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UNEP Chief on Africa and the Green Economy

Remarks by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director, UN Environment Programme (UNEP)

VII African Development Forum

Africa and the Green Economy

Addis Ababa, October 2010

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The world is awash with challenges climate change, food insecurity and persistent poverty and the loss of biodiversity and ecosystems, such as forests and freshwater.

In China last week the final meeting prior to the UN climate convention meeting in Cancun, Mexico, took place?progress was imperceptible at best, and perhaps frozen on many fronts.

2010 was the year in which the world was supposed to have substantially reversed the rate of loss of biodiversity it has not happened.

And in Nagoya next week, the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting needs to step up the urgency across several fronts, including establishing a long awaited regime to recompense countries, including ones in Africa, for conserving and maintaining the genetic resources of increasing global economic importance.

In the Financial Times this week was the headline "Soaring Prices Threaten New Food Crisis" and another "Corn Prices Surge to Two Year High" corn prices are back to levels seen during the recent food crisis.

Meanwhile, in Indonesia, high surface sea temperatures are bleaching corals in a way last seen in places such as the Indian Ocean in the late 1990s.

And you only have to look to the floods in Pakistan or the heat waves in Russia this year?2010 has been marked by extreme weather events in line with the forecasts of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

It may seem that escalating crises and the often glacial international response means countries, including those on the Africa continent, should bury their heads in the sand and wait for the inevitable.

But Ladies and Gentlemen,

Africa is not doing this.

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.

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.

Also in part because Africa is one of key regions of the world with an inordinately rich natural resource base including its genetic resources from animals and plants to humble life-forms such as fungi.

But also because it has abundant 'other' natural resources such as hot rocks, wind and solar power potential allied to Africa's forests and their global role in combating climate change.

With the right kind of pump priming by banks, including regional development banks, allied to more multilateral and bilateral support and most importantly transformational public policy-making, Africa could unleash international and domestic private sector investment on an unprecedented scale.

Investments that are able to accelerate sustainable development, while also overcoming poverty, and in ways that can sustain this Continent's rich natural assets now and for future growth.

President Paul Kagame of Rwanda made many of these points when he last year appealed to Africa to seize its own destiny- in part through green growth- when he addressed a ground breaking joint meeting of Africa finance and environment ministers.

In July this year Heads of State meeting under 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.

At last month's High-level Pan-African Conference on Biodiversity and Poverty Alleviation, which was supported by UNEP, over 30 countries adopted the Libreville Declaration committing to support a transition to a Green Economy.

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 the Mau forest complex, after decades of degradation, is also underway after assessments produced by the government and with support from UNEP 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 impacts on GDP.

As with the Mau in Kenya, economics have often been the missing link between evidence and action.

Since 2000, Ethiopia has tripled it forest cover as part of policies to address the erosion and land degradation challenge.

I mention these examples to underline how a Green Economy is taking root in Africa- and well before the term was coined during the height of the recent global financial and economic crisis.

Green Economy Advisory Services

UNEP is now taking forward its work in terms of showcasing smart market mechanisms and catalytic policy shifts into the field in terms of advisory services.

These are aimed at outlining ways in which a Green Economy transition based broadly on close to 12 sectors-can be tailored to individual countries or sectors of an economy.

In Africa, around seven countries have requested or are signaling requests for such support including through the UNEP-UN Development Programme's Poverty and Environment Initiative.

Meanwhile during the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) review summit, held at the beginning of the 65th UN General Assembly, UNEP launched a report spotlighting the link between achievements of the MDGs and the Green Economy.

This is part of the global report that will be published in time for UNEP's Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi next February.

The MDG contribution cited case upon case of where countries are making change happen?are examples from Africa but also from Asia and Latin America upon which pioneering nations can draw.

Policies and investments in Costa Rica have triggered an expansion of protected areas and national parks, now covering over 25 per cent of the country's total land area.

Since this strategy was adopted there has been a boom in eco-tourism attracting over one million visitors a year and generating US$5 million annually in entrance fees alone. Studies indicate that communities living in or near national parks have higher wages, employment rates and lower rates of poverty.

China is now the world's second biggest user of wind power and the biggest exporter of photovoltaics (devices that covert solar energy into electricity). Ten per cent of households have solar water heaters and 1.5 million people are employed in China's renewables sector, with 300,000 of those jobs generated in 2009 alone.

Creative and forward-looking urban planning, allied to sustainable transport policies, have allowed the Brazilian city of Curitiba to grow more than six fold while simultaneously improving mobility and quality of life.

The average area of green space per person has risen from one square metre to around 50 square metres; 45 per cent of journeys are made by public transport; excessive fuel use due to congestion is 13 times less per person than in Sao Paulo and the lower levels of air pollution result in health benefits for local citizens.

In Nepal, 14,000 Forest User Groups have reversed the deforestation rates of the 1990s through community-based policies which include setting harvesting rules, product prices and the sharing of profits.

Between 2000 and 2005, the annual forested area of Nepal increased by 1.3 per cent, soil quality and water supplies are better managed and local employment has risen.

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 has grown from 45,000 to over 200,000 and the area of land under organic cultivation from 185,000 hectares to close to 300,000 hectares.

The Green Economy work is also shedding light on the economic absurdities that in turn and in part are driving environmental degradation; contributing to poverty and undermining sustainable development.

Around US$27 billion of fisheries subsidizes, 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 stock?

Fossil fuel subsidizes 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 perpetuation of fossil fuel dependency.

Or agricultural subsides including fertilizer and pesticide ones that allied to food wastes represent one of the biggest market failures globally.

Indeed if we could address food waste?running on average worldwide at perhaps 40 per cent of all food produced and both a developed but also developing country challenge?there are some who reckon we could feed not just six billion but nine billion people now and today.

UNEP is also working with partners to prepare countries, including ones in Africa for a Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD or REDD+) regime.

This includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, Tanzania and Zambia.

Prospects for a new, global climate change deal in Cancun, Mexico, may appear slim. But significant progress, including funding on REDD, is a UNEP priority as it is an African one.

UNEP is also working with farmers on standards that could be used to bring sustainable agriculture into carbon funds and markets and eventually coastal ecosystems such as sea grasses and mangroves?up to half the world's transport emissions may be being absorbed by coastal ecosystems.

Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Green Economy has now become one off the two themes for Rio +20 in 2012. One of the key litmus tests is whether the transitions already occurring can embedded and can be scaled-up.

The next two years will define the scope and indeed the ambition of the Rio meeting or perhaps summit.

There are some countries already questioning whether it is relevant to developing countries and whether it could become a new focus for 'green' trade barriers.

In September in New York, some government representatives also questioned the legitimacy given that the Green Economy has burst on the international stage without being agreed line by line in some multilateral negotiating process.

We should all welcome this debate and understand the dynamics of the Green Economy, like all new and far reaching concepts, is by its very nature disruptive: it is meant to be a decisive departure from the cozy comfort of the status quo.

These challenges, perhaps more political procedural in character, can be met through openness, transparency and an enthusiasm to engage intellectually and practically.

Indeed they must be met?because this contest of ideas is not an idle game of political ping pong.

They will define the future of human-kind; whether the coming decades are defined by cooperation or combativeness and whether humanity's relationship to the natural world and its multi-trillion dollar services, will be sustainable over the long term.

So Rio +20 cannot be yet another gathering of the great and the good?but a gathering of those dedicated to a new and forward-looking architecture that finally puts sustainable development front and centre stage, rather on the fringe for over 190 economies including the more than 50 on this Continent.

Africa can be in the driving seat on this response to multiple challenges and indeed many countries here are already moving into that seat, finding the accelerator pedal and engaging first gear.

In the same way that the mobile phone has leap-frogged the land line on this Continent, so Africa can leap-frog the dirty development path of the developed economies.

For those countries in Africa already engaging, pushing UNEP and its partners further and faster.

For others, we stand ready to assist and to bring forward the decades of knowledge UNEP has and is amassing on a green economic transition.

And to banks and donor countries I would urge you to see how your support can enhance and speed up an Africa-wide Green Economy as part of the overall sustainable development agenda.

A green revolution could be at hand and not just in agriculture but across all sectors from transport to energy and freshwater to forests.

Africa is well placed to be its leader and a Green Economy incubator, a Continent demonstrating to rest of the world that sustainability and development go hand-in-hand.

Living proof that not only is this the Cradle of Civilization, but well placed to prove that a civilized future that echoes the needs and aspirations of six to nine billion people is possible too.

Solar power plant in South Africa's Western Cape



Further Resources

UNEP: Green Economy Initiative

Seventh Africa Development Forum


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