Responding to a strong perceived demand from governments for current information about a green economy Africa, the United Nations Environment Program reported Thursday from Nairobi on the power of green investments in the nations of Africa. Says one international expert in green economics, “The list of successful examples of green investments in Africa is far greater than what is generally imagined. The potential is enormous.”
UNEP undertook the new Green Economy Africa Synthesis Report to help policymakers better understand the opportunities for, challenges to, and wide and powerful consequences of making green economy transitions. The study collates the results of a look at green development in about 20% of the continent’s 50-some countries. UNEP has just presented the report at the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, which is now taking place in Nairobi, Kenya.
Africa is a continent of contradictions. Incredibly wealthy in sustainable, renewable, and unexploited mineral and fuel resources, it also harbors some of the least habitable conditions for people. Real gross domestic product has increased across Africa at just over 5%/year during the past decade—yet half of sub-Saharan Africans live in extreme poverty. About three-quarters of households have no access to improved sanitation and the same number are not connected to an electric power grid.
The official French foreign policy website, France Diplomatie, looks at the African dilemma from a poignant overall historical perspective.
“Africa is the continent that has contributed least to greenhouse gas emissions, but it’s also one of the continents that are suffering most from the consequences, notably in terms of desertification, rising sea levels, and deforestation.”
Less developed regions like this seek both sustainable and equitable growth. They have seen rapid industrialization compromise the natural environment in most areas that are highly developed. Many African countries have thus begun to expand their investments in renewable energy. In many cases, its use is a real no-brainer: the sun shines 325 days per year; the continent possesses huge hydroelectric potential and is using less than 7% of it; and less than 2% of its geothermal capacity is being captured.
Measuring progress to date in agriculture, energy, water, fisheries, buildings, manufacturing, transport, and tourism, the UNEP finds that greening economies are boosting both GDP and life expectancy, creating more and better jobs, and rapidly reducing the poverty gap. Speaking at the ongoing AMCEN, UNEP Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner has made clear his belief that the transition to a green economy Africa has begun and is already reaping sustainable dividends across the continent.
“This report makes clear that green investments can not only drive economic growth faster than business as usual investments, but represent a valuable opportunity for Africa to conserve the natural wealth on which economies, lives, and livelihoods depend. Many African countries are beginning to tap into this potential.”
And innovations that change the game in developing countries do not have to be expensive, the report says. For example, one small solar light-emitting diode can save a family more than US $1 per week on kerosene, an expensive and nonrenewable fuel. That small LED also enables families to use evening time constructively without incurring the negative effects of burning kerosene on their health.
Across Africa, governments have initiated green economic growth and are beginning to incorporate it into national development planning. Steiner cites renewable energy development in Burkina Faso, which is expected to increase electricity generation from renewables 180% more than business as usual investments, and the new Green Economy Accord in South Africa, which will create 300,000 green jobs by 2020.
Some other examples of the report’s conclusions:
- Burkina Faso – Burkina Faso has also pioneered a National Investment Plan for Environment and Sustainable Development to increase funding in environmental sustainability.
- Egypt – Energy efficiency measures in Egypt could cut energy consumption by a third (33 billion kW). Egypt’s Electricity Transmission Company has already installed 225 MW of wind energy capacity.
- Kenya – GDP in Kenya is projected to grow 12% higher by 2030 under the green economy scenario. A shift in investment to green sectors would lift an additional 3.1 million people in Kenya out of poverty by that date, compared to investments in business as usual.
- Senegal – In Senegal, green investments in sustainable agriculture technologies and techniques can facilitate an increase in arable land. Total available agricultural land is projected to decrease there without green investments.
- South Africa – As well as increasing green jobs through the new Green Economy Accord, South African investments in natural resource management—particularly in land restoration—are projected to save billions of tons of water.
- Also Rwanda, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Ghana are all developing strategies through intergovernmental processes. Macroeconomic studies support each of these as well.
Steiner looks to the AMCEN conference to identify the right mix of policy, incentives, capacity development, and informational tools to scale up renewable investments, identify the best means of achieving the mix, and bring “the enormous potential of these green investments to scale.”
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