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This blog was started in May 2012, one month before the United Nations Rio+20 ‘Earth Summit’ where the green economy was the main theme. The blog so far has had three specific objectives.

In the run-up to the Rio+20 Summit the initial objective was to raise awareness of Africa’s huge green growth potential and role in rebalancing the global economy. Eight posts were published before the Summit and were sent to as many African environment ministries as possible. One post was published in August 2012 appraising the summit and Africa’s position: Africa, Rio+20 and the Green Road Ahead.

The second objective was to examine the case of Ethiopia, following the death of prime minister Meles Zenawi on 21 August 2012. At the time of his death Mr Meles was recognised as 'the voice of Africa' at international summits and conferences and a leader in Africa's green thinking. Four posts on Ethiopia were published between late August and early November 2012 exploring the paradoxical nature of his leadership with a focus on raising awareness of his green legacy and 21st century vision for Ethiopia and Africa.

The third and current objective is to raise awareness of the importance of the green economy in Africa's growth story. 2013 started with unprecedented optimism for Africa’s growth prospects. Summits, conferences, articles, books, blogs, films and other media now proclaim that 'Africa’s Moment' has arrived. But very few even mention the green economy as an essential tool in the process to achieve sustainability and resilience. For this reason the current focus of this blog is a call to action to 'put the green economy into Africa’s growth story'.

Part of this call to action is writing letters to the Financial Times. Not only does the FT have excellent coverage of Africa but it is also seen by many as the 'world's most influential newspaper'.

Thursday, 17 May 2012


How we measure development will determine how we do development.
Inger Anderson, Vice President, Sustainable Development Network, World Bank, 2011

Everything required for a rapid expansion of the green economy in Africa is already known. The aspirations of Agenda 21 can become a practical reality in Africa today.The framework for a plan could be on several levels: continental, trade bloc, country, river basin and eco-system level. River basins are natural designations for making green growth assessments and plans. Using web-based research tools a 'Green Exploration' of 54 African river basins would reveal a wide range of investment opportunities in different 'shades' of green.   

Everything that needs to be known about Africa for a rapid expansion of the green economy is already known. The past two decades has seen exponential growth in Africa's knowledge, information and communications economies.  In the three years since the depths of the financial crisis Africa has produced enough material and evidence, from Green Economy Initiatives to World Economic Forums, to give it a global lead in the green economy. For Rio+20 the process needs to be summarised, coordinated and accelerated. Green growth information could be rapidly and widely communicated into the mainstream so that the world can see the potential of Africa's green fields. This can be started by developing some straightforward green investment plans for Africa. An unofficial draft green investment plan could be assembled though a series of blogs like this that explore Africa's green growth potential.    

With the vast amount of information now at our fingertips it should now be possible to put together such a draft plan for Africa in time for the Rio Summit. It requires no funding and needs only curiosity, understanding, collaboration and coordination. The key technology is the internet, the key input is time. The result would be a plan based on a simple framework that allows investors to take a closer look at what is happening on the ground in Africa, enabling them to make rational and responsible investment decisions.

The plan could focus relevant information on Africa’s green growth potential. It could be structured on several basic levels: continental, country, river basin and eco-system level. River basins are natural designations for evaluating green growth potential. Looking closely at specific eco-systems simplifies the process.

The first part of the plan could outline Africa's huge untapped or under-utilised resources – human, mineral and ecological - including total resource endowment for the whole continent, for each country and for a chosen river basin. Since the first Rio Summit we have come a long way in measuring natural wealth and green economic growth potential. Integrated river basin planning, biosphere reserves and ‘systems thinking’ are key tools. The clean technologies are ready. The skills and abilities are well advanced, the multi-disciplines are already at work. With today's knowledge, information and communications the aspirations of Agenda 21, the defining document of the first Earth Summit, can now become a practical reality in Africa's green and unspoiled fields.

The next part of the plan could sub-divide individual river basins into three ecological zones - upper, middle and lower - as defined by altitude. This is essential as one-size-does-not-fit-all in the green economy. Narrowing the focus of an integrated river basin plan to identify specific green investment opportunities, the next level could be the biosphere reserve, a managed eco-system where the aim is to achieve sustainability by balancing the economy, ecology and society. Based on UNESCO’s guiding principles, biosphere reserves can be seen as nature’s ‘laboratories’ for green development where any hidden costs are exposed, accounted for and eventually eliminated.

First proposed in the 1960s and now developed on all continents, biosphere reserves have been tried and tested enough to be any size today. Biosphere reserves or similar designations can range from village eco-system level to entire eco-zones of river basins with cities and industries and millions of people. After 20 years’ green research and development experience, Africa is now in a position to propose and launch mega-green projects, where new economies of scale are discovered. Such projects would act as a counterbalance to the expanding brown economy in Africa, the most potent symbols of which are the mega mines, dams, farms, sugar enterprises and oil and gas wells.

Integrated mega-green river basin projects can reinvent traditional interdependencies and trade, reintegrate the economy with people and nature, and restore Africa's moral economy - a system of redistribution which has been eroded by a new, alien system where 'winner takes all.' Integrated development will produce clusters and a multiplier effect where the whole is worth more than the sum of the individual parts.

Within a large-scale biosphere reserve, including urban areas, there will be a wide range of investment opportunities, in different ‘shades’ of green including:

1. Existing green economic success stories: clean energy, water and sanitation, land rehabilitation, eco-tourism, eco-architecture, green manufacturing, organic farming and animal husbandry etc. From UN/World Bank to village level, government to NGOs, there are countless green success stories in Africa needing investment.  

2. Greening the existing brown economy: investments in new technologies including cleaning up polluting industries, retrofitting factories and buildings, ‘cash for clunkers’ or 'scrappage schemes' for inefficient technologies and transport systems, integrating agro-industries and large-scale dams within biosphere reserves where the hidden costs are accounted for and minimised.

3. Reinventing and greening abandoned or forgotten projects: billions of dollars' worth of failed or failing assets all over Africa - farms, factories, mines, fisheries, infrastructure etc. - could be brought into the green economy using new technologies, new markets, new business models and best practices that minimise hidden costs.
      4. Formalising and greening the informal economy: the informal economy is as high as 80 per cent in some African countries. Much of this ‘black’ or ‘grey’ market has a light footprint, is socially cohesive, efficient and waste-free with minimum hidden costs. These markets are more likely to be brought into the transparent level playing field of the green economy rather than the opaque, unlevel field of the brown.
      5. Discovering green investment opportunities for the future: There exists now a narrow window of opportunity for Africans to truly leapfrog the old inherited systems and technologies of the brown economy. With the speed at which technologies and the thinking behind them are moving, Africans could be developing their green fields and creating green growth in ten years time in ways that we cannot yet imagine.

      6. Redirecting brown investments. For African governments who have to "run just to stand still" it might be impossible to say no to a 'brown' investor whose business model does not account for the hidden costs. This offers a challenge to Africa's new green development experts who can work with such investors to redirect their energies and finance towards the green economy. Attracting brown investors because the rules are slack incurs the huge opportunity cost of deterring green investors will be attracted because the rules are strict. 

7. Greening aid. Green growth strategies from African governments could revolutionise aid by creating huge demand for green technologies, goods and services that would appeal to donar's enlightened self-interest; they are more likely to fulfill their aid promises if African governments show concrete commitments to green growth that would help balance the global economy. All the ground work for 'greening aid' has been done already and various categories have been created.
To launch an African draft green investment plan in time for Rio+20 all that is required is for one person for each of Africa’s 54 countries to begin ‘green exploring’, through the internet, a chosen river basin, preferably one that is well-known and accessible. Once the river basin is reasonably understood it can be looked at in closer detail as three ecological zones – upper, middle and lower. For the purposes of a draft plan for Rio it would be sufficient to compile a range of green investment opportunities, as outlined above, in each of the three eco-zones of a river basin, leaving biosphere designation until the final plan. Discovering and compiling just ten opportunities in each of the three eco-zones of Africa’s 54 chosen river basins would already give investors an impressive and interesting sample of possibilities.

1 comment:

  1. Africa has full development potential in terms of green investment. Investors could be a big help to the African environment and economy by providing valuable services, capital markets and commercial banking.

    Sabrina Garza