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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'.

Friday, 25 May 2012


The fate of us all is bound up with Africa - Alexander Campbell, The Heart of Africa, 1954 

Man everywhere needs Africa - G.E.W. Wolstenholm, Man and Africa, 1965

Just as Africa needs the world, the world needs Africa - Gordon Brown, former UK prime minister, AU Summit, Kampala, July 2010. 



With only days before the Rio+20 Summit, Africa and the world may miss a historic opportunity. The emerging key challenges of the Summit are how to ‘green’ the global economy to save the world from converging crises, and to get world leaders to agree on a set of Sustainable Development Goals. But as the Summit draws near there is scepticism about whether it will deliver the necessary breakthroughs. There are calls for more courage and vision. The WWF has warned that the Summit could collapse if ‘countries fail to agree on a draft text for sustainable development goals and definition of key objectives including green economy.’ This critical Summit coincides with the rise of Africa, last frontier for investment and a beacon of hope for sustainable growth.

Success at Rio matters most to Africa which has most to gain and most to lose. But there have been questions surrounding what Africa wants from the Summit and what the green economy means for Africa’s development. This matters greatly because Rio+20 is a unique opportunity for Africa, the greenest continent with the youngest populations and growing fast, to take the lead in the green economy. With the world in turmoil, Africa is the new engine of growth with the potential to play a pivotal role in expanding the global green economy. After 20 years’ sustainable development experience Africa is well qualified to provide the courage and vision needed at Rio.

Africa may never again be in such an advantageous position. But time is short with only days to go before the Summit. For this reason I have prepared the attached Urgent Call to Green Action: Rio+20+Africa to which I hope you can respond with positive feedback and suggestions.

Africa’s influence at Rio is a crucial story that is not being told. With your influence and networks that story can be told and can spread. Please forward the file attached to anyone who might be interested in exploring the green economy in Africa.

Ex Africa semper aliquid novi – Out of Africa always something new.


As the Rio+20 Summit approaches there are calls for more courage and vision to avoid squandering a historic opportunity to plan for a sustainable future. Set against a backdrop of escalating global crises, the ‘greening’  of the global economy as the only viable route to sustainability is where courage and vision are needed most.

The Summit also coincides with the rise of Africa, the last frontier for investment, new engine of global growth, where the high-carbon, resource-intensive ‘brown’ economy is least developed, and where expanding the green economy can be easier, faster and cheaper than anywhere else.  However, there are signs that Africa could become the last frontier for brown investment when it can become the first frontier for green.

In 20 years since the first Rio Summit, Africa has been building green foundations for a green economy. Today, with its huge untapped resources and promising growth forecasts, Africa is well-positioned at Rio to present its green credentials, forge its green identity and take the lead in the global green economy.

But is Africa ready? There is a danger that this historic opportunity may be lost without more concrete strategies and plans, which Africa is well-qualified to propose. Using web-based research tools there is still time before Rio for ‘green explorers’ in Africa to assemble draft green investment plans that can demonstrate the continent’s huge green growth potential.

After 50 years of independence and industrial experience (green and brown) Africa can show how green investment in this vast continent of 1 billion people can play a pivotal role in rebalancing the global economy. Rio+20 is a unique opportunity for Africa, the greenest continent with the youngest populations and growing fast, to speak with one voice with the courage and vision needed to accelerate the journey towards a global green economy.

It is difficult to overstate the importance of investing in the green continent. If Africa continues to attract brown investment at the current rate the development clock could be turned back decades. The hidden costs of the brown economy in Africa are now well known, there are more of them and they are increasing as the planet heats up, populations soar and eco-systems break down. If the finance and energy of the brown economy in Africa is not directed onto greener paths, in a matter of decades the continent could be stripped bare of resources and totally deforested with vast areas uninhabitable for an estimated 2 billion people or more.   

Africa’s growth story is remarkable in its timing to play a key role in rebalancing the global economy. In 50 years since independence, Africa has experienced hope followed by disillusion, decline, stagnation and finally in the last decade long-awaited growth. By 2008, just before the crash, the ‘forgotten continent’ had become the ‘last frontier for investment’. Africa’s rapid rebound from the Great Recession in 2010 was the first sign of economic independence from the western powers. Two years later, with the rest of the world in turmoil and worse case scenarios never far away, Africa stands out as beacon of hope. With the historic Rio+20 “Earth Summit” approaching fast, Africa as a green field for investment is in a unique position to promote itself as a driver of sustainable growth.

Key themes of the United Nations Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development on 20-22 June are the green economy and the institutional frameworks for sustainable development and poverty eradication. During the Conference it is hoped that the international community will agree on a set of Sustainable Development Goals, appoint a global ‘high commissioner’ for the environment and elevate the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) to Organisation status equal to WTO or WHO. 

This once-in-a-generation event takes place against a backdrop of mounting economic, financial, environmental, social and security crises, including food, water and energy. This 21st century Earth Summit is therefore critical. Exploring ways for ‘greening’ the global economy has emerged as the key challenge of the Summit.

The global green economy is one of the most controversial issues of the day. Some see it as a luxury in our economically troubled times. Others say it is an opportunistic manipulation by global capitalism to ‘monetise’ and control the planet’s dwindling resources to keep the poor down. Yet more and more see the evolving green economy as the planet’s last hope, the only viable route to a sustainable future.

Its opposite, the dominant, high-carbon, resource-intensive, ‘brown’ economy, with its escalating ‘hidden costs’ - from inequality to climate change - has reached a point of diminishing returns. With the world in turmoil it is becoming increasingly clear that a rapid and sustained expansion of the global green economy is essential if we are to avoid creating a ‘perfect storm’ of converging crises expected to strike by the time of Rio+40.

The historic Summit also coincides with the rise of Africa, the last frontier for investment and new engine for global growth, where the expansion of the green economy can be easier, quicker and cheaper than in the more developed brown economies of the industrial and emerging countries. However, there are strong signs that Africa risks becoming the last frontier for ‘brown’ investment, or business-as-usual, when it would be in everybody’s long-term interest if it became the first frontier for green. Africa’s hopes have been shattered before and the current boom is in danger of turning back the clock. The hidden costs of ‘brown’ development in Africa are now well known, there are more of them and they are increasing as the planet heats up, populations increase and eco-systems break down. Inequality, one of the most glaring hidden costs, is already causing huge swathes of unrest across the continent.

There is also scepticism about whether Rio+20 will deliver the necessary breakthroughs to make the event a success. Some say the Summit needs more courage and vision to avoid a historic opportunity being squandered. There also questions about what Africa wants from Rio and whether Africa’s interpretation of the green economy/growth concept is sufficiently well defined.

Yet even at this late hour such challenges offer Africa a unique opportunity to take the lead in the green economy. Rio+20 is a narrow window for Africa to forge its green identity, demonstrate its collective progress towards sustainability since 1992, present its green credentials and promote its potential for rapid green growth. This is a one-off chance for Africa to show the world how its Green Revolution launched 20 years ago has laid the foundations for a green growth engine that can help rebalance and stabilise the global economy. With the global brown economy facing a great contraction, Africa can provide a great expansion of the green.

Now is the time for Africa to provide the courage and vision for Rio. More than any other continent, Africa is speaking with one voice. If Africa is to fulfil its ambitions and play a meaningful and stabilising role in the 21st century this voice in negotiations at Rio is critical.

Africa’s Consensus Statement to Rio+20 (CS), the continent’s key negotiating document, makes a sound case why the rest of the world should invest in Africa’s green economies to meet the challenges ahead. But it could be strengthened by putting greater emphasis on the tremendous green investment opportunities that can give the global green economy the boost it urgently needs. It could be strengthened by proposing concrete green growth strategies and plans as well as the necessary institutional frameworks that could lead to Sustainable Development Goals. Africa’s negotiators could make a more positive case by showing how the continent’s vast untapped resources - mineral, ecological and human - if developed sustainably can act as a green growth buffer against the unsustainable brown economy which is expanding fast across the continent.

Item 24 of the CS calls on the international community “to put an international investment strategy into place to facilitate the transition towards a green economy.” This call highlights a specific opportunity for Africa. Instead of waiting for the international community, preoccupied as it is with multiple crises, to deliver a meaningful green investment strategy on time, Africa is in a strong position to propose strategies and plans of its own. Rio+20 is a historic forum for Africa to put forward strategies that would produce multi-win scenarios and plans that would appeal to others’ enlightened self-interest. The result could be a fair deal with Africa that would be a fair deal for all.

With its tremendous resources, 20 years’ sustainable development experience, huge demographic advantages, promising growth forecasts and the lightest footprint on the planet, Africa is well qualified and well positioned to take the lead in the global green economy. As a green growth engine, this vast continent of 1 billion could generate rapid and sustained demand for green technologies, goods and services, create millions of green jobs, provide ecological services, turn the challenges of climate change into opportunities as well as inspire the browner economies of the advanced and emerging countries to take greener paths.

In Africa the aspirations of Agenda 21 can now become a practical reality. Everything needed to expand the green economy is ready. Africa’s institutions are well established. The tools and technologies have been developed. The knowledge, information and skills are there. The multi-disciplines are already at work. New measurements and accounting systems are being explored. Governments, businesses and global institutions are sufficiently reformed and know it has to happen. There are trillions of global dollars sitting idle or spinning in global roulette wheels. Anyone with money is saying “Where can I invest?”

The urgency to move forward and fast is mounting. Africa has the world’s youth on its side for long-term, green plans and may never again be in such an advantageous position. Africa’s 2011 Green Economy Initiative followed by the successful 2012 World Economic Forum in Africa, are two of the many spring boards to Rio+20. As the late Wangari Maathai often said, “We know what to do: why don’t we do it?”  

With only days left before Rio there is still time to assemble informal draft green investment plans as part of an African green growth strategy. Such plans designed from the ‘earth-up’ could lead to ideas for green institutional frameworks and Sustainable Development Goals, both major themes of the Summit. Curiosity, collaboration, coordination, a sense of responsibility and web-based research tools are the only inputs needed for a draft plan.

With the vast amount of information on Africa literally at our fingertips it should now be possible for a group of ‘green explorers’, African or non-African, to put together a draft green investment plan in time for Rio+20 that would reveal a wide range of green investment opportunities across a wide range of rural and urban landscapes. Working Towards a Green Economy in Africa is a blog that hopes to encourage green explorers in Africa to create 54 draft plans. Africa’s advantage is that their green explorers have already been exploring for 20 years.

The first part of the blog is this Call to Green Action: Rio+20+Africa. It is an open forum and conversation that invites green explorers to put forward suggestions for green investment in Africa. In the final days before the Summit the blog hopes to assemble simple and informal draft green investment plans based on integrated river basin management - a holistic approach to sustainable development. 54 green investment blogs for 54 river basins in 54 African countries could be part of the rethinking and reframing of Africa needed for the 21st century. The Rio+20 Summit is a narrow window of opportunity for Africa to take a big step forward on the journey towards a green economy that can lead to sustainability, resilience and economic independence.

Although time is short, this constraint can provide the focus needed to encourage and coordinate 54 green investment blogs that will give responsible investors a sample of the great, green opportunities waiting in Africa. This is the time for ‘joined-up thinking’ – something, perhaps, that Africans never lost.

The next step to take, when you have read this Call to Green Action, is to visit the blog Working Towards a Green Economy in Africa. At the end of each post is space for comments which will begin an on-going Africa conversation or journey, with Rio as the first goal. The comments at the end of each post which support this campaign will be compiled as ‘Green Supporters’. More specifically, at the end of the Call to Green Action, the comments space is also where ‘Green Explorers’ can put their name, nationality, chosen country, the river basin they wish to explore and why they have chosen it.

Many of Africa’s vast river basins, though rich in potential, are still remote and very challenging, so for the purposes of the draft plan in time for Rio, the green exploration will be easier if the chosen basin were reasonably accessible and connected, and including one large urban centre. In Ethiopia, for instance, the Awash River Basin in the north-east of the country has urban centres, is accessible, well studied, severely degraded by ‘brown’ development and in urgent need of green investment. The three ecological zones of the Awash Basin – upper, middle and lower -also have huge green growth potential.

The blog post, A Draft Green Investment Plan, outlines how the journey towards a green economy in an African river basin might begin. Keeping such a vast subject as simple as possible the plan proposes seven green investment categories, starting with green success stories of which there are countless examples in Africa’s thousands of river basins. In the past 20 years Africans have been exploring and developing their river basins with scientific eyes. Africa’s knowledge, information and communications economies have grown exponentially. Everything required for expanding the green economy in any given river basin in Africa is already known. Web-based research tools can uncover endless possibilities and opportunities as well as challenges that can be turned into opportunities in Africa’s green economy. Exploring, compiling and communicating even a fraction of the vast potential of 54 African river basins in time for Rio is the first challenge.

If two or more green explorers come forward interested in exploring a particular river basin they can ‘join-up’ their thinking and research in their particular river basin blog. As the information comes in, various templates will be used to compile the information into a draft green investment plan.

The first aim of this blog is to add something to Africa’s voice at Rio and to promote Africa’s green economy as a key theme of the Summit. There is a historic opportunity on 20-22 June that cannot be ignored. The next aim of the draft plan is to discover ways for African countries to propose to the international community an investment strategy “to facilitate the transition towards a green economy” (CS 24). Such a strategy can lead to a final, workable and well-financed green investment plan for 54 river basins, backed by governments, businesses, international institutions and NGOs. The next stage, after Rio, is for a ‘green stimulus’ to put the plan into action and get Africa’s green growth engine up to speed. The urgency for this cannot be overstated because as African leaders often say, “We have to run just to stand still.”

For many years Africans and non-Africans have been calling for a 'Marshall Plan' for Africa. Such a plan for reconstruction might have been appropriate after the destruction of the post-colonial ‘lost decades’. Today, Africa does not need a plan for reconstruction but rather a 'green new deal' with the international community that recognises what has been achieved in the past two decades and builds on it to ensure Africa becomes a green engine for sustainable global growth instead of a brown growth engine which could soon break down or run out of fuel.

As of 6 June this Call to Action is being sent to Africa’s environmental ministries, authorities and agencies. It will also be sent to various institutions and individuals who might be interested in Working Towards a Green Economy in Africa.

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