African countries urged to adapt green economy, despite challenges and high cost

Mr. Abdoulie Janneh

African countries have been urged to move away from old resource intensive methods of growth in which progress has been at the expense of the environment to one in which productivity is boosted by using and managing natural resources more efficiently and effectively.

Abdoulie Janneh, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and  Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa made the call at the opening of the United Nations African Economic Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia today, October 25, 2011.

“Economic activity must take account of long-term consequences for the environment and the need to preserve our common heritage for future generations while promoting improved social conditions.  Building a green economy is therefore an important element of the solution,” he said.

Having said that, he reiterated the fact that commitment to building a green economy brings its own challenges.

“Although switching to a green growth path may enable leap-frogging of dirty and inefficient technologies, there are more fundamental dilemmas to grapple with including costly adaptation and path dependence,” he said.

According to Janneh, radical changes would be required in behaviour from government, firms and consumers and matched by sufficient financial resources if this approach is to succeed.

“We also face a predicament in the sense that while the pressing priority for most African countries is to promote growth that creates jobs the immediate effect of on-going growth is a short-run increase in demand for food, energy, and water that may further burden the environment,” he warned. Adding that “it is against this background that we must examine how best the green economy can bring about structural transformation in Africa.

In doing so, however, we must note that Africa has been growing quite steadily since the turn of the new Millennium with growth rates averaging about 5%.  We therefore need to take this situation into account as we try to shift to a green growth trajectory, and especially as our major development partners are also grappling with debt, unemployment and slow growth.  Moreover, we must strive to ensure that our growth processes provide job opportunities for young people and give them hope for the future.”

He indicated that, “to ensure that the green economy contributes to structural transformation in Africa, we have to overcome some of the challenges I have just outlined.  It would also mean providing a persuasive vision for the green economy, promoting green growth, determining key sectoral priorities and establishing frameworks for coordination at national and international levels.”

According to him, “if the green economy is to drive a process of structural transformation it would be important to convey a clear vision to all stakeholders of what it entails and what is required to bring it about.  Creating awareness about the concept is an important and necessary first step in meeting this very important requirement, just as it would be necessary to highlight its potential contribution to growth and structural transformation.”

He said, however that, quite fortunately, Africa has an abundance of natural resources such as minerals, fisheries, forests, wind, hydro and solar which provide it with options for their long-term use in an eco-friendly manner. Similarly, it is possible to drive a green growth agenda through well-targeted investments in renewable energy and manufacturing processes that minimize pollution and release of hazardous and toxic waste.  This also points to the opportunities that abound in recycling and proper waste management.

He cited countries such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Rwanda and South Africa among others that are good examples of African countries that have used the green economy to create jobs and generate energy and aim towards carbon-free targets.

In his presentation, Tegegnework Gettu, the Assistant Secretary General, and Director of the Regional Bureau for Africa, UNDP said the transition to a green economy needs to be managed in such a way that growth is sustained, “and that the benefits from the growth process we have seen in terms of falling poverty levels in Africa in recent years, are further enhanced.”

Citing the African Economic Outlook – he said economic growth in Africa is less effective in terms of reducing poverty than in other regions, therefore, he said, “making the growth process more green and making it more inclusive are two objectives that must go hand in hand.”

He called for direct regulation to be applied if necessary and mechanisms for compliance put in place. This will mean, he said, “that the costs of environmental degradation and pollution are internalised and borne by those who are responsible for it, that utilisation of natural resources is done at sustainable rates, and that critical thresholds are not crossed.”

“It is particularly important to create a stable regulatory environment that gives the right signals to the private sector to avoid unstainable practices, and to stimulate new technologies and businesses.”

The conference will end on Friday October 28.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

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