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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.


Green coins and diets: rewiring green economy for prosperity and sustainability

Why the need to understand green economy?
Creating an inclusive common ground among actors who are privately or publicly involved in green economic matters starts with defining what green economy means to all, especially putting convertible coins into the pocket and eating of nutritious diets. No matter how theoretically vague or naive a definition sounds due to variations in needs, locations or life-realities it helps to reconstruct new expositions and understanding of policies, plans and the processes require to translate green economy into reality. Understanding green economy makes possible the ability to invent appropriate tools to measure the outcomes of funds, which are invested into the production of sustainability goods and services. According to the UNEP, green economy is ‘an economy that results in improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities.’

How is Africa responding to green economy?
Africa’s responsiveness to harnessing environmental, socio-economic and financial opportunities offered by green economy is impressive. Yet it can be said that a lot more need to be done to maximize the opportunities from household to continental levels. Only fifteen (15) African countries had ascribed to green economy [1]. In West Africa, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Senegal are implementing a variety of green initiatives to efficiently manage natural capitals on sustainable basis. The early adopters of green economy can mobilize other countries towards green transformation – “greening” infrastructure and energy. Both South Africa and Ghana can play lead-roles to bring along other countries to tap the “good things” embedded within the continent’s green economy. In 2012, South Africa ‘presented the continental [Africa’s] position on the transition to a green economy at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) ’. Now, South Africa has another chance, as a membership of BRICS, to lead Africa’s green economic agenda by influencing BRICS members to financially inject substantial funding into Africa’s green industries and job markets [2]. African countries can learn from countries like ‘China, Germany and Spain’ where ILO’s research found the ‘quality of new renewable energy jobs to be good’ [5]. In recent times, China, also a member of BRICS, had enviably recorded a ‘net decline of 1.5 per cent in its carbon emissions in 2014’ [4]. All these are not strong indications to say the global community cannot learn something useful from Africa’s approach to green economy. Imagine green economies of cocoa and coffee in Ghana and Kenya!

In a couple of weeks ago, the UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, had appointed the Republic of Ghana’s President, H.E. John D. Mahama, as one of the Global Champions to spearhead high-panel advocacy on issues pertaining to the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It is really difficult to identify one out of the 17 SDGs for which green economy cannot contribute to its actual realisation. How SDGs connect to the concept of green economy is still unfolding. But, it is explicit that counting the achievements of agenda 2030 will not be as a result of one person, institution or nation’s inputs. In writing a Forward for a report on “Sustainable Development Goals: Are the rich countries ready?” the Former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, remarked: ‘One of the lessons of the last 15 years is that the world’s biggest challenges cannot be solved in isolation’. Can someone refute the experience shared by the Former UN Secretary-General?

I concurred because the production variables like land, water, capital and services available, for instance, show that the promotion of green economy to eliminate hunger and in-work poverty along the Lagos-Accra corridor of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) without strategic involvement of cross-border institutions from all the four countries will be in vain. The extent to which the success of a green economy is tight to multi-functionality of various institutions and peoples in the ECOWAS may not be different in the Southern African Development Community (SADC), Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) or ACP countries. The institutional approach to policy, leadership, governance and finance may differ though. Out of the 15 countries reportedly mapped out as initiators of green economic models in Africa, 8 of them belong to the Commonwealth and Independent States, including South Africa and Kenya. Within a green economy, country-level blocs present real starting points to organise institutions sub-regionally for the sustainable management of large-scale transnational hydro-assets on Volta River, Nile River, Congo River and Lake Victoria as well as the Orange-Senque River . Putting the right green economic values on ecosystem assets of these few climate-threatened rivers suggest that trillions of dollars can be generated through their sustainable utilisation if institutions are regulated and resourced well.

In the SADC region, for example, ‘more than 70 per cent of renewable water resources’ ‘occurs between two or more member states’, which obviously necessitated the formation of the Orange-Senque River Commission (ORASECOM) and the Zambezi Watercourse Commission (ZAMCOM) both of which are similar to the Volta River Authority (VRA) in the ECOWAS region [3]. The member countries of the VRA comprise Burkina Faso, Togo, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Benin and Mali while those of the ORASECOM include Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and South Africa [3]. Leaving the regional blocs aside, the African Union provides the best platform for all African countries and their allied bodies to collectively negotiate, exchange expertise, finance and carry out profitable trading activities to foster green economic co-operations. As a result of the platform, Africa Union can “green” its economic relations with the European Union, World Bank, IMF and sub-regional organisations. Fortunately, almost all these organisations are already involved in green economic development projects – greening infrastructure, labour reforms, market restructuring and cleaner production of energy.

From the 2016 Report on the World Economic Situation and Prospects [4], it is apparent that ‘international policy coordination is critically important for realizing the ambitious, comprehensive and universal 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving its associated goals and targets.’ In the case of a green economy, the coordination of policy or its implementing actors at the international level ensures that green interventions get delivered to the grassroots and, in the other way round, data gathered from the grassroots is conveyed to international roundtables for decision-making. A good example can be mentioned here. The United Nations University-Institute for Natural Resources in Africa (UNU-INRA), in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO), International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE) and International Training Centre of the ILO, recently well-organised a Green Economy Forum on ‘Greening industries and green entrepreneurship promotion as a driver of sustainable and inclusive growth’, which attracted over 70 participants across the continent. The activities of the Forum informed the participants to better appreciate enormous benefits associated with greening an economy, including:
1. ‘understanding of the specific positioning of business on green growth and labour market’
2. ‘greening of industries, enterprises and workplaces’.
3. promoting ‘green entrepreneurship and the understanding of technological implications and environmental benefits of eco-innovation’.
4. addressing the ‘role of governments, business associations and researchers in establishing an enabling environment for green enterprise development’.

The important messages expertly shared concerning green economy through the Forum had been undoubtedly disseminated to reach various African institutions and societies.


Harnessing green opportunities
Many African countries have low Gross National Income, which implies that the continent has the potential to generate the highest green industrial, job, energy and food opportunities the world may need in near future. Africa needs not to underestimate the value of its green economic wealth. The ILO states that ‘a greener economy, as a way to achieve sustainable development, is not optional for sustainable enterprises and labour markets, it is a necessity.’ To say Africa does not need green economy in the midst of climate change, poverty and hunger is far from a wise sustainability policy advice. Innovating green economic activities can enable African countries to sustainably harness green revenue at the household, local, national and international levels from natural capitals without jeopardizing human-nature relations. South Africa’s Economic Development Department estimates that ‘400 000 jobs could be created by 2030 as a result of the country going green’ [2]. And, the ‘green economy in South Africa is viewed as a path to sustainable development…’[2].

Green innovation is occurring and yielding multiple benefits at the local communities, which is an incentive for Africa’s green transformation. If you take Uganda, which is yet to ascribe to the concept of green economy , has already been ‘renowned for applying a minimal quantity of artificial fertilizer, with less than 1kg/ha (compared to an already very low continent-wide average of 9kg/ha). Uganda has adopted ‘organic models of agricultural production’ resulting in increased ‘revenues from organic exports’ of about 600% from 2003 to 2008 [4]. A similar story had been told about the ‘Oromia Coffee Growers in Ethiopia which is bringing substantial benefits to over 200,000 producers of organically grown coffee’ [4]. These innovative lessons go to support the view by ILO that green economy could improve the income of over ‘400 million smallholder farmers’ in Africa and other developing nations.

Certainly, as green economy raises income level of people their every day food consumption will get better and nutritionally balanced. The foods people can eat are some of the ways green economy presents opportunities for feeding African populations. In 2011–2012, the complications of drought, economic crisis, and war caused deaths or dietary deficits among nearly 250,000 lives in Somalia. Contrary to the severe food deficits in Somalia, the countries such as ‘Congo, Ghana, Mali and Nigeria’ were able to achieve the UN Millennium Development Goals #1 . What green economy basically seeks to do for African countries experiencing hunger or on a green path of reaching “zero hunger” level is to retrofit mainstream economies with green ethics, principles and funding to eliminate food wastage, corruption, and increase flow of quality foods through efficient resource use. Across the continent, there are bold green initiatives taking place. For instance, ‘Ghana is currently implementing a number of green fiscal policy measures aimed at promoting the country’s transformation into a green economy…targeted taxes have been introduced to encourage environmental protection, including a 20 per cent tax on plastic materials, penalties on over-aged vehicles and a 52% increase in water tariffs…’


Concluding green hints
As ‘capital inflows to developing countries have already slowed noticeably…’ [4], one of the obvious choices is to stimulate green economic growth through green industrialization that carry along the poor and does not entirely destroy natural capitals. The deficits of green food, income and jobs are harshly dictating youth lives, harming gender liberty, spreading digital violence and limiting children’s educational attainments in Africa. All inclusive promotion of green economic activities can offer some solutions to significantly reverse the deficits, which will in turn save and sustain lives to help in greening even the ‘blue’ in the future.


1. UNEP, 2015. Building inclusive green economies in Africa: experience and lessons learned, 2010-2015. Nairobi.
2. Mutanga S.S.; Kaggwa, M.; Simelane, T. and Nhamo, G., 2013. South Africa’s green economy transition: implications for reorienting the economy towards a low-carbon growth trajectory. Occasional Paper No168. SAIIA, South Africa.
3. Ansa, E.D.O.; Koomson, T.A. and Ayuk, E. T. (eds.), 2012. Proceedings of the seminar on National and transboundary water resources management in Africa. UNU-INRA, Accra, Ghana.
4. UN/DESA 2016. World economic situation and prospects 2016. New York.
5. ILO, 2013. Sustainable development, decent work and green jobs. International Labour Conference, Report V, 102nd Session, Geneva.
6. Some African countries have ascribed to green economy concept but are yet to be reported publicly e.g. in efforts to support Namibia’s transition to green economy, messages have been disseminated to reach over 100,000 people between 01/2013 and 12/2013 (see ILO, 2014. Employment creation through the promotion of sustainable enterprises in Southern and Eastern Africa. Geneva, Switzerland).
7. Omilola B., 2014. Inclusive green growth in Africa: rationale, challenges and opportunities. Policy Brief, UNDP, South Africa.
8. Green Jobs Initiative (in collaboration with International Institute for Labour studies), 2012. Working towards sustainable development: opportunities for decent work and social inclusion in a green economy. ILO, Geneva.
9. K. von Grebmer, J. Bernstein, A. de Waal, N. Prasai, S. Yin, and Y. Yohannes., 2015. 2015 Global Hunger Index: armed conflict and the challenge of hunger. Bonn, Washington, DC, and Dublin: Welthungerhilfe, International Food Policy Research Institute, and Concern Worldwide.
10. FAO, 2010. Global hunger declining, but still unacceptably high: International hunger targets difficult to reach. Rome.
11. UNEP, Green economy: Ghana. [Accessed on 05/01/2016].

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