15 Oct 2013 Speech Green economy

Opening speech at the Ministerial Segment of African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN), by Ibrahim Thiaw

It is nature that feeds the fish we catch for our protein needs. Call it Coastal and Marine biodiversity, may be lakes, but not Ministry of Fisheries!

Your Excellency the President of the Republic of Botswana, Lieutenant General Seretse Khama Ian Khama,

Honourable Dr. Terezya Luoga Huvisa, Minister of State for Environment of Tanzania and President of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment,

Ms. Rhoda Peace Tumisiime, African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture 

Honorable Ministers and Heads of delegations,

Your Excellences, Ambassadors and Members of the Diplomatic Corps,

My colleagues from United Nations Agencies,

Representatives of International Organizations, Civil Society and private sector,

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I would like to thank the Government and the people of Botswana for accepting to host this 5th Special Session of the African Ministerial Conference for the Environment (AMCEN). 

While your presence here today is very much appreciated, it does not surprise us. Your personal commitment and your leadership on environmental issues are well known to us. Gaborone hosted a crucial Summit in the run up to Rio which made an indelible mark to the Rio+20 outcome document as far as the concept of natural capital is concerned.

We support all the principles of the Gaborone Declaration. By agreeing to host this Special session in the conditions that are known to all of us, your country honors the entire continent. Many of us will have the pleasure of coming back to Gaborone early December when you host the Summit that will discuss the fate of African Elephants. The name of your country, Botswana, comes often when one cites good examples of countries where exploitation of natural wealth leads to inclusive and lasting growth.

This gathering, the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) was established to contribute to African growth and to the prosperity of African people. Africa is endowed with important natural resources, that are the foundation of its economy. Indeed, for better or worse, Africa's growth is shaped by commodity markets. The continent sustains a steady growth as global markets continue to wobble; this is due mostly to the rich natural capital.

It is Nature that provides the minerals and oil wealth that keeps the continent going. 

It is Nature that generates the water we use for our needs. Nature is the source of the Nile, the Congo, the Niger, the Zambezi. It is nature that feeds Lake Victoria and the Okavango. It is nature that generates the water we need for our food production and for our daily consumption. It is nature that conserves the land we grow crops, feeds our animals and ourselves. Call it ecosystems or biodiversity, not Ministry of Agriculture or Livestock!

It is nature that feeds the fish we catch for our protein needs. Call it Coastal and Marine biodiversity, may be lakes, but not Ministry of Fisheries!

It is Nature that offers the beautiful landscapes, the exceptional sceneries, the wildlife and the national parks that millions come to enjoy every day. The income generated from such activity therefore does not come from the Ministry of Tourism!

Nature offers us the clean air we take for granted. Nature is wealth, it is our capital, our economy, the economy that cannot be measured only by the GDP yardstick. If there was a need to attribute a color to such economy, you may want to call it green economy. 

Protecting Nature is the responsibility of all Governments, the epicenter being the Ministries in charge of the Environment and Nature protection. That is in plain language what the Green Economy is all about. 


Ladies and Gentlemen,

This is why AMCEN matters to the economy and the social fabric of Africa.  The environment cares for all sectors that counts for human well-being. 

This is why UNEP, in close collaboration with the African Union, is proud of serving as Secretariat to AMCEN. This hall, today, in Gaborone, will be remembered for the far-reaching decisions you will make, and that will contribute to the future of the African continent, indeed the future of the world.

This hall will be remembered for the quality of the follow up that you will agree to make to your own decisions.


Ladies and Gentlemen,

The main objective of the Special Session is to provide a platform for African countries to further consolidate and enhance Africa's common negotiating position in the climate change talks. As the talks enter a new phase towards an agreement of a new legal instrument under the Convention by 2015, it is important that the developmental priorities of Africa be considered. This calls for adequate preparations by Africa in order to effectively engage and achieve the best out of the negotiations.

Two weeks ago, the UNEP backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) released its fifth Assessment Report, summary for policy makers which re-iterates that warming of the climate system is unequivocal. The report states that it's extremely 'likely' that humans are responsible. Human activity has caused at least half of climate change in the last half-century.

In 2007, the IPCC was already 90% sure that people were behind a seemingly small rise in global average temperature of about half a degree Celsius. While 90% constitutes a "very likely" degree of certainty, the recent report with 95% sure indicates an "extremely likely" degree of certainty, which is considered the gold standard when discussing probability.

The report predicts the impacts of climate change will lead to more flooding, famine, drought and disease which could have a negative impact for millions of people in the poorest parts of the world especially Africa. The IPCC report warns of sea level rises of up to 82 centimeters, temperature increases of up to four degrees Celsius, and more frequent, and more ferocious storms, by the end of the century.

However, the IPCC report also suggests that it is not too late to prevent the worst impacts of climate change - if countries of the world act now. Part of UNEP's mandate is to strengthen the ability of governments to integrate climate change responses into national development and decision making frameworks and processes.

Therefore Africa, with so much to lose if climate change is not abated and so much to gain if it is, can and must be part of the solution for a fair and equitable new legal instrument. Africa must find its voice over the coming crucial weeks before Warsaw and articulate not only the threats it faces from unbridled climate change but also the urgency to act on both mitigation and adaptation.

Your Excellency, 

Honorable Ministers, 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

It is slightly more than a year since we met at the Rio+20 Summit in Brazil. At the summit, Africa spoke with a clear and compelling voice on the advancement of the sustainable development agenda, including Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. Without Africa, perhaps the gains at Rio+20 and the potential enshrined in the outcome would have been far more modest. I would like to take this opportunity to express to the African countries our deep appreciation for the vision and leadership they have shown during the Rio+20 process.

Already, Africa's commitment to move forward the outcomes of Rio+20 was demonstrated at the 14th session of AMCEN in September 2012 in Arusha, Tanzania, where you agreed to develop and implement Regional Flagship Programmes as a means to contribute to the effective implementation of the outcome of Rio +20 in Africa. The Africa Union through its Executive Committee endorsed this initiative during the January 2013 AU Summit.

I am informed that progress is being made in the development of these flagship programmes and as a subject of discussion at this meeting you will be looking at practical ways of how this initiative can move forward. 

Currently the international community is involved in charting the post 2015 development agenda, notably with the development of universal Sustainable Development Goals. UNEP is happy to note that World Leaders have agreed to the development of integrated sustainable development goals. Plainly of examples are there to demonstrate how the environmental, social and economic dimensions are intertwined and complementary to each other. 

Your Excellencies, 

Honorable Ministers, 

Ladies and Gentlemen, 

As you know, Rio+20 agreed to 'strengthen and upgrade' UNEP, including universal membership and more stable and predictable funding. This decision was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 2012, leading to UNEP's first Governing Council in 2013 held under universal membership. During the Governing Council, ministers responsible for the environment called for the Governing Council to be elevated to a UN Environment Assembly. The first UN Environment Assembly, as established by the UN General Assembly, will meet 23 to 27 June 2014 in Nairobi.

With the decisions of the first universal session and the resolutions of the General Assembly, a strengthened and upgraded UNEP with universal membership is poised to play a critical role in following up on the Rio +20 outcomes.

The up-grading of UNEP owes a great deal  to the strong commitment and engagement of the African countries and the African Union as highlighted in the African consensus statement. Therefore this session gives us an opportunity to discuss and develop a common understanding as to how African countries could engage with and contribute to the work of UNEA, and how best to respond to the priorities of the continent.

Your Excellencies, 

Honorable Ministers, 

Ladies and gentlemen, 

UNEP has been privileged to serve as the secretariat of AMCEN since 1985 and we look forward to continuing this support. We are equally privileged to work closely with the African Union Commission and other partners to fulfill AMCEN's mandate.

With your support before, during and after Rio+20, UNEP believes it can provide even greater and deeper assistance to Africa and the developing world as a whole.

I look forward to positive deliberations over the next 2 days.

I thank you for your attention.