Achim Steiner, executive director of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), delivered a call to action on the green economy as he inaugurated the conference on Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), an event hosted by Dubai and the UAE.

PAGE is a direct response to a call made in paragraph 66 of the outcome document for the Rio+20 UN conference for sustainable development, and calls for UN cooperation to allow countries to exchange experiences in a way that creates opportunities in the transition to a green economy.

Thanking HH Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, VP and PM of UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and His Excellency Rashid Ahmed Bin Fahad, Minister of Environment and Water, for hosting the PAGE conference, Steiner noted:

“Almost two years ago, at Rio+20, more than 190 nations gave the green light to an inclusive Green Economy in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. By taking a country by country approach, PAGE will to catalyse up to 30 national economies between now and 2020.”

The initiative’s precise aims are to improve human well-being and social equity while reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcity in line with development priorities.

Steiner continued: “Today, countries such as Burkina Faso, Peru, Mauritius, Mongolia, and Senegal are set to boost their economies through a shift of investment and policies towards clean technologies, resource-efficient infrastructure, skilled green labour, well-functioning ecosystems, and good governance. Such a transformation will pay significant dividends in socio-economic and environmental terms.”

He cautioned, however, that in the wake of the global financial crisis, it was evident that growth must be achieved within the ecological boundaries of a resource-constrained world.

“Lifting the world’s 1.2 billion poorest to a life of dignity will require financing, innovation, technology transfer and capacity building, along with effective governance and mutually beneficial partnerships at all levels.”

UNEP research suggests that investing two percent of global GDP to greening economic sectors will produce a higher global GDP within 10 years, and that green investments coupled with social policy reforms offer economically viable options to reduce poverty and hunger, and address challenges of climate change and degradation of natural resources.

“The share of the poor in global GDP is marginal and is reduced with the erosion of natural capital: the share of the bottom 40% of the population in global wealth remains less than five percent, and it is this segment of humanity which overwhelmingly lives on small farms, coastal areas and around forests, and depends on natural capital for their livelihoods, nutrition, health, employment, income, wealth creation opportunities as well as a safety net.”

He further highlighted that natural capital accounts for a quarter of the wealth created in low income countries, and that the degradation of these natural resources creates a poverty trap leading to a reinforcing loop of environmental degradation and growing inequalities.

Meanwhile, the dominant consumption pattern of affluent societies places a major stress on natural resources, and according to a report by the International Resource Panel, total resource use grew eight-fold, from 6 billion tonnes in 1900 to 49 billion tonnes in 2000.

Steiner cautioned that “by 2050, humanity could devour an estimated 140 billion tonnes of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass per year – three times its current appetite – unless economic growth is “decoupled” from natural resources consumption.”

In the developing world, however, investment in green technology is already on the rise, and the investment originating from non-OECD countries in specifically clean energy soared from $4.9bn in 2004 to $72.6bn last year, peaking at $257bn in 2011.

The Kenyan government’s attractive feed-in tariffs have encouraged key industries to become more energy efficient, and Africa’s largest Geothermal Power Station, Olkaria, feeds 150 Megawatts (MW) into the national grid, while the country aims for 1200 MW by 2018.

In Senegal, investment in clean energy will increase the use of renewable sources for power generation by 30% in the next 20 years and create between 7000 to 30,000 green jobs in the construction and renewable energy sectors, while organic farming in Ghana could yield a 30% increase in jobs per hectare, and further policies and strategies are being developed towards that end.

In 2012, the African Development Bank raised $2.2bn to address climate change, a 50% increase to the previous year, and more than 90% of the approved projects were green. The Bank’s inaugural “green bond” also raised $550m in global investment within 24 hours.

Steiner summed: “Around the world, we are seeing a multiplicity of pathways to design and build greener economies, but to support such efforts, we need to remove barriers and to enable poor and vulnerable groups to participate in, contribute to and benefit from the transition.

“For a credible and systematic transformation to take place, supportive policies, institutional and governance reforms and targeted investment at the local, national and global levels need to be put in place and scaled up as part of national development planning, based on national priorities.”

PAGE is an inter-agency initiative founded by UNEP, but also involving the International Labour Organization (ILO), the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and other agencies.