Africa urged to pursue structural change to protect environment

The UN has called on Africa to adopt sustainable structural transformation so as to achieve much needed growth while protecting the environment.

According to a report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), the continent should not follow the same "grow now, clean up later" approach that was adopted by currently industrialized countries.

"For Africa to successfully transform its economies in a sustainable way, it will need to build capacities to obtain, use, and adapt existing environmentally sound technologies to local conditions," said the report which was received in Nairobi on Thursday.

The Economic Development in Africa Report 2012 said native technological innovation will be critical, as such ideas and adaptations work best for local conditions.

It urges African governments to shift from traditional to modern, less-polluting energy sources, by increasingly powering their economies by renewable energy such as wind energy, solar power and hydro power, as well as expand the use of organic agriculture.

"The challenge is to modernize the continent’s economies – including expanding industrial capacity – through the efficient use and consumption of domestic natural resources, thereby avoiding the mistakes made by early industrializes elsewhere," the agency said.

According to the report, the process will require significant support from the international community, the report notes.

Developed countries will have to increase financial assistance to Africa, particularly to productive sectors such as energy.

"Equally important will be greater technology transfer from developed and emerging countries to Africa, increased South-South cooperation in green technology use and adaptation, and greater flexibilities in the design of the global intellectual property rights regime," it said.

In addition, more "policy space" will be needed for African governments so that they have the ability to use incoming funds and technology in the most efficient way for their specific circumstances.

The report subtitled Structural Transformation and Sustainable Development in Africa focuses on the dilemma of accomplishing much- needed economic growth while protecting the environment.

The UN report says as the rest of the world is flocking to the continent for resources that are increasingly scarce elsewhere, the report notes that Africa, with its abundant supplies, had a per capita domestic material consumption of 5.3 tons in 2008 – about half the global average.

The 13.4 percent of the world’s population living in Africa in 2008 used only about 5.5 percent of globally consumed resources.

As domestic material consumption on the continent inevitably increases, the report says, careful domestic planning and enhanced international financial support and technology transfer will be required for what it terms "sustainable structural transformation".

Africa accounted for only 7.2 percent of total global material consumption in 2008, compared to 6.8 percent in 1980. However, domestic material use increased by 92 percent between 1980 and 2008.

Energy use remained low, increasing by only 16.3 percent over that same period.

Since Africa – as a latecomer to industrialization due to various domestic and external constraints – has not yet been able to use its abundant natural resources and harness its energy sources to build modern industrial economies, it should embark on the process now armed with the best knowledge, strategies and technologies possible, the report says.

The report says past experience has shown that industrialization and structural transformation – that is, the shift in economic production towards higher-value goods and goods of greater variety and complexity – was often achieved at the expense of the environment and through intensive use of natural resources, the report says.

The report recommends that African countries, latecomers to industrialization, set strategies for a form of economic progress that is less dependent on natural resource use and exports, thus avoiding the "grow now, clean up later" approach that has been employed elsewhere in the world.

by Chrispinus Omar,