Remarks by Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, at 18th African Union Summit Sun, Jan 29, 2012

UNEP and the Green Economy-Four Decades in Development

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Your Excellencies, Heads of state and Government,

Your Excellency Denis Sassou-Nguesso, President of the Republic of Congo,

Your Excellency, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia,

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary General of the UN and dear colleagues (USG, Heads of UN Agencies)

Dr Jean Ping, Chairperson of AUC,

Ministers of Foreign Affairs and distinguished guests,

Let me first thank President Kibaki for organizing this high level celebration of 40 years of UNEP.

The decision, taken at the 1972 UN General Assembly, to locate UNEP in Africa and in Kenya four decades ago was an inspired one.

On one hand it has assisted the world as a whole to better understand the links between poverty and environment, and the importance of environmental services and natural resources in shaping the destinies of nations.

On the other hand, it has assisted UNEP and its staff in appreciating how 21stcentury development can be sustainable as increasing numbers of countries in Africa embrace a Green Economy as a way of propelling growth and generating employment, but in a way that keeps humanity's footprint within ecological boundaries.

One thinks of the countries such as South Africa, Egypt, Kenya, Senegal, Rwanda and Ethiopia to name but a few.

Indeed it is hard to find any country on this Continent today without emerging and flourishing initiatives on renewable energy, organic agriculture and forestry management to ecotourism, integrated waste management and improved management of rivers and freshwater systems.

As heads of state gather here in Addis Ababa to discuss ways to "boost intra-regional trade on the continent", these evolving patterns of a Green Economy are likely to prove an important catalyst for this Continent.

The Green Economy report compiled by UNEP, in partnership with economists,social scientists, institutes and the wider UN system, has provided a solid foundation towards implementing a sustainable century.

In five months' time, world leaders will meet in Brazil for Rio+20 where the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication is one of the two major themes.

Africa has, with support from the African Development Bank; through preparatory meetings and decisions taken through the African Union, the Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) and special summits in Malabo and Addis, underlined and unified its conviction to generate a positive and transformational outcome in Rio.

  • One that realigns the engines of development with the realities-that puts real management of natural resources front and centre stage of humanity's collective future
  • One that shifts the patterns for development from extraction, degradation and pollution towards investment and re-investment in the fundamentals including healthy

    soils and land to a healthy atmosphere.

Africa is also right behind international efforts on Rio+20's second major theme-an Institutional Framework for Sustainable Development.

Your Excellences,

reforming and evolving the institutions charged with delivering sustainable development in Africa and beyond is about more than just environment.

Nevertheless, environment has quite rightly become a central part of this debate.

As with the Green Economy, so Africa under the political leadership of the Republic of the Congo has also signaled its determination and conviction here too.

  • In respect to the environmental pillar of sustainable development your collective position is

    that UNEP should be strengthened at its HQ in Nairobi perhaps into an organization of the UN.

Your position, aimed at strengthening the role of the world's environment ministers, is supported by many other regional groups and bodes well for Rio+20 in terms of a modern andforward looking new institutional architecture.

In 1972, at the Stockholm Conference on the Human Environment that gave birth to UNEP and at the Rio Earth Summit of 1992, the world was markedly different not least geopolitically.

The world of 2012 is light years from the world of 40 and 20 years ago economically, socially and environmentally-not least in Africa.

Together with Africa, UNEP has evolved to meet the challenges of this very different world.

Together, as a result of your collective leadership and vision and as a result of the Rio+20 Summit, we may be embarking on a new chapter of opportunities for not only Africa but the world.

And for seven billion people, climbing to over nine billion by 2050.UNEP's 40th anniversary is on one hand about celebrating 40 years of history.

But it may, in part as a result of Africa's wisdom and confidence in the future, be equally a year of history-in-the-making and a date as special as Stockholm 1972.

Thank you for inviting me to address you today.

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