Many African nations have abundant natural resources, forests and other materials that have been over-exploited and reduced by unsustainable development in other regions.
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said Africa could become the envy of the global community.
He told a group of ministers from African nations meeting in Ethiopia that advancing a green economy wasn't an alternative to sustainable development, however.
"It is as relevant to developing economies as it is to developed ones," he said in a statement. "It is not a straitjacket, nor is it prescriptive."
South African recently adopted a $1 billion green economic plan to advance water management and expand the national railway system. Kenya aims to include more geothermal and wind in its energy mix.
"The rest of the world can learn from Africa but Africa can also learn from other continents," added Steiner.