Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Africa: Continent's Future Lies in a Green Energy Grid

Africa: Continent's Future Lies in a Green Energy Grid

Stephen Leahy

14 December 2010

Uxbridge, Canada � Development in Africa could falter as climate change
grips the continent, increasing the length and severity of droughts and
floods by altering precipitation patterns, among other impacts.

The region needs a major shift in its economic development policies and
thinking towards decentralised, green economic development, experts now

"The world's big economies are largely living off financial transactions
which are unconnected to development," warns Supachai Panitchpakdi,
secretary-general of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development.

"Export growth does not automatically result in green economic growth, we
must look at trade for development," said Panitchpakdi.

In a rejection of failed neoliberal economic policies, Panitchpakdi said
strong national policies on investments, taxation, protection of local
industries, including subsidies, and changes to less restrictive
intellectual property regimes are what is needed to green economies in
Africa and elsewhere.

"Green economic development underpins environmental protection, economic
growth and development," he said.

The tentative global economic recovery this year is largely a jobless
recovery because the current economic growth model is designed to make
"people redundant", said Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N.
Environment Programme (UNEP).

Tim McKulka

Green economic development ...

"It favours large concentrated power grids, for example, which require
very few people," Steiner told IPS.

A low-carbon economy is not for the rich countries, it is for the poorest
because it is more resource-efficient, employs more people and brings
development at a lower cost, he said, adding, "We have to grow the
economies of Africa but only through green sustainable development,
delinked from increasing resource use."

"After 50 years of development, 80 percent of Kenya's population had no
access to electricity. Now, after a 2008 shift to renewable energy, more
Kenyans have access to electricity than ever before," he noted.

Kenya's feed-in tariff, similar to Germany's, is expected to produce about
1300 MW of electricity generation capacity from biomass, geothermal,
biogas, solar energy, wind, and small hydro this year. A feed-in tariff
offers long-term contracts at a set price based on the cost for renewable
energy generation.

Germany now employs more than 380,000 people in its renewable energy
sector and 1.8 million in its environmental sector - far more than its
vaunted automobile sector, Steiner said.

"More than half a billion people in rural Africa have little or no access
to electricity," noted Nebojsa Nakicenovic of the International Institute
for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria.

"They pay a large part of their incomes for some kerosene lighting or
diesel electric at a cost that is twice that of what the average European
pays," Nakicenovic, a leading energy economist, told IPS. "Or worst of all
they are forced to rely on flashlights, which is the most expensive form
of lighting available."

Universal access to modern energy services globally has been estimated to
cost between $80 and $100 billion a year in a number of recent studies,
including those by the International Energy Agency and the United Nations
Industrial Development Organisation in Vienna.

"That seems like a lot of money but it is significantly less than the $300
to $600 billion being spent annually to subsidise the fossil fuel sector,"
Nakicenovic pointed out.

Technically, it is doable, representing roughly 20 gigawatts of energy
generation - less than what countries like Brazil and South Africa have
been able to add in recent years.
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Increasing energy access in Africa has a huge range of benefits, he says.
It would drive economic development, improve the health of millions by
reducing indoor air pollution from kerosene and biomass burning, reduce
emissions of greenhouse gases like black carbon and reduce deforestation.

Local technology and local energy distribution in the form of small-scale
hydro, biomass, biogas, solar, wind and other forms of production are best
suited to Africa. The challenge is mobilising the investments needed, he
said. These should be national programmes with long-term financial
commitments from the international community.

"We don't need international climate treaties to do this," said
Nakicenovic. "Doing things right will bring green growth and prosperity."

This IPS story is part of a series supported by the Climate and
Development Knowledge Network -

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