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UN Urges Africa to Create Green Economy

  • Lisa Schlein

A Masaai herdsman looks after his cattle near the power-generating wind turbines at the Kenya Electricity Generating Company station in Ngong hills, southwest of the capital Nairobi, July 17, 2009.

A Masaai herdsman looks after his cattle near the power-generating wind turbines at the Kenya Electricity Generating Company station in Ngong hills, southwest of the capital Nairobi, July 17, 2009.

GENEVA - The United Nations said African countries can avoid the mistakes of early-industrialized countries by growing their societies in an environmentally sound way. A new UNCTAD report said African nations need to modernize by using their abundant natural resources in an efficient “green” manner.

The U.N. Conference on Trade and Development said industrialized nations have become rich by using the world’s natural resources in a profligate manner, with little regard for the environment. As a consequence, they now are paying the price of having to clean up the damage they have caused by polluting the space in which they live.

U.N. economists say Africa, which is still in the early stages of industrialization, does not have to go down the "grow now, clean up later" path. The new UNCTAD report said Africa can raise its living standards and protect the environment.

UNCTAD Secretary-General Supachai Panitchpakdi said Africa can and must grow its economy through the efficient use and consumption of domestic natural resources.

“Africa is not using a lot of resources. What Africa should do is to use more resources for sure. But, to use more resources in a way that they can make sure that the uses are more efficient. Africa has been using very little energy, said Panitchpakdi.

"Now we need for African economies to have real accession, to have energy use, but energy not in the same old way like burning woods and timbers," Panitchpakdi continued. "But energy in a cleaner way, like biomass, like, what we call kerosene or some of the liquefied petroleum gases and things like that.”

The report noted the rest of the world is flocking to the continent for resources that are increasingly scarce elsewhere. At the same time, the report says Africa, with its abundant supplies, uses only about half the global average.

UNCTAD senior economist Taffere Tesfachew said Africa has a great opportunity to shift to “green” production by developing renewable energy resources. He told VOA that hydroelectric power is a good source of clean energy for countries that have a large water capacity. He said "a lot of focus now is on solar energy."

"The technology on that has advanced. Apparently, one of the problems with the solar was the storage ... But, there have been some advances now, Tesfachew said. "So this will be very effective, especially in the rural area because you can install them very easily, apparently. They are very effective and Africa has a lot of sun. So the wind turbine is still being developed and it operates apparently on a larger scale.”

The U.N. study said it will not be easy to implement sustainable structural transformation in Africa. It noted there is no "one size fits all" approach. Each African country will have to design strategies and policies based on its own resource priorities, environmental challenges and domestic capabilities.

It cited Kenya, Mauritius and South Africa as countries that are well embarked on the path of harnessing their energy resources.

To achieve a green economy, UNCTAD says developed countries will have to increase financial assistance to Africa, particularly to productive sectors such as energy. It said there also will be a need for greater technology transfer from developed and emerging countries to Africa.
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