Ethiopian Environmental Success Story

opinion

Addis Ababa has been an astonishing African success story. I first came here as Norway's Minister of Environment and International Development in 2008 to discuss peace in the Sudan and climate change with Ethiopia's government. How the city has changed in only eight years. Cranes dot the skyline, and fresh new roads usher visitors into the city. With Chinese support, Addis has even built the first light rail system in sub-Saharan Africa - a great investment in public transport and the environment.

The pace of development has been truly remarkable. It reflects the success of Ethiopia as a whole. The country is not only the fastest growing economy in Africa, but by some measures the world. This development has brought tremendous improvements in infrastructure, but also in areas like human health. Ethiopia's two-thirds reduction in child mortality is an outstanding example. It has saved more lives than the combined total of all those who have died in global wars. But it's also brought challenges.

This is why I'm in Ethiopia today on one of my first official visits as head of UN Environment. The environment, which is the ultimate foundation of all of this development, will need to be taken into account as Ethiopia works toward becoming a middle-income country. In previous decades, rapid development was far too often at the expense of the environment in most nations. Now we know better what the consequences are. Growth can only last so long when we sacrifice nature for higher GDP. Economic development today can't afford to be unsustainable.

I'm encouraged to see Ethiopia make strides toward a harmony between growth and the environment. Powering a country with a fast-growing population like Ethiopia will be a difficult task. But with renewable energy projects like the Adama II wind farm, which is the second-largest wind-power plant in all of Africa, the country is setting itself up for long-term energy stability.

And efforts are under way to replenish and protect forests. A UN-backed project is helping the government protect 50,000 hectares of forest. It's a crucial effort that not only helps reduce impacts of climate change, but improves food security as well.

As Addis and other Ethiopian cities develop further, UN Environment and other UN agencies are also working with the government to address the problem of air pollution. We all feel the impact of smog and bad air. And we know and feel the health risks. There are countless cases of air pollution-related illnesses every year here. Of course, this is not a problem unique to Ethiopia. Worldwide, air pollution kills around 7 million each year, almost as many as die from cancer.

In fact, all of these challenges that are facing Ethiopia are ones that are faced by many countries, especially in Africa. If Addis Ababa reflects the story of Ethiopia, then Ethiopia also reflects the story of the growth of the south and the success of so many developing nations. I believe we are lucky to have UN Environment based here in Africa, in neighbouring Kenya, on this continent on the move and on the rise.

I will take the opportunity in Addis to meet with representatives of the African Union, and discuss the common environmental challenges that Africa faces. It's fantastic that I can use the good examples of Ethiopian sustainability efforts in these meetings. I hardly need to though. Sustainable transport, sustainable energy and sustainable attitudes are seen by representatives from around the continent at the headquarters of the African Union every day.

Yet in the diplomatic capital of Africa, it is not only Ethiopia's story that is being shared. There are many environmental success stories across the continent, and the AU is often where they're told. The African community can always rely on each other to demonstrate new and innovative methods of sustainable development.

I am looking forward to watching both Ethiopia and Africa rise and grow sustainably. The Ethiopian ambition of becoming a middle income country with no increase in climate emissions is amazing and inspiring. UN Environment will continue to be a reliable partner to achieve this progress.

(The writer of this piece is Head of UN Environment.)

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