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African Nations See High Stakes, Opportunities in Paris Climate Talks

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Africa at Cop21

African nations brought a unified agenda to the Paris climate conference, making clear they are willing to take aggressive steps to fight global warming but need international support to make significant cuts in pollution.

Africa is highly motivated. Ironically, it is the least polluting of the world’s continents, but it has suffered some of the most severe effects so far – drought in some regions and severe flooding in others.

As the Paris conference drew to a close, key issues of vital interest to Africa were under debate, including the allocation of responsibility for reducing carbon emissions between rich and poor countries as well as how to finance clean-energy improvements and repair damage already done.

Aggressive emission cuts sought

“African countries have demonstrated greater ambition in cutting their emissions than the high-emitting nations,” Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, said. Forty-seven of 53 African countries had completed plans to cut emissions by an October deadline, he said.

Alassane Ouattara, President of Côte d’Ivoire, said his country has set a goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 28 percent by 2030 by increasing renewable sources, reforestation and development of carbon neutral agriculture.

Morocco recently increased its goal to increase renewables from 42 percent in 2020 to 52 percent in 2030.

Seeking international support

At the same time, numerous African nations made clear that they would need international support to make good on their pledges.

Sudan, for example, pledged to “reach 20% renewable share in the power mix by 2030… Aims to raise forest area to 25% of Sudan by 2030… Pledge conditional on international support.”

Yemen pledged a 1 percent cut in emissions by 2030 without international support or by 14 percent cut if international support was forthcoming.

High cost of action

Adesina said Africa needs an international investment of $55 billion a year up to 2030 to create a more efficient energy sector that uses more renewable resources for power. He said the African Development Bank would contribute $5 billion in financing, which will represent 40 percent of its total investments.

The United Nations has estimated it will take more than $93 billion a year for the world’s 48 poorest, least developed countries, including 34 in Africa, to put their action plans into effect.

Of more than $60 billion that has been committed so far, less than a third goes to the poorest countries, according to a November 2015 report by the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Paying for climate damage

African leaders also stressed the need for financial help to confront losses climate change has already wrought in their countries.

The United Nation’s Adaptation Fund “must be reinforced to support the losses and damages suffered by developing countries,” Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of Congo, said, echoing comments of many African leaders.

Currently, the negative effects include drought in South African, Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe as well as heavy rains, landslides and flooding in Burundi, Nigeria, and Somalia.

Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall aims to cultivate more forested land in Africa to fight the effects of climate change.

Seeing opportunity in the challenge

Adesina and other African leaders also pointed to the opportunities – both economic and environmental – that significant climate change work could unleash.

For example, the continent has significant capacity to produce wind and solar power, as well as potential geothermal power.

African forests have the potential to absorb tons of carbon emissions and reforestation efforts are under way to grow forest stock.

Among the efforts unveiled at the Paris conference is the African Restoration Initiative, a coalition of African countries and donors who seek to restore 250 million acres of degraded or deforested land by 2030.

Economic opportunity

As their development accelerates, African nations also are poised to benefit from clean industrialization, tapping technologies that have emerged in the past decade rather than relying heavily on older, carbon-hungry machinery.

“Industrialized countries will have to retrofit older infrastructure to harness the sector’s vast potential. Africa, however, is not married to any technological platform and is ready to leapfrog to these new, efficient and more sophisticated technologies,” Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said at the Paris conference.

Progress for Africa

As Africa looks ahead to the challenges and opportunities of climate change, Adesina of the African Development Bank contrasted its position today with that of the last climate conference.

“A decade ago, at COP 11 in Montreal in 2005, Africa had no common position and no common negotiators,” he said. “This year, at COP 21, it has a Conference of African Heads of State on Climate Change; it has an expert team of about 200 climate negotiators; it has a clearly outlined position on the negotiations; and it has a well-articulated collective work program to support low-carbon and climate-resilient development on the continent.”

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COP21: Africa’s Solar Industry Poised to Take Off

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solar power in africa

With some of the most abundant renewable energy sources but the world’s highest prices for power,  Africa has an enormous stake at the COP21.

Africa’s Power Deficit

This week, one of history’s largest-ever gatherings of world leaders is taking place in Paris, as the international community comes together to tackle climate change. Until  December 11th, the 21st United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP21) will host more than 30,000 diplomats and delegates, seeking to reach a global pact which commits nearly every country in the world to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

Africa has an enormous stake in its success. 621 million people, two thirds of the population, currently live without electricity, using candles, kerosene, or wood to light their homes and cook. Power shortages and service interruptions are the norm. At present rates of progress, 300 million people will still lack electricity in 2040.

And although the continent produces little of the greenhouse gas emissions that world leaders at the COP21 are seeking to reduce, it is Africa’s poor and rural population who pay the highest prices in the world for power. Measured on a per-unit cost, households in Africa pay up to 80 times more for energy than those in London. Indeed, in Kenya charging a mobile phone costs nearly 400 times more than in the US. The economic effects are huge. According to the World Bank, more than 50% of African businesses cite inadequate power supply as a major business constraint.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon adds: “Africa is particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Much of its economy depends on a climate-sensitive natural resource base, including rain-fed subsistence agriculture. Disruptions in food or water supplies pose serious risks not only for the economy but also for political stability, particularly in fragile states.”


M-Kopa Solar Kit

M-Kopa Solar Kit

But there is an environment primed for change. Africa has some of the most abundant renewable energy sources in the world, most notably solar, thanks to 320 days of sunshine per year. Over the past seven years, the price of solar panels has dropped by more than a quarter. Some East African countries have already declared solar products VAT exempt. And mobile penetration has brought people, even in remote communities, into a digital economy. In 2010, investment in renewable energy across Africa was just $3.6 billion, but estimates suggest that is set to hit $57.7 billion by 2020, as an affordable African solar industry is poised to take off.

First and foremost, we are seeing a rise of “solar-preneurs”. For example, Tanzanian startup Juabar designs, builds, and operates mobile solar charging kiosks which it leases to a network of entrepreneurs who can offer electricity to their communities. In Rwanda, the African Renewable Energy Distributor operates a similar franchise network around its own smart solar charging kiosks. There is also the hugely successful M-Kopa Solar – “kopa” is Swahili for “borrowed” – which has pioneered the idea of “Pay-as-you-go” renewable energy. Clients pay an upfront fee of $35 for a solar system (an eight watt solar panel, two LED lights, a USB phone charger, and a portable, solar-powered radio). Using a mobile payment system, clients then top-up $0.45 per day for a year after which the system is theirs. Since launching in 2012, the company has grown to provide power for more than 140,000 households in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, and is adding over 4,000 homes each week. Two similar companies, Azuri and Angaza, are also seeing success.

Working to a slightly different model is Patrick Ngowi’s Tanzanian startup Helvetic Solar Contractors. Operating in Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, and Burundi, and expanding to other parts of Africa, the company supplies durable and affordable solar products (including water heaters, solar kits, solar batteries, and solar street lights). The company also works in less privileged areas through its non-profit division, Light for Life Foundation, providing free solar solutions to rural African women, with a goal to help 100,000 by 2025. Valued at $8 million, it has been awarded the title of Fastest Growing Company and Brand in Tanzania by KPGM. On a similar theme German company Mobisol offers home solar systems via a mobile phone payment plan providing enough electricity to power a variety of household and consumer appliances. It also has larger systems on offer for small businesses.

Solar-orientated accelerators and financers are also emerging. For example, the San Francisco and Tanzania based SunFunder has already financed $2 million of solar projects. And Senegalese-American singer Akon’s Akon Lighting Africa initiative to bring solar electricity to rural Africa has announced the launch of a new Solar Academy to consolidate African expertise. The Academy will train African engineers and entrepreneurs in the skills needed to develop solar power, and to install and maintain solar-powered electricity systems and micro grids, with the support of European experts.

The International Commitment to Solar in Africa

The international community, too, is getting involved. The UK has launched an Energy Africa access campaign, chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. This brings together Richard Branson (who has worked to develop solar power in Caribbean countries), Bob Geldof, and politicians from 14 African countries to work on solar power projects in Africa.

Branson is also part of the Breakthrough Energy Coalition alongside Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. The coalition acts as an investment platform for early-stage clean energy projects which launched on the first day of COP21.

Again in the UK, the Africa Renewal Energy Alliance has seen Nigeria and Sierra Leone sign agreements to fast-track off-grid solar power. A further 12 countries, including Malawi, Senegal, and Tanzania, are expected to join.

2015 Paris Climate Conference COP21

This week’s COP21 is reaffirming the commitment to African renewables. On the first day of the conference, the host country’s President François Hollande announced plans for France to devote €6 billion to generate renewable energy (wind farms, solar power, and hydroelectric projects) in former West African colonies and across Africa between 2016 and 2020.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi also launched an international solar alliance of 121 countries which will mobilize $1 trillion in investment by 2030 for a “massive deployment of affordable solar energy” in sun-rich but cash-poor countries around the world. Modi said: “Solar technology is evolving, costs are coming down and grid connectivity is improving,” he said. “The dream of universal access to clean energy is becoming more real. This will be the foundation of the new economy of the new century.” The Indian government is investing an initial $30 million and will host the alliance secretariat and fund its operations for five years.

So without the entrenched regime of oil and gas to negotiate, Africa now has the opportunity to jump from being the world’s energy-poorest continent to the leader of a new model of renewable energy.

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Room to Breathe: Balancing Climate Change with Development

Comments (0) Africa, Environment, Latest Updates from Reuters, Politics

seyni nafo

By Sheldon Mayer, Managing Editor

In preparation for the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) to be held in Paris in early December, the African Group representative, Seyni Nafo, is readying the hard line he will take with the need to balance Africa’s development and to reduce the horrific impacts of climate change upon the continent.

Mr. Nafo, of Mali, will be representing the 54-country continent in UN negotiations in the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a multilateral treaty signed  in 1992. The 34-year-old Nafo has said that “it’s a positive agenda. It will bring concrete initiatives, not just statements but ambitious initiatives,” an issue that is always of concern in UN treaties due the unenforceable nature of most documents.

Seyni Nafo: There and Back Again

A position of influence is not new to Nafo, the son of an international banker who held lofty positions, including with the African Development Bank. Even with four siblings including a twin, Nafo’s voice was always heard. As Nafo and his family dutifully followed his father, Nafo rubbed shoulders with the elite, particularly during his time at Lycée Saint-Martin-de-France in Pontoise. Run by the Congregation of the Oratory, Nafo said that the Lycée Saint Martin was “not necessarily a school of excellence, but a school of bourgeois or aristocrats,” which built his character and formed the foundation for the strong leader he is today.

Representing nearly 1 billion people in Africa’s struggle to maintain development in the face of carbon emission reductions takes a certain kind of leader: according to Alix Mazounie of the Climate Action Network, Nafo has the necessary “x-factor.” “[Nafo] has a real ability to negotiate with developed countries, and encourage them to do more for Africa…he prefers realistic commitments rather than aberrant figures,” both of which are integral qualities when dealing with the at times glacial UN body.

Before he arrived at the peak of African climate negotiations, Nafo spent a great deal of time abroad. After completing his studies, he worked as a trader in Chicago and learned the ropes of high-powered finance in the world’s carbon emission leader. After returning to Mali 27 years ago, Nafo’s view on climate change sharply focused—“we have no choice,” he said, but to turn to renewables.

A Breath of Fresh Air

While he continues to work as a trader in the African market, he is acutely conscious of the vast differences in his current (albeit officially unknown) income and his potential income were he a hedge fund manager in the United States. The fact that he knows the opportunities available to him and yet remains in his current position as Africa’s climate change forerunner shows his true character. By using his knowledge of international markets, he has embraced the challenges of representing a continent that has relatively little sway in terms of negotiating climate deals but that bears the brunt of the negative effects of climate change.

Nafo’s comments are usually population-centric, and mean to bring attention to Africa’s particularly difficult position. During a 2012 conference, Nafo issued a firm response to US climate envoy Todd Stern, saying that “Africa is at the forefront of climate impacts; science shows that temperatures [have risen] approximately 150% more than the global average…that means the destruction of crops on a huge scale…crops [that] belong to subsistence farmers and the result is devastation and famine. This is not a game with numbers; it’s a question of people’s lives.” 

Keeping Development Alive In Hostile Climate

Nafo knows that sacrificing development in order to reduceAfrica’s relatively low emissions would have would have catastrophic implications. He is a strong proponent of clean energy because it provides an opportunity to maintain development while lowering emissions. “Not only Africa is the region that has the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions and which is the most vulnerable,” says Nafo, “but it is also the region with the greatest potential for renewable energy and the one with the lowest rate of current energy access.” For Nafo, clean energy is the safest, fastest and surest way to develop the continent. While his commitment to clean energy is not purely a commitment to bluer waters and cleaner skies, it shows a deep understanding of Africa’s bargaining power.

A Fair Shot

For Africa, reducing the impacts of climate change is anything but a game. The summit provides an ideal platform to push their development plans as climate-friendly: Africa has borne the brunt of climate change’s negative impacts despite contributing only 3% of the world’s carbon emissions, according to Nafo. The African continent has been crippled by drought and famine, plagued by seemingly endless civil war, and is now at the mercy of the world’s largest emission offenders.

Africa has not had the same pattern of development as the majority of the world: crippled by Western imperialism and colonialism, as well as today’s mismanagement of assets, internal struggles and external pressures, Africa needs a chance to develop before its industry can be curtailed. A continent with nearly 1/7th of the world’s population and only 3% of its global emissions should not be held responsible for change. It is irresponsible of global leaders to suggest that Africa limit itself in the same way as China or the United States. A realistic (meaning enforceable) plan should be developed that promotes sustainable energy sources without decimating Africa’s burgeoning industrial sector.

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