Is Africa creating the model for a green economy?

When you think of international leadership towards a green economy, countries in Europe and Asia probably first come to mind: Germany’s leading the pack in terms of implementing clean technology, and China’s right there in terms of manufacturing it (even though it has a ways to go with its own environmental challenges). You might have a tough time thinking of an African nation contributing to the concept of economic growth through environmentally benign practices… and yet, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme, nations such as South Africa and Kenya are creating green economic models that could serve as templates for other countries, both developing and developed.

Achim Steiner, Executive Director of UNEP, thinks Africa is in a unique position on this front: he recently told African ministers of finance, planning and economic development that the continent has the benefit of “…the kinds of natural resources that in many parts of the world have been over-exploited and diminished by centuries of unsustainable development.” This includes minerals, metals, biobased materials, and lots and lots of renewable energy potential.

UNEP’s Towards a Green Economy report highlights South Africa and Kenya’s efforts (among others around the world) to harness these advantages towards economic growth and job creation. In the former country, a Green Economy Plan is investing nearly $1 billion in lower impact infrastructure: “railways, energy-efficient buildings, and water and waste management.” Kenya is focusing on renewable energy development, “including a feed-in tariff and 15-year power purchase agreement, which is catalyzing an initial target of 500 megawatts of energy from geothermal, wind and sugar wastes systems.”

Obviously, the continent as a whole, and even these countries to some degree, face major political and social challenges to genuine sustainable development, and Steiner made clear in his talk that he does not equate sustainability with a green economy… though he  does see the latter as “a way to realizing [sustainable development].” But green economic development on the world’s poorest continent should provide inspiration for all of us… if African nations can start making this transition despite the many hurdles they face towards any kind of development, than wealthier, more stable regions of the world have few excuses for not following suit.

Think we should be looking to Africa for models of a green economic development? Let us know what you think…

via Earth Techling


Image: A geothermal power plant in Kenya Credit: lydurs at Flickr under a Creative Commons license