The choices that South Africa, and the rest of Africa, make today about future energy provision will have a profound effect on the economy and quality of life going forward.
This is the word from Achim Steiner, under-secretary general and UNEP executive director, speaking to the media during a seminar around the UN’s SEED Award programme on Friday.
Steiner explains that the concept of the green economy is about ensuring that sustainability and economic growth work together.
He adds that the current situation, where much of Africa’s power generation comes from coal or oil, is “bleeding the African economy”, a situation which is likely to get worse as the price of oil continues to rise.
“Africa has more solar energy potential than any other continent,” he says. “There is huge hydro and wave generation potential with the huge coastline, and wide resources are plentiful.
“Embracing the green economy is important from a risk management point of view,” Steiner adds. “On the current pathway, there is risk to water resources and climate change. A green economy is the pathway of least risk as it reduces countries’ dependence on fossil fuels.”
By embracing a green economy, Steiner believes African countries will be able to meet the food security challenges facing many of them, free up free natural resources and prevent further land degradation – he points out that millions of hectares of arable land in Africa are destroyed each year in the production of energy from fossil fuels.
From a pragmatic point of view, Steiner explains that the current economic models don’t allow for much employment growth, whereas there are new employment opportunities around the green economy.
“Imagine if South Africa had started investing in sustainable energy 10 years ago, where it could have been now,” he says, pointing out the China currently uses wind power to produce as much energy as South Africa produces using coal, oil and nuclear.
He adds that its not too late to invest in sustainable energy – and, even though it is thought to be more expensive to produce than coal or nuclear, it offers many more benefits and cost savings in the long run.