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UNEP Head Applauds Rwandan President’s Visionary Green Economy Address

Kigali, 21 May 2009 – Putting the environment at the centre of Africa’s economic future must be a priority for the Continent, the President of the Republic of Rwanda urged today at an historic meeting of finance and environment ministers.

In a wide-ranging speech underlining the links between prosperity, development and improved management of Africa’s environmental assets, President Paul Kagame said the time had come to seize a Green Economic path to power Africa’s future.

“The environment is our life-blood; indeed the real surprise is not that ministries of finance are now talking to ministries of the environment—but that it has actually taken this long,” he told delegates to the 3 rd African Ministerial Conference on Financing for Development in Kigali.

President Kagame said environment had for too long been consigned to the margins of Africa’s political and policy-making life and funding had all too often been left in large part to overseas donors.

“Despite the importance of the environment to our livelihoods, issues concerning its protection have tended to be relegated to the confines of small groups of specialists and external support,” he said.

“Clearly it is time for Africa to lead in mobilizing technological and financial resources, and join global efforts to save our environment,” he said, linking his speech to the key issue before the ministers, climate change and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) who later spoke at the meeting, praised President Kagame for outlining the threats but also the opportunities from addressing climate change and environmental degradation.

“President Kagame did not mince his words—he urged countries on the Continent to fully engage in international environmental agreements including the climate change convention in order to conserve economically-important sectors at risk—from tourism to agriculture which employs 70 per cent of Africa’s workforce,” he said.

“But he went further, urging finance ministers to work with their environment colleagues and the private sector to maximize the opportunities of the carbon markets, including clean energy and renewable energy projects,” said Mr Steiner.

“President Kagame underscored how Green Economic market and financial instruments can bring about transformational change—not just in respect to climate change, but across a range of 21 st century challenges,” he noted.

“In doing so he has perhaps articulated a new direction for Africa’s poverty alleviation actions which links the future of Africa’s economy and particularly that of its poorest citizens to a new paradigm of investing in environmental sustainability,” added the UNEP Executive Director.

Mr Steiner said: “Rwanda, with the support of UNEP and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is also pioneering new approaches to budgeting in terms of investments in the country’s ecological infrastructure such as forests, lands and water resources”.

In his own remarks, Mr Steiner said: “Managing climate risks is as much about managing economic risks” and underlined UNEP’s support for climate-proofing economies across the Continent.

He said the UN including UNEP in collaboration with the Economic Commission for Africa and other partners, were now striving to bring the global and regional science of climate change down to the level of national development policy.

“Multi million dollar infrastructure investment decisions are being made right now on roads to reservoirs. However these are largely based on historical rather than future climatic patterns,” said Mr Steiner.

Assistance is needed now “so that investment choices reflect the future rather than the certainties of the past--so that a road with an anticipated life span of 20-30-40 years is not simply washed away in 15 years,” he said.

“So that a decision to build a reservoir does not lead to a costly white elephant because the rainfalls and river flows of the next few decades are far less than the ones upon which the project was predicated,” said Mr Steiner.

The UNEP Executive Director said in terms of carbon markets, huge opportunities above and beyond renewable energies were rapidly emerging and he echoed President Kagame’s call for African countries to make the crucial UN climate change convention meeting in Copenhagen, Denmark a success for Africa and the world.

In Copenhagen it is likely that nations will agree to pay tropical-forested countries for reduced emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

“ If this is agreed as part of a post-2012 climate regime, this could open the door to carbon storage payments for other kinds of nature-based management covering 'ecosystems' such as grasslands, pasturelands, peatlands and mangroves and sustainable agricultural including organic systems,” said Mr Steiner.

President Kagame said: “Following this meeting we should plan to be heard as a coherent, united voice at Copenhagen, thus demonstrating that Africans are equal partners with the rest of the world in working to protect our environment”.

Notes to Editors

President Kagame’s speech in full

Achim Steiner’s remarks can be accessed at..www

For More Information Please Contact

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Tel: +41 79 596 5737, or E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Anne-France White, Associate Information Officer, on Tel: +254 20 762 3088, Mobile: +254-728-600-494, or e-mail: anne-france.white@unep.org

Ms Hillevi Ekberg, Communication Advisor in Kigali tel: 0783159085, e-mail: hillevi.ekberg@undp.org

Thursday 21 May 2009
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