Guiyang Eco-Forum Conference: Ethiopia’s Green Economy Path

Ethiopia participated in the "Eco-Forum Global Annual Conference 2016" held in the city of Guiyang, in Guizhou Province of China, between July 8 and 10. Guiyang was chosen as the site of the conference as the city has been closely associated with efforts to provide eco-friendly sustainable development in the last few years. The conference, under the theme of "Embracing New Era of Eco-Civilization: Advancing Green Development, Unifying Knowledge and Action", attracted over a thousand delegates from 72 countries, including ministers, senior officials, ambassadors, UN officials, experts, entrepreneurs and international to share opinions and expertise on climate and ecological issues. The conference provided a platform for dialogue and strategic cooperation between China and the rest of the world and showcased many explicit practices on ecological civilization construction.

The Eco-Global Forum is playing a vital role in providing an interactive platform and pulling together the successes and experiences of actual players relating to climate resilient green economy strategies. It offers a robust platform to respond to the ongoing dynamic and evolving green development issues across the globe and a green vehicle to facilitate the interaction of both public and private actors in green development and international cooperation to tackle climate change. The conference promotes the values embracing economic and social development in a manner to protect the natural environment, relating in fact to the Chinese traditional philosophy of harmony between human beings and nature.

Yu Zhengsheng, Chairman of CPPCC National Committee made a keynote speech at the opening ceremony, reiterating China's determination to work with other countries to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. He said, "China will always put ecological environmental protection as an important area of opening up to the outside world, and will fulfill international environmental conventions, as well as taking international obligations. It will continue to participate in global cooperation in combating climate change, and make important contributions to global ecological security." Christa Markwalder, President of National Council of Switzerland noted that: "China can really make a difference in protecting our climate since China is so large, so fast growing. If Swiss technologies can be used in China to better protect our climate, this can really make the difference." Peter Bakker, President and CEO of World Business Council for Sustainable Development said: "In order to achieve the Paris Agreement, we need radical reductions of emissions around the world, China has a key role to play. I'm very happy to have noted that the 13th five-year-plan takes that responsibility serious."

Ethiopia's Ambassador to China, Ambassador Seyoum Mesfin speaking in a session on "South-South Cooperation to Tackle Climate Change" emphasized that "Africa could easily be said to contribute the least of any continent to global warming. Equally, it was home to the most developing countries, and with a population of about 1.1 billion people, had become the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. He acknowledged that tackling climate change in Africa was no easy task given the multiple limiting factors and daunting challenges but, he added, Africans were exerting major efforts and using all the resources at their disposal to overcome the challenges of climate change. They had demonstrated leadership throughout the negotiations, which culminated in adoption of goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity as part of the New Sustainable Agenda and the signing of the Paris Agreement. The Sustainable Development Goals, of course, not only aim to end extreme poverty and reduce inequality, but to do so in way that is ecologically sustainable.

Ambassador Seyoum said Ethiopia had long embraced the conviction that green growth is a necessity as well as an opportunity. It had embarked upon the development of a Climate–Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy addressing both climate change adaptation and mitigation. The goal was to quickly improve the living conditions for its people reaching middle-income status by 2025 on the basis of carbon-neutral growth, and achieve a zero-emission goal by 2030. This, he emphasized was a solemn commitment of the Government and people of Ethiopia: sustained rapid economic growth and structural transformation to ensure growth and economic development while also tackling climate change. Ambassador Seyoum said: "We are committed to effectively transforming Ethiopia into an early adopter of a low-carbon growth path, and our initiatives are already being translated into realities in key sectors."

The first aspect of this was the drive to produce green energy for itself and its neighbors. Hydropower plants under construction will provide a total additional capacity of 8,000 megawatts and be commissioned within two to three years. Among these the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is the largest dam in Africa and will have installed power of 6,000 MW. However, Ethiopia has the potential to generate 45-50 thousand MW from hydropower as well as 7,000 MW, 1 million MW and 5.5 kilowatt hours per square meter, from geothermal, wind and solar sources respectively. The Government of Ethiopia, said Ambassador Seyoum, was seriously engaged in harvesting this renewable energy for green growth and sustainable development. Currently, some 97% of Ethiopia's energy supply is generated from renewable sources, and it is taking the initiative to provide energy trading with neighboring countries. The interconnections between Ethiopia and Djibouti and Ethiopia and Sudan have become functional and the project to link with Kenya is progressing well.

Ambassador Seyoum said Ethiopia envisaged greening the transport sector to actively support its concerted efforts to address climate change.  It is ‘de-carbonizing' the transport sector, shifting freight transport from road to an electric-powered rail network to link Ethiopia internally as well as to different economic outlets. It is looking for new strategies to reduce tailpipe emissions while helping to increase mobility. It has built sub-Saharan Africa's first modern light rail transit (LRT) system.

It is concentrating on the greening of industrialization through developing eco-industrial parks as a key strategy to facilitate and support foreign and domestic private-sector partnerships, and enhance exports. Low-carbon eco-industrial intent is present throughout the planning, design and site construction of the industrial zone developments with industrial structures to be powered by renewable energy and to adopt cleaner production techniques. He also noted that Ethiopia was already achieving good results in reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation, looking to conservation and sustainable forest management. It has increased its forest coverage to 15.5% from only 3%, 25 years ago, and is working to increase it to 20% by 2020. The aim is to restore forest on 15 million hectares of land and increase the coverage by 7 million hectares by 2030. Nearly 4 billion tree seedlings are transplanted every year to help re-green the country. Overall its Climate–Resilient Green Economy makes Ethiopia a frontrunner in green economic development, but African countries are showing a growing commitment to make development processes climate resilient and avoid environmental degradation.

Ambassador Seyoum noted that countries from the South, such as China, were successfully tackling climate change and setting an exemplary standard. Africa, he said, could learn a great deal from China's successful initiatives. He said capitalizing on South-South Cooperation initiatives would be decisive to combat climate change, drought and desertification. It also offered an indispensable means to end poverty and eliminate regional disparities. Enhancing sustainable development entailed joint efforts by governments, society, and enterprises, with fair and consistent responsibility-sharing especially in implementing relevant international environmental agreements. He said, "It is time for action. It is time to implement the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2030 and the Paris Agreement by all State Parties in good faith." Ambassador Seyoum added: "The theme of the Global Forum Guiyang combined eco-civilization with knowledge and action. With the knowledge we have accumulated, it is the time to go to action."

2015 provided important milestones for sustainable development and cooperation. There was the adoption of the Addis Ababa Action Agenda of the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in July 2015 in Addis Ababa, affirming strong political commitment to address the challenge of financ­ing an enabling environment for sustain­able development, as well as a commitment to develop an economic platform to coordinate investment in resilient infrastructures and technology facilitation mechanisms. It stressed the importance of inclusive and sustainable industrialization for developing countries, as a critical source of economic growth, economic diversification, and value addition. The United Nations adopted the Sustainable Development Goals, in September; and in October, in Paris, the Conference of the Parties reached an historic agreement to combat climate change and to accelerate and intensify actions and investments needed for a sustainable low carbon future. This requires all Parties to put forward their best efforts through "nationally determined contributions" and strengthen these efforts in the future.

The Johannesburg Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in December also highlighted that climate change was exacerbating existing challenges in Africa and is placing additional burdens on national budgets and efforts to achieve sustainable development. African leaders have been loud in projecting their voices in various global fora, calling for the strengthening of the international framework to hold down increases in temperatures and assist developing and vulnerable countries to manage impact. They have been re-examining development through the lens of social, economic and environmental sustainability. It was against this background that the Guiyang Eco-Forum Global underlined the growing recognition that enhanced cooperation between China and Africa is mutually beneficial. The actions of Guizhou province's actions to: "make the mountains and the fields green, make the waters and the sky blue, and the air good and fresh emphasize that the Eco-Forum can also play a catalytic and transformational role to encourage the improvement of the natural environment.