Remarks By Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, at the Valuation and Accounting of Natural Capital for the Green Economy (VANTAGE) in Africa Wed, Dec 4, 2013

Realities linked with environmental degradation, shrinking natural resource bases and heavy levels of pollution in a world of over seven billion people.

Nairobi, 3 December 2013 - H.E. Ms. Laila Rashed Iskander

Minister, Egyptian Environmental Affaires Agency (EEAA), Ministry of Environment of Egypt

H.E. Mr. Belete Tafere, Minister of Environment and Forests, Ethiopia,

H.E. Mr. Ephraim Kamutu, Minister of Water and Environment, Uganda,

H.E. Mr. Halifa Mohamed, Deputy Minister, Ministry of State for Agriculture and Fisheries Comoros,

H.E. Mr. Pohamba Shifeta, Deputy Minister of Environment and Tourism, Namibia,

Dr. Mutaba Mwali, Deputy Minister, Lands, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection, Zambia,

H.E. Mr. Simon Musanhu, Deputy Minister of Environment, Water and Climate, Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Management, Zimbabwe

H.E. Ms. Anne Waiguru, Cabinet Secretary, The Presidency, Ministry of Devolution and Planning, Kenya

Permanent Secretaries, High Commissioners, scientists, economists, members of international organizations, delegates,

Firstly thank you for coming to Kenya, very much the HQ of the UN in Africa and the home of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

You are here because you are part of a revolution in the way humanity perceives the world, the economy and the role of national, regional and global ‘natural assets’ in generating jobs and livelihoods and in delivering sustainable development.

We are here to take another step towards a world in which the real value of the natural world is reflected in the lives of the peoples we represent and the economies we are managing against the back drop of realities and inordinate opportunities.

Realities linked with environmental degradation, shrinking natural resource bases and heavy levels of pollution in a world of over seven billion people.

Opportunities, because we have all the science and emerging economic analysis and knowledge that tells us we do not need to be so irresponsible and blinkered.

Opportunities too to fundamentally decouple development and growth from the destruction of the nature-based assets that all too often we forget actually make this world go round.

In this room are some of the most remarkable economists you could imagine-I cannot name them all.

But I see Robert Constanza and Sir Partha Dasguta-two individuals who have, often against the mainstream and with many others, brought the invisibility of the real value of the natural world into the visible spectrum.

Two people, along with many others, who have through analysis, determination and courage put on the table the extraordinary losses our economies are sustaining from ‘mining’ nature-from running down natural capital in the name of progress.

They have through their long-standing and cutting-edge work requested and required policymakers, the UN, companies, cities and individuals to look beyond GDP as a measure of economic success to a broader notion of wealth.

On their shoulders-and the tireless work of many-stands the possibility of catalyzing, scaling-up and accelerating an inclusive Green Economy as one important pathway to what the Rio+20 Summit of 2012 called the Future We Want.

Honorable delegates,

That Summit, held in June 2012 requested governments and the broader community to look beyond our existing comfort zones about what prosperity actual means.

And as a result of Rio+20, combined with UNEP’s work on an inclusive Green Economy in concert with many, many organizations and institutions - and in support of the 10 African countries, along with various public and private organizations, who adopted the Gaborone Declaration of May 2012- - we meet here in Nairobi to take our collective ambitions forward.

For those who are new to these debates, perhaps I can add some meat to this sandwich and some texture to your debates.

UNEP has been in Nairobi for close to 40 years-an hour’s flight from here is the Mau Forest complex.

It is the largest close-canopy forest in sub-Saharan Africa. Over many years it has been degraded and cleared for small-scale agriculture.

A few years ago, drawing on the analysis of The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, UNEP and the Kenyan Government assessed what the Mau actually means to the national economy.

The figure is US$1.5 billion in terms of river systems to key tourism infrastructure like the world famous Masai Mara and services such as moisture to Kenya’s key tea-growing areas.

These are the realities and the choices underpinning this meeting.

And there are more:

  • UNEP’s work in Tanzania suggests that while forestry is officially close to 2.3 per cent of GDP, if the wider benefits are factored in the real contribution is over 4 per cent of GDP.
  • Some of the emerging estimates suggest that the contribution of the value of forests to the GDP of Uganda is around US$136.46 million, which amounts to about 4 per cent of GDP.
  • The study also estimates that forests produce welfare-enhancing goods and services worth over US$547 million that are not currently captured in the countries’ GDP-this is not to question Uganda, but to illuminate the opportunities everywhere of more intense valuation of nature.
  • Other research shows that forestry contributed to only 4.7 per cent of Ethiopia’s GDP in 2005. However, if the non-market watershed and carbon sequestration benefits of Ethiopia forests estimated by the study were added to the GDP figure, the contribution of forestry to GDP would increase to 18.8 per cent.
  • The economic valuation study on the role and contribution of Montane forests and related ecosystems to the Kenyan economy, undertaken by UNEP in 2012 highlighted that the deforestation deprived Kenya’s economy of US$68 million in 2010.
  • It reported that contribution of forests in conventional accounts in Kenya is undervalued by 2.5 per cent, and estimated that its annual contribution to GDP is around 3.6 per cent. 
  • Besides its contribution to the economy, natural capital is factored as ecological infrastructure providing various public goods in UNEP’s Proecoserv Project in South Africa.
  • Like other public goods (such as education, health or street lights), investing in ecological infrastructure has positive spill-over effects. In addition, ecological infrastructure creates jobs. The Green Jobs Report by the Industrial Development Corporation & DBSA (2011) highlights that the bulk of jobs related to the green economy are likely to come from natural capital management. 486,000 work opportunities were created in South Africa in environmental rehabilitation programs since 1995. In addition 85,000 jobs were created through formal conservation of protected areas and in game ranching and ecotourism.
  • UNEP’s Inclusive Wealth Accounts initiative, implemented in partnership with IHDP-UNU, launched the first inclusive wealth report in Rio. The report gives an overview of the evolution of some categories of natural capital for some countries.
  • The report indicates that over the assessment period, natural resources per-capita declined by 33 per cent in South Africa. If measured by GDP, the economies South Africa grew by 24 per cent. However, when South Africa’s performance is measured by the IWI, it decreased by 1 per cent.

These are indicators not of poor management but of a different discourse in wealth generation in a world where natural resources will be increasingly be a determination of economic, social and yes environmental performance.

Africa stands to be a key player in this debate and in the framing of a landscape of more intelligent management of the natural world-because Africa has many of the resources that others want.

Sustainably managing your resources can benefit and grow Africa domestically and globally and make the continent a beacon of profiting not losing from its natural world.

There are many hares running right now in terms of bringing rigour and confidence to valuing natural assets.

Many of you here are involved in new initiatives such as ProEcoServ, Inclusive Wealth Report (IWR), Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES), The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB), UNDP-UNEP Poverty Environment Initiative (PEI), and Experimental Ecosystem Accounting of the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting (SEEA) of the UN Statistics Division as they relate to Africa and to the world.

It is good to see that richness of debate and of innovative streams of thought and of action.

The time has come to bring these threads together and to ensure that by 2015-when the UN’s Millennium Development Goals transcend into the Sustainable Development Goals-the global community has the strategies and the policies in place to ensure that nature is fully integrated in our economies in a convincing way.

In a way that leaves no margin of doubt in the minds of governments, business and wider society that a transition towards an inclusive Green Economy is not just about reforming and retooling energy infrastructure to new patterns of mobility.

But is predicated on a new and fundamental relationship between economy and the ‘soft infrastructure’ of nature and its true wealth and value to us all.

I look forward to your discussions and to your clear determination that natural accounting and valuation will not be a fringe activity for those in the know.

But form today a cornerstone of the wealth of nations upon which sustainable, equitable and prosperous societies will be built.

Thank you

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