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May 10, 2011

World's Least Developed Countries Are Fertile Ground for a Green Economy



With their low-carbon profiles, rich natural assets, and promising policy initiatives, the world’s 48 least developed countries are fertile areas for the growth of a green economy, according to a report released May 9 at the Fourth United Nations Conference on Least Developed Countries in Istanbul.

The report, Why a Green Economy Matters for the Least Developed Countries, was jointly issued by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), and the UN Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States (UN-OHRLLS)

Of the 48 nations designated as Least Developed Countries (LDCs) by the United Nations, 33 are in Africa; 14, in Asia and the Pacific; and one in Latin America.

In the foreword to the report, the authors recommend that the best strategic approach to ending poverty, creating jobs, and enhancing living conditions in these areas would be, “Refocusing policies and investments to target … renewable energy, agriculture, forestry, tourism,  and enhanced ecosystem services.” What is required, they say, includes:

Access to energy

 Preservation and enhancement of ecosystems, such as fisheries and forests, that provide a livelihood for  the poor,

More resilient food and agricultural production systems

The authors note that, when domestic markets have access to renewable energy, “Not only can it provide electricity to the rural poor to open new rural economic development pathways,” said the authors, “ but it also reduces poverty by creating local manufacturing jobs for related hardware and for the financing, distribution, installation and maintenance of renewable energy systems.”

In addition, with access to energy, “Income-generating applications linked to existing agroforestry or tourism industries can help drive the local economy.”

But access to energy does not come cheaply. It takes green of a different type—and lots of it. Governments have a central role to play in policy reform, targeted public expenditures, and regulatory changes to promote further investment and initiatives by the private sector and civil society.

Supachai Panitchpakdi, Secretary-General of UNCTAD, commented, “There are at least four key elements that need to be addressed for LDCs’ successful transition to a green economy. First, identifying new sources of funding that can be directly applied to transitional efforts; second, creating an enabling environment that is conducive to private investment in green economy markets; third, taking advantage of trade to create global markets for LDCs’ green goods and services exports; and fourth, designing new and effective mechanisms to transfer green technologies to LDCs.”

The report provides examples—including the following three— that highlight the progress being achieved through government, private sector, and civil society initiatives.

* Uganda, a country where 85 percent of the population is engaged in agricultural production, has taken important steps toward sustainable, organic farming. Despite its distance from major export markets, Uganda more than quadrupled its exports of organic agricultural products between 2003 and 2008, tapping into a global market of US$60 billion. Farm gate prices of organic pineapple, ginger and vanilla were 300 percent, 185 percent, and 150 percent higher, respectively, than conventional product prices in 2006, making sustainable forms of production highly profitable for producers and local communities.

* Nepal’s approach to Community Forest Management continues to generate employment and income from the sustainable harvesting of timber and non-timber forest products. Sustainable forest management approaches in the country have helped reverse a trend of decline in forest cover of 1.9 percent annually during the 1990s, into an annual increase of 1.35 percent from 2000 to 2005.

* In Laos, the National Ecotourism Strategy Action Plan (2005-2010) is based on the vision, “Laos will become a world- renowned destination, specializing in forms of sustainable tourism that [will] benefit … conservation, local socio-economic development, and spread knowledge of Lao’s unique cultural heritage.”  Overall, the number of international arrivals in Laos jumped from 1 million in 2005 to more than 2 million in 2009.

However, despite all of this good news, the report cautioned, “Whatever mechanisms are agreed to support transition to a green economy, they must … avoid a “one-size-fits-all” template that fails to account for countries’ different starting points and diverse development priorities. Furthermore, international economic and environmental agreements must provide developing countries with sufficient policy space and flexibilities on sequencing and implementation of any rules or

modalities that are adopted.”

In summary, “Through concerted national and international action, realizing a green economy could make a valuable contribution to enhanced economic diversification, inclusive growth, poverty reduction, … in LDCs,” said Cheik Sidi Diarra,Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and High Representative of UN-OHRLLS. “The outcomes of the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries can provide a critical foundation and action points in this direction.”

For more information, download a copy of the report.


Cheryl Kaften is an accomplished communicator who has written for consumer and corporate audiences. She has worked extensively for MasterCard (News - Alert) Worldwide, Philip Morris USA (Altria), and KPMG, and has consulted for Estee Lauder and the Philadelphia Inquirer Newspapers. To read more of her articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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