Helen Clark: Meeting of African Environment Ministers

Dec 8, 2011

Remarks by Helen Clark, UNDP Administrator
At Meeting with African Ministers of Environment and Energy, Durban, South Africa

I warmly thank the organisers of this breakfast meeting: the Government of South Africa, the Government of KwaZulu Natal Province, and UNDP South Africa. I know that the Ministers and other invitees here have very busy schedules and competing demands, and I sincerely thank you all for coming.

This is a unique opportunity for me, as UNDP Administrator, to meet with this important gathering of African ministers and close partners of UNDP. 

In my brief introductory remarks I will touch upon energy access, tackling climate change, and preparations for Rio+20.

On Climate Change

The effects of climate change have the potential to undermine achievements on the MDGs and other development goals.
Ensuring that developing countries are equipped to tackle the many dimensions of climate change has therefore become central to UNDP’s programmes. 

Africa is highly vulnerable to various impacts of climate change, especially those related to water resources, food security, biodiversity loss, human health, human settlements, and infrastructure. Climate change action, however, offers opportunities to build resilient development pathways, with the support of climate finance and technology transfer.   

UNDP is a key development partner in supporting countries to address climate change mitigation and adaptation, technology adaptation, REDD+, accessing finance, and developing capacity. 

We advocate for comprehensive development policy frameworks in which reducing vulnerability to climate shocks also helps to reduce poverty – a win:win. 

Some examples of our programmes

Through UNDP’s African Adaptation Programme, we are currently assisting twenty African countries to build their capacity to adapt to climate change and thereby build resilience to climatic risks. 

The UNDP-UNEP Poverty-Environment Initiative has been supporting ten countries in Africa to mainstream poverty-environment linkages into their national development planning.  

Under the EU-UNDP Capacity Building Programme on climate change, UNDP is providing technical assistance for developing systems to monitor and review mitigation actions within the private sector in several African countries. 

UNDP, as a founding partner of the UN-REDD programme, assists developing countries to prepare and implement national REDD+ strategies.

In the lead up to Durban, UNDP has provided support to a number of African countries to conduct dialogue on climate change between key stakeholders, and to promote African perspectives on key issues, including gender, adaptation, biodiversity conservation, and private sector engagement. 

UNDP stands ready to provide expertise to implement the outcomes of the UNFCCC climate negotiations here in Durban.  

On Climate Finance

One of the main issues on the table here in Durban is the design of climate finance. 

The magnitude of the funding required to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change impacts is far more than can be provided through international public channels.  

UNDP believes that the Green Climate Fund should primarily be used to build national capacities, and to put in place policy environments aimed at directing the investments which will be made in areas like energy towards sustainable options.

We are very encouraged to see a strong focus on readiness activities within the draft GCF instrument currently on the table. Granting finance from the GCF will be essential to support the development of national systems which redirect public and private investments to low-carbon, climate-resilient options.

UNDP’s primary focus is on how best to support developing countries to access, absorb, and deploy climate finance, so that it can be directed towards activities which are catalytic and promote national development overall.  

This approach is at the heart of UNDP’s work on climate finance, and is in line with our capacity development mission to support institutions to perform better and sustain that performance over time. We aim to support countries to use climate finance in ways which are efficient, effective, and equitable.

We are currently rolling out a major new programme in twenty countries to support developing countries develop low-emission development strategies, as well as to put in place systems to monitor, report, and verify the actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within those plans.  

In Ethiopia, for example, UNDP is supporting the development of a national climate finance mechanism which can receive, blend, and direct climate finance.

On Energy

It is estimated that of the 1.3 billion people in our world who have no access to electricity, 585 million live in Sub-Saharan Africa. 650 million of the 2.7 billion people still using traditional biomass for energy live in Sub-Saharan Africa, and eighty per cent of them dwell in rural areas.  

Despite the great need for energy in the region and the desirability of expanded access to energy being from sustainable sources, only three per cent of investment in clean energy last year came to Africa.

Concerted efforts are needed to reach the poor with more sustainable and reliable energy. Indeed, that is critical for accelerating development. 

UNDP has built up a lot of knowledge on how to address clean energy access, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emissions reductions, and poverty alleviation. A significant part of our work has been undertaken in Africa. 

We have worked on strengthening institutional capacity and policy frameworks to provide off-grid decentralised energy services which can meet the needs of the poor. 

UNDP also assists local public and private actors through its MDG Carbon programme to use carbon markets as a source of financing. For instance:

In Rwanda, UNDP has assisted a Clean Development Mechanism project which utilizes solar PV-powered UV filtration to provide clean water to school children. 

Another UNDP project in Kenya with the support of the CDM is establishing a set of small hydro power plants to serve the energy needs of the tea sector. 

We are working with regional bodies such as ECOWAS and the EAC (East African Community) to scale up national actions for sustainable energy. We supported the governments of the fifteen ECOWAS countries to develop a strategy to expand energy access to millions more by 2015. 

We have also supported programmes to bring energy to villages through small diesel/biofuel engines. These are being widely installed in Burkina Faso and elsewhere in the Sahel.

The UN Secretary General launched an initiative to achieve sustainable energy for all, with three goals to be reached by 2030: 1) ensuring universal access to modern energy services; 2) doubling the rate of improvement in energy efficiency; and 3) doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

UNDP has been asked to support country level responses to support the Initiative, and implementation of activities for the International Year for Sustainable Energy for All in 2012 -designated by the UN General Assembly.  A significant part of this work will be in Africa.

I seek your strong commitment to achieving the goals of the Sustainable Energy for All. UNDP stands ready to be an active partner in this endeavour. 

On Rio+20 

In June next year the UN Conference on Sustainable Development, Rio+20, will be held in Brazil. The discussions taking place here in Durban will inform the Rio+20 process. 

Much has happened since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 which set a forward looking agenda for sustainable development. 

Rio+20 is a unique opportunity to review progress on that agenda, examine the gaps in it and new needs, and reach agreement on how to move ahead.   

At UNDP we believe it is critical for Rio+20 to deliver a global consensus on the sustainable development agenda for the coming decades, and on complementary actions at both global and national levels. Much work is still required for that to be achieved.

Rio+20 presents a unique opportunity to mark the end of what UNDP has long viewed as a fragmented approach to development. Sustainable development can only be advanced if we work across its three pillars – the social, the economic, and the environmental. 

UNDP, along with the broader UN development system, will play an important role in helping implement the outcome of Rio+20.


Allow me to conclude by emphasizing that UNDP is very committed to its partnerships with countries on this continent, and to addressing the challenges related to climate change in ways which also advance human development and poverty reduction.

Our breakfast meeting here today is a good opportunity to share views on how we can work together on energy access, climate finance, and Rio +20 in the interest of Africa’s long term development.

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