The United Nations Environment programme (UNEP), has began the implementation of a regional pilot partnership in Africa covering seven countries, which are Burkina Faso, Egypt, Ghana, Kenya, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa, in advance of the Rio+20 Summit where the Green Economy is one of the two main themes.
According to a UNEP statement announcing this on Wednesday, UN Under Secretary General and Executive Director of UNEP, Mr. Steiner, pointed out that although the ‘world was awash with crises’ and that “It may seem that escalating crises and the often glacial international response means countries, including those on the African continent, are unable to respond,” Africa is not to be blamed for this.
Speaking at sessions on climate change and Green Economy, the UNEP Executive Director added that “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,” the UN Under Secretary General opined.
Highlighting these transitions with several examples, Mr. Steiner mentioned that in July this year Heads of State meeting under the 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.
He also said 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, producing 300 MW of power in the Turkana region.
He further listed the restoration of Kenya’s Mau forest complex, after decades of degradation, which is underway after assessments produced by the government and with support from UNEP, which he indicated, were 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.
Mr. Steiner disclosed that 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 the impacts on GDP and the tripling of forest cover since the turn of the century.
“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,” he divulged.
The UNEP Executive Director continued that since 2004, the number of certified organic farmers in Uganda has grown from 45,000 to over 200,000, the area of land under organic cultivation from 185,000 hectares to close to 300,000 hectares, while organic exports have increased from US$3.7 million in 2003/4, to US$6.3 million in 2004/5, before jumping to US$22.8 million in 2007/8.
Mr. Steiner underlined that a Green Economy was as much about spotlighting the economic absurdities at large in the world as showcasing smart policy decisions, adding that around US$27 billion of fisheries subsidies are fuelling 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 recovery of the stock?” Mr. Steiner quizzed.
He said Fossil fuel subsidies totalling some US$500 billion a year, 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 the perpetuation of fossil fuel dependency or agricultural subsides, including fertilizers and pesticides allied to food wastes, represent one of the biggest market failures globally,” said the UNEP Executive Director.
Earlier Mr. Steiner attended a debate on Environmental Diplomacy, saying it might seem new to some, but that it was as “as old as the Entoto hills, near Addis Ababa”.
He said the difference between the past and the present in which communities and countries often used time-honoured traditions to resolve natural resource disputes, was the sheer scale of humanity’s contemporary footprint allied to the fact that pollution and degradation is now ‘exported’ hundreds and thousands of miles.
“Some of the poorest and most vulnerable can become victims as a result of pollution generated not by them but by others - Environmental Diplomacy is about finding fair and equitable solutions to such realities,” Mr. Steiner said.
“And perhaps more importantly of finding cooperative and forward-looking agreements between over 190 nations for managing-down impacts en route to sustainable development—agreements that recognise the historical responsibilities of some countries and increasingly the rights of generations yet born,” he added.
“Rights to a healthy and productive planet that will allow the next generation to reach its full potential rather than being marginalised or short-changed by an over-exploitative previous one,” said Mr. Steiner.
Delegates agreed that evolving Environmental Diplomacy is becoming an increasingly important and strategic policy platform for international relations and called for a further workshop that engages Africa diplomats at the UN headquarters in New York.
The decision to establish an Africa-wide Green Economy conference has come in response to the Bamako Declaration.
The Declaration, including fostering a Green Economy, was made at the 13th session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, the Secretariat which was hosted by UNEP in June this year in Mali.