Stream 5 Opening on Green Economies and Creating Conditions for Growth – 15th Congo Basin Forest Partnership Meeting of Partners

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

Distinguished guests from the Government of the Republic of Cameroon, whose commitment to environmental protection and sustainable economic growth is crucial for sustainable development in Central Africa.

Members of the international community, governments from the region, private industry, members of civil society and non-governmental organizations.

Members of the media present here today.

It is an honor to be here with you this morning to launch the Congo Basin Forest Partnership meeting on Green Economies and Creating Conditions for Growth.  The United States of America is committed to support your efforts, ideas, and leadership in ensuring sustainable development and conservation in the Congo Basin.  Environmental protection is one of President Obama’s highest foreign policy priorities, and this is a key message Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirms in his travels.  I am proud to echo their commitment today.

Many of you know that the United States is geographically far from the dense forests of the Congo Basin.  I am proud to say that the forests of the Congo Basin are not far from our thinking however.

Over the last two years, the United States has taken a leadership role in this organization working with multiple stakeholders to coordinate priority activities, propose action on emerging issues and to share information with partners and networks active in the Congo Basin.

I can safely say that the United States is proud to Congo Basin Forest Partnership member country and has been proud to work with all of you to bring people together, seek new solutions and help turn your ideas into reality.

So what is a green economy, or l’economie verte?  A green economy brings together development and conservation. It recognizes the critical nexus between responsible management of our environment and socio-economic development. L’economie verte emphasizes the conservation of natural resources as a critical component for not just economic growth butsustainable economic growth.  At the same time, this concept explores the economic potential of biodiversity management for livelihoods.

All of us assembled here this morning share common goals.  We aim to protect this region’s irreplaceable biodiversity and forest resources.  We aim to be stewards of our environment and encourage global citizens to do the same.  We work hard and hope for economic opportunities for ourselves and for our children.  But most importantly, all of us recognize that these objectives are intertwined.  We must envision not just the protection or this region’s environment, but also economic growth in a sustainable and ecologically friendly way.  This is the true and lasting value of creating a green economy.

Yet spurring economic development, let alone green economic development, is not without challenges. A key statistic is that Africa has become this year home to seven of the ten fastest-growing economies in the world.  Unfortunately, only one of those countries is in the Congo Basin.   This region has faced barriers to economic development, but there is immensepotential and opportunity to enhance socio-economic growth through environmentally sound, environmentally conscious, and environmentally beneficial initiatives.

The Congo Basin is quite simply, breathtaking.  I have lived in many beautiful and scenic places, from Nepal to Mozambique to Moscow, but there is certainly much that is special about the Congo Basin, with its dense forests, unique flora, and iconic animal species.  The impressive biodiversity and ecological richness of the Congo Basin offers vast potential to improve the livelihoods of local communities, while also providing benefits for Central African countries, and global citizens.  I welcome your thoughts on how to make this possible.

This room is filled with expertise.  I see some familiar faces here – we have conservationists, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and scholars, with valuable insight on biodiversity, agriculture, forestry, wildlife, business development, community relations, and commercial engagement.  Our agenda is ambitious, but our objectives are clear: to discuss challenges, best practices, and ways forward in developing a green economy and creating conditions for growth in an inclusive way, while sustaining our priceless forests.

First, we want to build and strengthen a network of conservationists, development workers, entrepreneurs, and policymakers.  I expect the coffee breaks to be lively and business cards stocks depleted by the end of the day. The international community, African governments, NGOs, and local actors should not work in a vacuum – it is essential to communicate on priorities and initiatives in order to lead to concrete action and optimal management for conservation activities.  And we are all aware that we cannot act alone, if we are to be effective.

Furthermore, we must underscore the value of the environment in any socio-economic conversation.  The CBFP meeting is not just for a conservationist audience, but those in economics, business, and investment.  Our natural environment is at the heart of our economy and its future growth – the soils, waters, forests and other resources of the region are the true wealth of our countries, and must be valued and sustained, if we are to benefit from them.

Next, we hope to open a dialogue about the challenges and opportunities of sustainable agriculture, forest conservation, and ecotourism for economic development and an improved business climate.  In addition, we must strengthen relationships between the agriculture and forest conservation communities.  Mobilizing change can be a daunting task, but the first step is discourse; by bringing these critical yet difficult discussions to the CBFP meeting, we aim to encourage an open dialogue within the conservation community and private sector to improve communication.

We will hear suggestions on how to attract and sustain ecotourism.  According to a 2013 World Bank report on Tourism in Africa, tourism accounts for just 1% of the GDP of most Congo Basin countries.  There are worthwhile but tangible reforms and actions that can be considered to tap into this socio-economic potential.  With ecotourism, revenues in part go to benefit conservation, ecosystem management, and local communities, and are low-impact on the ecosystem itself – an ideal strategy. The current barriers to ecotourism in the region are things that can be overcome, if we have the creativity and the resolve to do so.

Last, we are here to advocate for policy reform.  Through the CBFP, the conversations and ideas from this stream could translate into action by Congo Basin governments, the international community, small and medium enterprises, and community systems.  We can all learn from each other to improve in an effective and sustainable way.

The vision of a green economy will differ from country to country.  For the United States, President Obama has prioritized growth of the green economy through a variety of policies.  This Administration is successfully restoring priority ecosystems across the United States to strengthen natural resources for communities.  The U.S. is taking comprehensive action to ensure the integrity of the waters Americans rely on every day for drinking, swimming, and fishing, and that support farming, recreation, tourism, and economic growth.  We are safely and responsibly developing our energy resources while advancing cleaner forms of energy, such as natural gas and renewables.

In June 2013, President Obama outlined the Climate Action Plan to cut carbon pollution, help prepare the United States for the impacts of climate change, and continue to lead international efforts to address global climate change.  This administration established the first comprehensive National Policy for the Stewardship of the Ocean, our Coasts, and the Great Lakes, and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry held the first “Our Ocean” Conference last June, inviting international ocean and foreign policy communities to chart a way forward to protecting the seas and oceans.

Today, the U.S. Facilitation of the Congo Basin Forest Partnership welcomes your thoughts and recommendations on developing a green economy strategy for and within the Congo Basin.  I want to express my appreciation for your enthusiasm, your dedication, and your work.  Each of us has the influence and the capacity to move forward in strategic ways for impactful change.  Let us seize this spirit of constructive partnership and bring greater prosperity to this beloved region.

Thank you, on est ensemble!