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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'.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012


In many ways, the Rio Conference should not be interpreted as a single event that could be assessed in terms of success or failure - W.M. Adams, Green Development, 1995 - Chap 4. Sustainable development: the Rio machine

It is 7 weeks since the UN’s Rio+20 “Earth Summit” in Brazil and now that the dust kicked up by so much anger and disappointment has settled, it might be easier to see the way forward.

With so many conflicting interests and so much at stake, UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon was careful to point out in his opening address on June 20 that summits were not an “end” but a “process”. This echoes the words of Maurice Strong, UN secretary-general to the first Rio summit which, today’s critics of Rio+20 forget, was also a great disappointment at the time and only became a ‘milestone’ when looking back on what was achieved after the summit through hard work, cooperation and careful negotiation.

What is clear is that the “Rio Process” must be accelerated rapidly if we are to avoid creating the perfect storm of converging crises in water, food and energy estimated to hit the planet by the time of Rio+40. There are a number of reasons why Africa can and must play a central role in this process.

Of the world’s habitable continents Africa contains the greatest underdeveloped ecological, mineral and human resources. Africa is also rising, the new growth engine with the potential to add an estimated $3 trillion to the global economy over the next decade. How Africa’s resources are developed, what Africans produce and what they consume during their rise will greatly influence the rate at which the Rio Process accelerates.

In the 20 years since the first Rio Summit, Africa has been building green foundations on the wreckage of the unsustainable, post-colonial development model. In the past 5 years these foundations, based on environmental, social and institutional reforms, have not only enabled Africa’s economies to take off but with tremendous green growth potential.

Ethiopia’s prime minister, Meles Zenawi, calls Africa “a green field for investment because it is the least developed region on earth.” With the rest of the world on unsustainable growth paths and also slowing down, Africa’s lack of high carbon, resource-intensive, ecologically degrading and socially divisive ‘brown’ development can now be Africa’s advantage.  What has been called the greatest imbalance on earth now has a pivotal role in the great rebalancing.

Africa’s “Least Developed” status combined with its green credentials and huge growth prospects makes it easier to work on the main achievements, agreements and innovations of Rio+20: the green economy, green accounting, sustainable development goals, institutional reform, private sector involvement and public-private partnerships. At the summit Africa was also the only continent speaking with one voice.

Africa’s Consensus Statement to Rio+20, the culmination of 20 years’ work but virtually ignored by non-Africans, is the document which says what Africa needs and what Africa can provide to accelerate the Rio Process. Item 24, for instance, calls on the international community, “to put an international investment strategy into place to facilitate the transition towards a green economy.” This call highlights an 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 well qualified and in a strong position to propose strategies and plans of its own that would reveal a wide range of green investment opportunities in: existing green economic success stories; greening the existing brown economy; reinventing and greening abandoned and forgotten projects; formalising and greening informal markets; redirecting brown investments towards the green economy; greening aid, and exploring green investment opportunities for the future. The Rio+20 summit has prepared the way for Africa to take the lead.

Since 1992 the tools and technologies to fulfill the aspirations of Agenda 21 in Africa have been developed. The knowledge, information and skills are there. The multi-disciplines are already active. The frameworks are taking shape. Business is ready to make it happen and governments are preparing the way. There are trillions of global dollars sitting idle looking for balance and growth. Investors are saying, “Where can I invest?” 

Critics of Rio+20 were also critical of the concurrent G20 summit in Mexico (18-19 June). Yet the G20 produced a Leaders Declaration which has similar aspirations to Rio’s outcome document - The Future We Want. In many places it uses the same language and has the same goals. Ultimately it is the same process. What is needed is for G20 economists and Rio+20 ecologists to work with global multidisciplines from public-private sectors on new systems to accelerate the journey towards a green economy. With the right understanding Africa is the place where the journey can be easier, cheaper and faster.   

If the benefits of stimulating the Rio Process in Africa are not yet clear, the costs of not doing so become clearer by the day. Despite Africa’s great promise, the world’s most challenging continent remains the world’s most vulnerable to a lengthening list of ‘hidden costs’ associated with the still-dominant brown economy, or business-as-usual, including global economic volatility, climate change, environmental degradation, biodiversity loss, inequality and insecurity. The perfect storm of converging crises is already hitting millions in Africa and threatens millions more.

If the green field of Africa is to be a sustainable engine for global growth the challenge is to keep it green. With food insecurity mounting year by year a stimulus to accelerate the Rio Process in Africa is not only essential and urgent but is in the best interests of us all. In the last 20 years Africa has come far enough on a very rocky road for the late Wangari Maathai, one of Africa’s great, green pioneers to say with confidence, “We know what to do: why don’t we do it?”

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