Sylvanus S.P. Doe

Sylvanus S.P. Doe

Sylvanus S. P. Doe is a Sustainability Specialist with interest in SD; greenness, urbanism; food systems; climate & human-environment security; savannas; reducing poverty; and sustainability issues. This website hosts his online engagements. Contact: doesylvan(at) or cel.201xi(at); twitter: @doesylvan

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  • Why a New Water Decade is Key to Meeting the World’s Development Needs

Are natural resources scalar-drivers of sustainability?

Globally, over billions of people depend on natural resources every day for food, energy, water and livelihoods all of which are cardinal to the realization of human liberty, security and sustainable livings. Yet, like it or not, ‘global environment change’ is occurring[1] through various means, including extraction. From 1980 to 2008, the extraction of biomass, fossil fuels, minerals and metal ores had increased from 38 billion tonnes to 68 billion tonnes[2]. The landscape-level happenings due to extraction of natural resources are not entirely positive in both developing and developed economies. The growing visible and scientifically reported symptoms of environmental change in Amazon, Himalayas, deserts, and savanna regions foretell real concern for wise use of natural assets. In the global South economies of which African countries are parts, natural resources are threatened.

According to the United Nations University (1997:5) though Africa is ‘a continent richly endowed with diverse natural resources’, ‘the impact of the highest population growth rate (both humans and livestock) among the world’s regions and of pressures from various sectoral development activities has been the rapid decline in the intrinsic properties of Africa’s natural resources its land, soils, waters, minerals and forest resources.’ [3]

In and around cities of various sizes, intensive struggle for natural capital has increasingly overstressed or caused disappearance of resources required for sustainable human wellness. It is estimated that 3.5 billion of the world’s population will live in cities by 2025[4] when they will exploit urban natural resources the more. Gaelle Gourmelon based at Worldwatch Institute briefly examined the links of deforestation and urban consumption to inform that urbanization might cause ‘the loss of up to 7.4 million acres of prime agricultural land each year’. The urbanization phenomenon could fuel extensive ‘flow of ecological goods and services’[5].

Almost everyone knows that using natural resources must not degrade natural environment but, frequently, its use continues to cause water and air pollution, decline of earthworms, ozone depletion, soil contamination, and multitude of human ills. The World Health Organisation highlights the harmful impacts of environmental change on human health (see Figure 1). So, do we stop extracting and using natural resources to keep the environment intact and sustainable? The response is certainly not affirmative. No matter how technologically innovative human beings  are, the human race has never survived anywhere without picking fruit, catching fish, fetching water, mining clay, trading wildlife, tapping solar, or manufacturing products from natural resources. For this enduring complex human-nature relational perspective, the utilization of natural resources and, at the same time, putting in place inclusive measures to sustain the natural assets remains a formidable financial and political challenge. What the earlier question brings into mind is the idea to pro-actively and creatively integrate sustainable development (SD) framework into natural resource policies and programmes of nations and organisations.

WHO image.jpg

Figure 1: Impact of environmental change on health

Among natural resources, water properties are essential. This is best encapsulated in a recent report by the UN Economic Commission for Africa[6] (UNECA, 2016:87-88) that ‘water is the source of life and feeds directly into everyone’s basic needs — rural and urban, producers and consumers — in all sectors of the economy’. Water virtually connects every human systems to the physical world and posits as the foundation of the future. Indeed, it denotes why natural resources scalar-drive sustainability. There is a caveat though. In 2050, nearly 6.5 billion people are likely to live in places under water stress to stipulate bigger investment in physical ‘infrastructure for safe drinking water and wastewater treatment’[7] (also see Figure 2). A view of this kind does not contradict the prediction by the World Resources Institute that nearly 250 million Africans are likely to ‘live in areas of high water stress by 2030’.  Clearly, water stress indicates human lives will be at risk. Making lives better now and in the future supports the rationale to cooperatively monitor natural resource issues and feed them into policy-making on participatory basis. How possible do we greenly cultivate fresh foods, create more decent jobs and build healthier working force without water? Imagine the Ghanaian cocoa, Malian cotton and Kenyan coffee and their relations to climate change! The water requirement for cotton until it is harvested, for instance, is estimated at ‘4,000 cubic metres per ton’ and this could potentially increase to ‘9,980 per ton of finished textile’ (UNECA, 2016).

Figure 2: People living in areas of water stress by level of stress (OECD, BRIC countries and Rest of the World)


The rising demand for water and other natural resources to meet basic human needs and industrial purposes is what has brought about how more profits can be earned from using fewer natural resources to achieve green economic conditions that are sustainable overtime. Green economic principles fundamentally aim to undo deadly environmental ills to create a shared prosperity. Greening an economy seeks to stimulate governments, civil societies, industries and households to use natural resources in a manner that is sustainable, inclusive and fair to spawn green growth to benefit all. Thus, the success of a green economy will largely depend on sustainable management of natural ecosystem resources. It also recognizes natural resources as a heritage thereby encouraging green eco-entrepreneurship to facilitate formation and sustainability of bio-cultural facilities to create green wealth, including the conservation of natural heritage sites of local and global significance.  How this can be done within emerging all-compact business deals in which profit-making is a prime motive may be confusing and unthinkable.

In the case of industries, most raw materials for processing of consumable and non-consumable goods are extracted from natural resource base. One of the policy-level strategies to reconcile or eliminate undesirable trade-offs is to incorporate sustainable development (SD) into business models[8] and industrial transactions ensuring that the three main  pillars of SD are blended and practised. For green economy, the goal is not merely to conventionally integrate social, environmental and economic dimensions of SD anyhow. The introduction of efficiency into production, consumption and management of resources is crucial — efficiency must be seen working in the harvesting of timber and water, energy, mining, and manufacturing. Efficiency is a good characteristic of a green economy. Apart from agreeing and mooting the notion that ‘broader economic and social growth is supported with an environmentally sustainable framework’, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO)’s approach to Inclusive and Sustainable Industrial Development (ISID) is particularly working on how technical efficiency can result in higher profits and decouple environmental ills from industrial manufacturing.

From green production to industrial manufacturing, there are some practical initiatives being implemented at varied scales and across geographical boundaries to show that the path to green economic advancements are happening. The first to mention is Morocco’s Green Plan that recognises the need to manage and achieve 20-50% of ‘water savings through a shift from furrow to drip irrigation, and improved public irrigation canal networks (EIB, 2015 cited in UNECA, 2016). The restoration of degraded lands through Great Green Wall in Africa is another example. At industrial levels, UNIDO is actively programming and networking with other UN agencies, local governments and private sector organisations through the National Cleaner Production Centres to bring efficiency into global industrial sector that uses large volumes of raw materials from natural resources. In all, a new context for sustainable and green industrialization sets forth that creating conducive living conditions for all needs to give careful attention to how innovative ecodesigning and green financing can lead to sustainable consumption of natural resources.


[1] GECAFS, 2005. Science plan and implementation strategy. Earth system science partnership (IGBP, IHDP, WCRP, DIVERSITAS) Report no. 2, Wallingford, UK, pp 36.

[2] Dittrich, M.; Giljum, S.; Lutter, S. and Polzin, C., 2012. Green economies around the world? Implications of resource use for development and the environment. Austria/Germany.

[3] UNU, 1997. UNU in Africa: managing natural resources for sustainable development. UNU-INRA, Accra.

[4] FAO, 2010. Growing greener cities. Rome, Italy.

[5] Allen, A., 2003. Environmental planning and management of peri-urban interface: perspectives on an emerging field. Environment and urbanization 15 (1) 135-147.

[6] UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), 2016. Greening Africa’s industrialization. Economic Report on Africa, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

[7] Pinter, L., 2016. Envisioning the transition to a green industry. A presentation at the UNIDO/CEU Green Industry Course held July 11-22, 2016, Budapest, Hungary.

[8] UNU-INRA, 2015. Greening industries and green entrepreneurship promotion as a driver of sustainable and inclusive growth in rural Africa. Technical Training Guide, UNU-INRA Regional Green Economy Forum held in partnership with ILO, PAGE, ITC (ILO) and IDRC, November 9-13, 2015, Accra, Ghana.


Research to expand and sustain green economic opportunities

‘We cannot continue on our current path. The time for procrastination is over. We cannot afford the luxury of denial. We must respond rationally, equipped with scientific evidence’ (The Stockholm Memorandum, 2011[1]).

The need for gathering ‘scientific evidence’ to support clear-cut sustainability decisions that will lead to expanding and sustaining green economic opportunities is unprecedentedly rising. A well-formulated and planned research is the origin of ‘scientific evidence’. Research generates fresh ideas, policies, solutions and ignites how new innovations can be fairly disseminated to reach the widest human population, especially the most poorest. The building of a new green economy or re-greening existing economy starts with tapping varied ingredients from scientific-inspired evidences through research and efficient utilisation of its products and services. Research is really crucial. If research is ignored or underestimated, it equals the suggestion that sustainability does not matter at all. The UN Environment Programme (2011[2]) informs that ‘sustainability is still a vital long-term goal, but we must work on greening the economy to get us there’. The central issue is that promoting research into green economy must firmly reflect in resetting sustainability agendas. In other words, greening an economy based on realistic researched-data is one of the assuring ways to formulate potent solutions to withstand or overcome the troubles of income disparity, hunger, shelter deficit and pollution over time.

The green economic development strategically embedded with green industrialization presents enormous opportunities for all countries, especially in transitional and emerging economies. In and outside of Africa, green opportunities ranging from organic food production systems through public policy and housing to clean technologies are very huge and incentivized by abundant natural resources and democratic institutions. All indications point to the fact that there are good grounds for the implementation of green economy in African countries reflecting in their responses to green issues (economy, jobs, industry, etc.). In an earlier write up, I concisely examined some examples of how Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, and Uganda among other countries had started initiatives toward greening their economies. The general politico-environmental conditions seem extremely conducive to engage in collective design and putting into action green solutions capable to furnish socially inclusive, economic and environmental needs.

Now, one of the things needed is policy focus on how research can deliver appropriate tools required by industry, governments and civil societies to green mainstream economies. From country to country, central governments are particularly looking forward to invest into research on the “principle” of ‘value-for-money’ while industry expects to receive research products that will significantly increase profits. Whatever the research outlook seems in developing economies, the 2015 Human Development Report clearly illustrates that governments’ investment into research has generally been inadequate in relation to their gross domestic product (GDP). For African countries, in the exception of Tunisia and Kenya, which had invested a little over 1% of the GDP into ‘research and development’ between 2005-2012, all other countries have more to do to upwardly adjust research funding with regards to green economy, which is a component of sustainable development. The growing momentum to harness green opportunities demands sufficient green investment into research to provide the quality of “green data” and cleaner technologies to facilitate transition to green economy. The financial investment is not required only in undertaking research but also in investing into various aspects of green economy for which the precise amount of money ought to be put into it is not known. According to the UNEP (2011:34-35), the ‘World Economic Forum and Bloomberg New Energy Finance, on the other hand, calculate that clean energy investment needs to rise to US$ 500 billion per year by 2020 to restrict global warming to less than 2°C, while HSBC estimates that transition to a low-carbon energy market will require US$ 10 trillion between 2010 and 2020’.

The immediate assertion confirms that, in a green economy, research is indispensable and is not carried out in a vacuum. The research activities must be financed publicly or privately or through public-private partnerships.

At country and organisational levels, financing research is perceived with misgivings. What will be the real outcomes of the financial investment? Putting all fears aside, what has to be strongly stressed and communicated to green donors and all actors is that ‘finance is the means by which we channel accumulated wealth into productive new activities to generate more real wealth and wellbeing. As such, finance is critical to sustainable development. But it cannot deliver real wealth without being responsive to the fundamental value of social, physical and environmental capital’ (UNEP, 2015:2[3]). Knowing the extent to which market failures can negatively influence economic interactions and therein limit green growth, some governments tend to ‘provide direct grants or tax credits’ to support green economic research ‘carried out by businesses’, which is a common practice in developed countries (UNIDO, 2011[4]).

It can be said that carrying out scientific research into green economy and industry is an important path towards finding solutions for managing both undesirable and desirable trade-offs that go with the complex relationships amongst economic growth, environment and society. For that reason, government policies geared at promoting green economy must pay attention to financing research and taking the step to reap the full opportunities that go with green economic services.


[1] The Stockholm Memorandum, 2011. Tipping the scales towards sustainability. 3rd Nobel Laureate Symposium on ‘global sustainability: transforming the world in an era of global change’. Sweden, 16-19 May 2011.

[2] UNEP, 2011. Towards a green economy: pathways to sustainable development and poverty eradication – a synthesis for policy makers.

[3] UNEP, 2015. New rules for new horizons: reshaping finance for sustainability. Inquiry into the design of a sustainable financial system. on-reshaping-finance-for-sustainability/  Geneva/Paris [Accessed on 31.03.2016].

[4] UNIDO, 2011. Green industry: policies for supporting green industry. Vienna, Austria.


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