Lopes Says Green Energy Is the Way for Africa's Industrialisation, Panel Explains Why

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Abuja — The United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary for the Economic Commission for Africa, Mr. Carlos Lopes, urged African countries to prioritize renewable energy and develop leap-frogging capability to ensure that Africa does not make the same mistakes as developed countries deed in their industrialisation process.

Mr. Lopes was speaking at the opening session of a high-level panel discussion on the theme Greening Africa's economies to achieve structural transformation: the role of new technologies and innovation held at the weekend in Abuja, Nigeria. The event was held in the margins of the joint ECA-AU Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development on the theme: "Industrialization for inclusiveness and Transformative Development in Africa."

Mr. Lopes, who is an outspoken champion of Africa's transformation agenda, underscored the importance of structural transformation and warned that failure by Africa to tap into, and use renewable energy resources would be a mistake because developed countries paid a great price for their transformation by not doing so.

He called on a panel, made up of distinguished economists, energy specialists, policy makers and development practitioners to speak to some of the challenges that developed countries faced, so as to underscore the key role that renewable energy will play in Africa's transformation.

Panel members included Mr. Mounkaila Goumandakoye, Director, UNEP Regional Office for Africa UNEP; Prof. Mark Swiling of Stellenbosch University, South Africa; Dr Abraham Tekeste, State Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Ethiopia; H.E. Henri DJombo, Minister of Sustainable Development, Forest Economy and Environment, Congo; Hon. Dr. Musheibu Mohammed Alfa , Deputy Minister, Ministry of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ghana; Mr Adnan Amin, Director General, International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA); Mr. Peter M. Ching'ambo, Managing Director, Wecaw Limited.

The panel was chaired by Mr. K.Y. Amoako, Chair of the African Centre for Economic Transformation, Ghana; while Ms. Fatima Denton, Director of the Special Initiatives Division at ECA moderated the opening session, providing an inspiring introduction to the event. She said that African countries had embraced industrialisation as a gateway to transformation. Africa's economies however needed to shift to new pathways such as green economy that would give a significant push to help increase productivity and create jobs.

She cautioned that countries would have to make hard choices and make trade-offs to ensure a sustainable transformation. For this to be successful, she identified two preconditions: advances in technology, that would have to exploited; and the need for countries to move away from poor policies and incentivise the system to make the radical shift that would have positive ripple effects in such sectors as energy and agriculture.

Mr. Mounkaila's presentation on: "Towards a Green Economy Roadmap for Africa." set the tone of the discussion that was entirely characterised by concrete proposals. Talking about concrete proposals, Dr. Amoako told the meeting that the African Centre for Economic Transformation had had launched a report on "Growth with Depth" which addresses issues of Africa's transformation.

Mr. Mounkaila highlighted UNEP's pioneering work on policy dialogue on green economy (GE) including through the Global Green New Deal and the Rio+20 process; and added that a shift to green economy would enable Africa to achieve structural transformation by tapping from the region's potential.

It was necessary to have a strong emphasis on the transformation of national economic structures through shifting investment towards a new generation of assets such as clean technology, high productivity farming, renewable energy and resource-efficient infrastructure, well-functioning ecosystems, and green skilled labour.

He said that strong institutions and good governance was also necessary before outlining steps towards country level green economy road map. He revealed that more than 20 African countries were actively working on different aspects of Green Economy and called for a regional platform to ensure effective collaboration and coordination to provide countries with strong and coherent support, given the recent increase in the number of players involved in supporting the countries to transition to green economy. In his keynote address, Professor Swiling, noted that like always in the past, what "we in Africa wanted to do cannot be separated from a world that wanted to get its hands on the regions natural wealth".

"At the same time the world is facing an unprecedented polycrisis, economic crisis are embedded within a much wider ecological crisis that scientists now agree could threaten life as we know it; if major decisions to change course are not made."

While some of the main ecological crises are well known, the more important ones are not. These include the following: climate change; degradation of global ecosystem (60 per cent of them are degraded); more and more people and areas are facing water scarcities; global soils are degrading - roughly 23% of the 8.7 billion hectares that are used to sustain humanity are degraded; and steady increase in resource prices.

He traced the rise of the green economy discourse to the G20 meetings in 2009 and Rio+20 in 2012 when it was first discussed, and said it could be explained as a response to this polycrisis.

"It is an implicit recognition that the language of trade offs between the economy and environment inscribed in the notion of the 'triple bottom line' is no longer useful. If one goes, so does the other. The fates of both are now irrevocably coupled. Develop now, clean up later is no longer an option. Instead, the economics of repairing our ecological future may well become the primary driving force of economic recovery and, after that, the next long-term development cycle," he explained.

He however, stressed that "it is not just a discourse that responds to the polycrisis. It is also a reflection of real changes taking place, as the old ways become unviable because there are more economical alternatives.

Dr. Tekeste, told the meeting that Ethiopia had adopted a Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy with aims to address the adverse impacts of climate change and to build a green economy that will help realize the country's ambition of reaching middle‐income status by 2025. He proposed a number of avenues through which governments could support green growth, including creating opportunities for private sector investment in green economy; and supporting communities to engage in sustainable farming systems.

H.E. Djombo stressed the need for engagement of ministers planning and finance in the green economy agenda. He said that green economy was a broad agenda. The continued inadequate engagement of planning/finance ministers was an impediment to having common momentum from discourse to action on the ground. He shared Congo's experience in tree cloning as a technology that has revolutionised afforestation and forestation in many countries in the region.

Mr Adnan Amin, said that Africa had come out of two decades of decline and it was in a new era and outlined the importance of renewable energy in transiting to green economies and achieving structural transformation. To turn all this into reality needed policy framework developed in the context of energy security, he said.

Dr. Mohammed Alfa underscored the need for serious industrialisation of Africa's industries and cautioned that this should not happen at the expense of the environment. He informed the meeting that Ghana had established a green economy centre to train industrialists on energy efficiency among other. The centre carries out annual evaluation of the performance of the companies.

Mr. Ching'ambo said that countries were already doing a lot in terms of green economy transition. He stressed the need to create awareness on green economy and practical ways of making the shift.

Participants agreed that the panel had attained its main objectives of providing a platform to surface, identify and examine concrete policy options that will promote the deliberate deployment of new technologies and innovation to green Africa's economies and achieve structural transformation. The deliberations of the event informed the outcome of the ECA-AU Conference of African Ministers of Finance, Planning and Economic Development.

Issued by ECA Communications

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