Remarks by Achim Steiner at the Summit for Sustainability in Africa Thu, May 24, 2012

Summit for Sustainability in Africa 24-25 May 2012, Gaborone Botswana

National Power Generation Utility of Kenya (KenGen)'s Olkaria facility near Lake Naivasha in the Rift Valley

H.E. Lt. Gen. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, President of the Republic of Botswana,

Your Excellencies Heads of States and Governments, Honourable Delegates, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

This Summit for Sustainability in Africa comes weeks in advance of the Rio+20 Summit being held in Brazil- 20 years after the famous Rio Earth Summit of 1992.

Rio+20 takes place in a world markedly different from that of two decades ago geopolitically but also economically, socially and environmentally.

Why Africa and the World Needs Rio+20

In 1992 the world population stood at 5.5 billion - since then it has increased by 1.5 billion people, or the equivalent to the total global population in 1900.

While only 15% of the global population lives in Africa, the continent experienced the second fastest annual population growth rate between 1992 and 2010 at 53%.

In 2009, Africa reached its one-billionth inhabitant, a growing proportion of which are between the ages of 15 and 25.

Since 1992, world GDP has almost doubled in size lifting millions out of poverty.

The percentage of Africans living on less than US$ 2.15 has dropped ten percent down to 48% between 1999 and 2008.

Despite this improvement within the continent, Africa's share of the world's poor has increased from 21% to 29%.

Meanwhile the character of much of that global economic growth remains unsustainable in respect to the social and the environmental dimension of sustainable development.

The world's primary forest area has decreased by nearly 300 million ha since 1990, the brunt of which has taken place in Africa and Latin America.

That's roughly equal to the size of Botswana, South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe combined.

Such high deforestation rates are one of the leading causes of biodiversity loss in the tropics -30% since 1992.

Likewise, since 1992, the proportion of fully exploited fish stocks increased by 13% and overexploited, depleted or recovering stocks increased by 33%.

In 2005, the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment found that 60% of the world's ecosystems were severely degraded or used unsustainably.

These sobering facts and figures will be thrown into even sharper relief on 6 June when UNEP launches its fifth Global Environment Outlook.

It is deliberately being launched just in advance of Rio+20 because it is vital in many ways to remind us all attending the Summit why we need to be there.

But science cannot on its own trigger the kinds of policy shifts urgently needed to put all countries onto the sustainability path.

Time to Accelerate a Green Economy

One of the overarching themes at Rio+20 is the Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication.

UNEP, in partnership with many, issued its Green Economy report a few months ago.

It provides the analysis of how economies can grow and how employment can be generated across a wider range of sectors but in a way that keeps humanity's footprint within planetary boundaries.

It speaks to essentially the two side of every country's economy-the hard infrastructure such as buildings and power generation and the soft infrastructure such as forests and coastal zones and savannahs and rangelands.

That soft infrastructure not only makes planet Earth habitable. But work under The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity, hosted by UNEP, also underscores that it represents in many developing country communities up to 90 per cent of the GDP of the poor.

Take energy as one example.

Investing about one and a quarter per cent of global GDP each year in energy efficiency and renewable energies could cut global primary energy demand by nine per cent in 2020 and close to 40 per cent by 2050, it says.

  • Employment levels in the energy sector would be one-fifth higher than under a business as usual scenario as renewable energies take close to 30 per cent of the share of primary global energy demand by mid century
  • Savings on capital and fuel costs in power generation would under a Green Economy scenario, be on average $760 billion a year between 2010 and 2050

Take agriculture.

A Green Economy would invest $100 billion, up to $300 billion a year until 2050, in agriculture in order to feed nine billion people, while promoting better soil fertility management and sustainable water use to improve biological plant management.

  • Scenarios indicate an increase in global yields for major crops by 10 per cent over current investment strategies
  • Equal to raising and sustaining nutrition levels to 2,800-3,000 kilocalories available per person by 2030
  • Food waste globally is translating into 2,600 kilocalories per person per day; therefore, a transition to a Green Economy needs to address these challenges, which link to several of the sectors concerned.

And take forestry

Forests generate goods and services, which support the economic livelihoods of over one billion people, recycle nutrients vital for agriculture and harbour 80 per cent of land-based species.

Deforestation also currently accounts for close to 20 per cent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions.

"Reducing deforestation can therefore be a good investment: the climate regulation benefits of halving global deforestation alone have been estimated to exceed costs by a factor of three," says the study.

The report analyzes the contribution that $15 billion a year - or 0.03 per cent of global GDP - can make to greening this sector, including triggering greater investments in Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD).

Such investments can also assist in scaling-up tried and tested market mechanisms, including certified timber and the certification of rainforest products to payment for ecosystems and community-based partnerships.

  • Over the period 2011 to 2050, investment of $15 billion annually, or 0.03 per cent of GDP, would raise the value added in the forestry industry by more than 20 per cent, relative to business as usual
  • The report suggests that a transition to a Green Economy could increase forested land - currently close to 4 billion hectares - by over three per cent in 2020, eight per cent by 2030 and over 20 per cent by 2050, relative to business as usual

Your Excellences,

As heads of state of Africa you have signalled support for a Green Economy transition and indeed this Continent offers many extraordinary examples of where it is being applied.

Examples where countries are utilizing the economics of nature to glimpse a more long lasting and sustainable development paths.

(For instance, a valuation study in the Maldives recently revealed gray reef sharks to be valued at US$ 3,300/year per individual to the tourism industry in contrast to US$ 32 for a single catch.

Using the results of this study to inform their marine measures, the Republic of Maldives is the second nation in the world to announce blanket protection for sharks in order to boost tourism.

Another example is the Nakivubo Swamp in Kampala, which provides an important ecosystem service by treating and filtering the biological wastewater from much of the city.

Development pressures to drain the wetland in order to gain agricultural land were reconsidered when an assessment of this service showed that running a sewage treatment facility with the same function and capacity as the swamp would cost the city around US$ 2 million every year.

Moreover, the wetland provides small-scale economic activities for slum dwellers such as papyrus harvesting, brick making and fish farming, which would otherwise be destroyed.

The Mokolodi Nature Reserve, just south of Gaborone, is another case in point.

This conservation area generates millions of pula every year from people seeking to enjoy its beauty, wildlife and landscapes.

Green economy incentives are also creating win-win scenarios in the energy industry.

Kenya is among many governments to have brought in a feed-in tariff.

This makes it mandatory for energy companies to purchase electricity from renewable energy sources and ensures that producers of solar, wind, geothermal and biogas energies profit from a guaranteed market.

It has already assisted in triggering domestic and overseas investments in rapid expansion of Kenya's geothermal electricity generation and construction is soon to begin on the largest wind farm in sub Saharan Africa.

Uganda with its deliberate policies that triggered a huge increase in organic farming with higher profits emerging from exports while reducing poverty).

Achieving a Positive Outcome at Rio+20

The question before this Summit and before Rio+20 is how to scale-up and accelerate such transitions for the benefit of Africa and its people, for the sustainability of the world.

Because without action at and beyond Rio the globe faces rising risks and scarcities linked with climate change to dwindling natural resources and the real risks of increased tensions within and between nations.

Several proposals are on the table for Rio+20 around which global cooperative action is needed if the world is to change course.

Some, such as phasing down and phasing out the up to $600 billion worth of fossil fuel subsides are about correcting long standing anomalies that tilt the playing field against clean energy systems and increase inefficiencies and pollution.

Others, such as agreeing on a new indicator of wealth beyond GDP are more fundamental.

GDP as a measure of economic activity is over 70 years old - we all feel happy when it goes up and somewhat glum when it goes down.

But it is also a blunt and narrow measure of wealth as it fails to capture environmental degradation or improvement.

Many social factors that speak about human well-being also fall outside GDP as a measure of success.

Another issue is a commitment by government to Global Sustainability Reporting.

Since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, increasing numbers of companies have been factoring environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues into their operations and business models.

Around a quarter of corporations surveyed by Bloomberg are now encapsulating and disclosing some of these elements in their annual reports side by side with cash flows, debts and liabilities.

This progress is welcome:  it allows pension funds, shareholders and other investors to pick firms where sustainability is central - not least because there is good evidence that such corporations are better run, manage natural resources more efficiently, have reduced pollution footprints, are less prone to shocks in a globalized world and less vulnerable to reputational risk.

It is also assisting governments across a wide range of challenges from meeting greenhouse gas targets to tracking health and safety improvements for workers across sectors and geographic regions.

However it is not enough: Indeed the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Coalition - an alliance of pension funds and investors with $2 trillion-worth of assets under management, along with UN agencies and NGOs - concludes that existing voluntary arrangements have hit their limits.

The time is ripe for a global policy framework on corporate sustainability reporting and is essential in order to deliver the basic information, transparency and comparability needed to move forward and assist in fast tracking a transition to a global Green Economy.

Such reporting could also accelerate a time when extractive industries such as mining carry out their operations with a net positive impact on countries and communities.

Moreover, such measures can provide long-term benefits for communities and the environment, with the adoption of progressive management practices that mitigate impacts, offset ecosystem losses and provide sustained social and economic benefits to African citizens

Other options include caring for the vulnerable and for future generations through the scaling-up of for example Social Heritage Funds, such as those of Botswana and Norway.

These capture adequate revenue from industries benefitting from the natural and human capital wealth of those countries to provide and sustain social welfare through investments in education, environment, health, poverty alleviation, and equity.

There are many more inspiring ideas, initiatives and commitments proposed for Rio+20 which could take forward that Green Economy pathway endorsed by your governments at the 18th assembly of the African Union only some months ago.

Over the next few weeks it is not just the science, the Green Economy pathways and commitments being brought to Rio that will define a positive outcome, but above all it will rest and hinge upon leadership at the highest level.

That leadership has emerged on this Continent and is evidenced by so many heads of state here in Botswana and this Summit.

It will be crucial to assisting others nations discover their ambition and leadership too in order for the world to seize the opportunities arising from a transition and a transformation towards a truly sustainable 21st century.

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