I am delighted to be here today as a keynote speaker at this all-important Berlin Economic Forum 2018. The theme for this year’s forum – “Sustainable Business and Responsible Investments” – could not have been more apt, given the rapidly accelerating and changing international economic and social order. I appreciate that the forum seeks to raise international awareness on such issues as sustainable development, climate change and environmental responsibility, social and economic inequalities, fair trade, corporate social responsibility, and socially responsible investments, all for the good of mankind and planet Earth. These are very laudable ideals that must be situated at the core of humanity’s quest to build a fairer world system that serves not only those of us who happen to be alive today but also the generations yet to come.
In the part of the world that I come from, Africa, which is the continent that has more developing countries than anywhere else, there is the stark dearth of industrialization and technological application for economic development. We have fragile economies, although the continent has more arable lands than any other continent on the globe. Our lands have lodes of mineral wealth and natural resources, and water bodies that compare favourably with other continents.
For instance, the Congo River, which is one of the world’s mightiest, has been studied to be capable of generating over 40,000 Megawatts of electricity at its proposed Grand Inga dam site. It is the world’s largest proposed hydropower scheme, and the centerpiece of a grand vision to develop a continent-wide renewable power system for the whole continent and beyond. But, in spite of this study that was done many years ago, it is yet to attract the requisite investment. Such an investment, if done, would be responsible as well as sustainable, considering the immense impact it will have on improvement of lives on the most challenged continent on the planet.
Ladies and Gentlemen, without seeking to apologize for the many handicaps Africa suffers, I feel constrained to state that history and geography have, without a doubt, conspired to contribute to some of the continent’s handicaps. However, over the past two decades, the continental body, the African Union, with its regional groupings and its 55-member nations, has come around to make some specific proposals for tackling the challenges. They have stated unequivocally that the only way for the nations and the continent to free themselves from the quagmire of poverty and debilitating drawbacks to their development, must be through seeking industrial and economic partnerships, both domestically and internationally.
Africa seeks partners who will come not only with capital but also know how and markets, so that together with them, and in the spirit of sincere and mutual advantage, they would exploit the immense natural resources like arable lands, mighty water courses, advantageous geographical situation of the continent, and a fast-growing educated population within the context of the global market. This is why the African Union set up the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), staffed by competent technocrats with global exposure to lead in the continent’s developmental efforts.
With this for background, talk of responsible investments should immediately import a thoroughly studied field of investments for legitimate profit for all stakeholders, ideally on a win-win public-private partnership basis.
Almost sixty years after independence, African economies are still trapped in the exploitative colonial mould of largely producing raw materials for export, whether it be in mining, hydrocarbons, forestry resources, or agriculture without any value-addition. Obviously, this should explain much of the dependency and poverty syndrome the continent finds itself in. For example, Ghana which is the world’s second-largest producer of cocoa beans earns not more than US$3billion from cocoa exports annually, while the total world cocoa value chain amounts to over US$120 billion annually.
The point here is that there is a great loss to the farmer and the national economy, from the lack of any meaningful and local value addition to the beans to benefit from the value chain. Examples of such losses of opportunity abound in other sectors of the economy. Mineral ores like gold, bauxite, manganese, diamonds, and iron have all been extracted and exported without any meaningful value addition over the past several decades by totally foreign companies.
Similarly, our forests have been decimated without much replanting or processing to add value to our forest products locally. For instance, hardwoods such as Mahogany, Afromosia, Mansonia, Sapele, and many others that averagely take much longer than fifty years to fully mature, have suffered indelible decimation without any value addition in their exploitation, and are now hard to come by. Between 1990 and 2010 alone, the country lost 34% of its total forest cover which in 1960 covered 60-70% of its land mass.
Therefore, whatever investments that were used in the exploitation of these resources without creating local value-addition to enhance revenues and job-creation for the people substantially, cannot be said to be responsible investments and supportive of sustainable development.
Ladies and Gentlemen, the reality of the global situation would seem that mankind, until very recently, has tended to use the planet’s resources as if these resources were limitless. In so doing, great damage has been done to the environment, climate, habitats, ecological balance, and even our social relationships, with dangerous chemicals such as arsenic and mercury having found their way into water bodies that serve as drinking water for people. Some of these occurrences have created conflicts and destabilization of societies. Mankind has not shown adequate seriousness for the sustainability of whatever we do in search of economic prosperity. It seems that mankind has been shortsighted, and not comprehending enough of the balance that nature prescribes for sustainable living on the planet.
Paradoxically, it has taken two cataclysmic world wars and scientific and technological revolutions following from them, within the past century, especially after the Second World War, to rudely awaken mankind from its generally inadvertent abuse of the resources of our universe.
Mr. Chairman, looking through the rear-view mirror of recent history, I believe that there have been three major points of beneficent radical change in global social evolution which are:
Through all these three promulgations, the community of nations, at least in principle, has at long last come to accept the centrality of the human individual in the affairs of human society, and also the security of the planet, Earth. The three resolutions prescribe a new paradigm for the pursuit of economic and social evolution with a conscience, and knowledge to underpin sustainability.
It is against this background that I expect investors and entrepreneurs going about their duty of seeking returns on their investments, to, at all material times, consider what is the public good, side by side with the profits on their investments. And the state should ensure this with enlightened regulations.
The point here is that individual well-being would be best served when situated in a good and stable society. To be able to realize these lofty ideals, the state must accept to partner the private sector to formulate and implement policies with a shared and enlightened vision, where the state sets the framework of enablement for the private sector to operate as an engine of growth, without undue excesses in the markets. This should be the way to achieve balance between responsible investments and sustainable development.
Unfortunately, Mr Chairman, the world still abounds in destructive practices across the development divide through the extractive industries, agriculture, deforestation, burning of fossil fuels, industrial pollution, and many others, all in pursuit of profits, without due regard for the safety and security of humanity and the planet.
Ladies and Gentlemen, it is worthy of note that over much of the decades of the twentieth century, the international community did not seem to appreciate and deliberate on the environment and sustainable development until at the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development, dubbed the first Earth Summit – Rio 1992. Here, economic development was tied to the environment and the sustainability of our world. At that summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the international community tied the destinies of all peoples of the world together and called for the sustainability of our planet in all our economic development decisions and actions.
Of the 27 Principles that were adopted at this Earth Summit, some salient ones relevant to this discussion are worth mentioning here:
Principle 1: Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.
Principle 3: The right to development must be fulfilled so as to equitably meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.
Principle 4: In order to achieve sustainable development, environmental protection shall constitute an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it.
Principle 5: All States and all people shall co-operate in the essential task of eradicating poverty as an indispensable requirement for sustainable development, in order to decrease the disparities in standards of living, and better meet the needs of the majority of the people of the world.
Principle 6: The special situation and needs of developing countries, particularly the least developed and those most environmentally vulnerable, shall be given special priority. International actions in the field of environment and development should also address the interests and needs of all countries.
My friends, without a doubt, these are very powerful and essential ideals which must underpin a sustainable human civilization. Investors and business people should be better well-off, long-term and on a sustainable basis, if humanity, generally, is better served through investments that restore the environment as close as possible to how nature has had it, after their economic activities. This is owed to posterity of future generations of mankind.
Ladies and Gentlemen, following from the first Earth Summit in Rio, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was subsequently born. Through the work of the UNFCCC and its sister organization, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it is now well-established that man has substantially contributed to global warming and climate change. The scientific community has established beyond a reasonable doubt that ozone-depleting greenhouse emissions, for example, from the burning of fossil fuels for energy, are a major culprit in causing climate change.
The IPCC has long sounded the alarm about the devastating effects that Climate Change is having on ecosystems, health, agriculture, food production, costal settlements, island nations, etc., and ultimately, the overall sustainability of life itself as we have known it on our planet Earth. The IPCC is thus urging all parties to do all they can to limit the rise in global temperatures to not more than 2oC above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, otherwise, the effects of climate change will be irreversible.
My friends, there is no doubt that our plant, Earth, is in danger due to the threats posed by climate change. The current generation of humanity, therefore, has a duty to itself and to posterity to work urgently and with a renewed focus towards arresting the causes of Climate Change. We should collectively be responsible in fighting against climate change by way of the concept of Common but Differentiated Responsibilities which was enshrined as Principle 7 of the Rio Declaration at the first Earth Summit in 1992.
Indeed, as part of efforts to temper the impact of climate change, we are called upon to invest in alternative and renewable energy, such as wind and solar energy, which is proving to show incredible promise. Fighting climate change must go hand in hand with developing sustainably and collectively, and thus, the need for the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which is a plan of action for people, our planet, and prosperity. The Agenda recognizes that the eradication of poverty in all its forms and dimensions, including extreme poverty, is the greatest global challenge and an indispensable prerequisite for sustainable development. The human development element of the Sustainable Development Goals, which is essentially the first five goals, together, seeks to address the human insecurities of our times.
Mr. Chairman, among the essential goals as captured in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development are: Ending poverty in all its forms; Ending hunger by achieving food security and improved nutrition through sustainable agriculture; Ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being for all at all ages; Inclusive and equitable quality education for all; and Achieving gender equality and empowerment of all women and girls. The remaining goals all reinforce the earlier ones to guide the world towards sustainable development of the earth’s resources. Thus, investments made within these dictates would be sustainable as well as responsible.
However, Mr Chairman, the other factor of serious consequence to consider that could unravel the effort to achieve responsible investments and sustainable development, might be improperly managed demographics. The current global population is estimated to be over 7 billion. By 2050, this is expected to go to about 9 billion, and by end of century, well over 10 billion. Currently, the continent of Africa is estimated to have about 9% of the current population. By the middle of the century, it will have about 16%. Toward the end of the century, Africa might be about 50% of the global population.
Talking of responsible investments, Africa woefully lacks in the types of investments that would create the necessary and adequate jobs for its peoples, and already, this explains the current spate of hazardous migration of its teeming youth across the Sahara Desert and the Mediterranean Sea, in search of greener pastors. Thus, it becomes essential that the continental organization, the Africa Union, should focus on family planning and critical population growth mechanisms to ensure that the rate of population growth is kept within the pace of industrial and economic transformation it seeks.
In this regard, it should be of primary concern not only for Africa but for the whole international community, led by the United Nations to cooperate in assisting Africa to manage this crucial challenge. It is absolutely important that the call by the continental organization for international partnerships within the framework of NEPAD is heeded, and accepted from both within and outside the continent, especially from Europe, which so far has been the point of first destination of the migrants, so as to tackle studied investments vigorously for wealth and job creation on the continent for the mutual benefit of all stakeholders.
To conclude, Mr Chairman, the call for responsible investments is gaining impetus around the world. Similarly, investment in renewables as the way forward to achieve sustainability and biodiversity of the planet’s natural resources for the continued benefit of humanity is also fast gaining acceptance. Indeed, scientific and technological advances are helping to realize the visions of the global awakening to the essential balance that nature imposes on the evolution of human society.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen, we must agree that the struggle has only just begun and must be sustained endlessly. Thank you all.