ecosystems.

The initiative, which will be developed further in time for the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum next month, is also in part about making scarce financial resources work harder - killing not just one but two, three or four birds with one stone.

It is also about overturning or perhaps challenging conventional thinking - of recognizing that in crisis there is also opportunity.

I believe this also echoes to the adaptation agenda.

Let me take a couple of examples. Only some hours drive from Nairobi is the Mau Complex.

It is the largest closed canopy forest in Kenya and one which has lost a quarter of its cover in the past decade due to illegal clearance and degradation.

Even without climate change, there is a massive case for investing in its restoration.

The Mau generates goods and services worth in excess of 20 billion Kenyan shillings (or over $320 million) annually for the country’s tea, tourism and hydro-power sectors.

The ecosystems not only provide essential water to rivers and lakes in Kenya but also feed Lake Victoria, which is shared with Uganda and Tanzania and is part of the River Nile Basin, and Lake Natron, shared with Tanzania.

Water provided by the Mau feeds rivers that nourish major tourist destinations including the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Lake Nakuru National Park - part of a sector that employs a million people in the formal and informal sectors.

In a climate constrained world, such investment and improved management off the Mau represents a major adaptation policy too.

It may also have a role in combating diseases. Climate change is likely to increase the spread of infections such as malaria in mountain regions as they warm

Treated bed nets are one way forward but what about better management off forests. New research in western Kenya indicates that the numbers of malaria-carrying mosquitoes is increasing in areas of deforestation.

Why? One of the reasons is that the creatures that feed on the mosquitoes are in decline.

Another example of thinking unconventionally about adaptation is in the area of rainwater harvesting.

Studies by UNEP and the World Agroforestry Centre indicate that there is in theory enough water falling on Africa to supply the needs of 13 billion people or twice the current workd population - yet it is hardly harvested.

Ethiopia-the rainwater harvesting potential is estimated at over 11,800 cubic metres per person compared with annual renewable - river and ground water -  supplies of only around 1,600 cubic metres.

Kenya- the rainwater harvesting potential is estimated at over 12,300 cubic metres per person compared with the current annual renewable water availability of just over 600 cubic metres.

Uganda-the rainwater harvesting potential is estimated at over 9,900 cubic metres per person compared with the annual renewable water availability of 1,500 cubic metres.

Tanzania-the rainwater harvesting potential is estimated at over 24,700 cubic metres per person when compared with the annual renewable availability of around 2,200 cubic metres.

Finally, smart market mechanisms have their adaptation role. Here in Kenya the government is reportedly looking at micro-insurance or weather derivatives for the livestock sector.

Such insurance-based schemes, based on weather forecasts from the local meteorological service, pay out when weather patterns begin to indicate the on set of drought.

Similar products have been piloted in Ethiopia by the UN’s World Food Programme, putting money in rural livestock herders hands well before they are down to their last cow and are forced to rely on WFP.

Donors also calculate that it is cheaper to fund such products rather than pay for food aid.

I could go on, from the importance of harvesting and harnessing traditional knowledge to encouraging diversified renewable energy projects via simple, preferential tariffs or cuts in VAT.

Let me leave you with one final thought on what is sometimes as highly polarized debate - organic agriculture.

A new report by UNEP and the UN Conference on Trade and the Environment recently assessed 114 projects in 24 African countries.

It found that yields had more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices had been used. That increase in yield jumped to 128 per cent in east Africa.

It also found strong environmental benefits such as improved soil fertility, better retention of water and resistance to drought. And the research highlighted the role that learning organic practices could have in improving local education.

The conclusion is that organic agriculture may have a potentially significant role to play in adaptation and in meeting many of the Millennium Development Goals - an assumption that is discounted in many development models.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Network is unquestionably needed and needed fast. Your work here will be essential in shaping a successful new response to climate change - but it must make a real and transformational difference; it is important not to re-invent the wheel, but to build on existing strengths in this area.

Equally the investments that will soon start to flow from multilateral and bilateral funding need to not only counter the immediate impacts of climate change, but build capacity for long-term and efficient responses.

I believe they can - if carefully and creatively target - also make a big contribution to the sustainable growth of this continent and the livelihoods of the millions living here.