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Having your cake and eating it

Having your cake and eating it

Ethiopia’s example

Addis Ababa doesn’t usually share a mantle with New York, but it did during the 16th September launch of the NCE because Ethiopia is one of three countries – China and India being the other two – serving as case studies for research into issues such as macroeconomic policy and impacts; innovation, energy, finance, cities; and agriculture, forests and land use.

Ethiopia was also one of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate’s seven founding members – the others being Colombia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the UK. The Ethiopian Development Research Institute played an important role in a global partnership of leading institutes informing the NCE report.

One of the most critical challenges facing developing countries is achieving economic prosperity that is sustainable and counters climate change – a lesson that Ethiopia knows better than most. Northern Ethiopia suffered significant soil erosion and degradation before attempts were made to counter ecological destruction.

Ethiopia has moved on to recognising how its abundance of waterways offers huge hydroelectric generation potential. Today, massive public infrastructure works are attempting to harness this potential. Ethiopia now finds itself an authority on how to achieve economic growth in a sustainable manner.

“Ethiopians can give answers whereas often in industrialised countries people aren’t sure what to do,” Yvo de Boer, director general of Global Green Growth Institute, an international organisation focused on economic growth and environmental sustainability, said. “Ethiopians should be asked.”

Opinion on this is somewhat more restrained within Ethiopia itself. “Regarding lessons from Ethiopia, I believe that we are still in the learning phase regarding building a green economy,” says Getahun Moges, director general of the Ethiopian Energy Authority.

“However, its bold action in anticipation of future gains is something countries need to focus on – I believe every country has potential regarding building green economy, the
issue is whether there is enough political appetite for this against short-term interests.”

Despite the sustainability challenges Ethiopia still undoubtedly faces, its role as an important case study of a developing economy has empowered the NCE to come up with what those behind it think is a solid game plan to offer to the world.

“By focusing on cities, land use, and renewable and low-carbon energy sources, while increasing resource efficiency, investing in infrastructure and stimulating innovation, a wider economy and better environment are achievable for countries at all levels of development,” says Trevor Manuel, a member of the Global Commission on the Economy and Climate, and a former Finance Minister of South Africa, now Minister and chairperson of the South African Planning Commission.

Africa led?

Some argue Africa can provide a global example when it comes to economic growth and tackling climate change due to its circumstances. “Africa can be a world leader in terms of climate change solutions,” says Carlos Lopes, executive secretary for UNECA. “It can make sure that commodities are transformed nearer to their sources and thereby reduce CO2 – it doesn’t make sense for things to be sent from Africa to Asia to be manufactured and then shipped to Europe.”

Such action would likely have an additional benefit of reducing many social pressures that continually cause problems in Africa, Lopes adds. Others, however, feel that rather than Africa providing an example to countries in other continents, the emphasis should squarely be on finding African solutions that work for its countries.

“Africa needs to find its own paths to climate resilience since its circumstances are so different from many other parts of the world,” says environmental economist Gunnar Köhlin, director of Sweden-based Environment for Development Initiative. “Sub-Saharan Africa has still not invested fully in a mature energy generation and distribution system. There are therefore still many choices to be made in supplying households with energy that is both not aggravating climate change and at the same time is resilient to the impacts of climate change.”

On the global stage, the hope is that the NCE and its findings will encourage future agreement and cooperation when nations discuss and implement international climate change policies, allowing the ghosts of the Kyoto Protocol and the Copenhagen Accord – previous efforts judged ineffective – to be laid to rest.

But others point out how previous sustainability initiatives have struggled to achieve tangible results, especially in Africa, begging the question: What will be different this time?

“In the last 10 to 15 years, new policy developments have started to take hold,” Mountford says. ”Yes, there have been failures, but there have been many successes and so we have taken stock of these – now we are at a tipping point, with the lessons learned from these recent experiences and significant technological innovations giving us new
opportunities.”

In light of this, the NCE and its recommended 10-point Global Action Plan give cause for celebration, says Manuel, adding: “For too long we’ve been told that there you can’t develop and mitigate – this report inverts that logic and demonstrates that it’s possible to do both. Africans across the board will benefit from this.”

The true test of the NCE’s merit and value will come at the next major convention on climate change due in the French capital, Paris, in 2015, when world leaders will wrestle with, and attempt to agree on, international strategy.

“Some academics say we are too optimistic,” Manuel says. “But if you are from the developing world and you don’t have optimism then you have nothing.”

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Written by James Jeffrey

After completing a master’s degree in journalism at the University of Texas at Austin in May 2012, James Jeffrey spent a year freelancing in US focusing primarily on business, including writing for the Austin, Houston, San Antonio and Dallas Business Journals. In October 2013 he moved to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to write about business-related features primarily, while endeavouring to cover other topics of interest in a remarkable country.

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