According to a new survey, international investors say Africa’s renewable energy industry is the most promising on the continent.
The survey which was conducted by a French research agency Havas Horizons, indicates that investors believe in the ability of Africa to become a world reference for renewable energy.
It further states that projects in this particular sector, which was long considered risky, now represent a high potential in realizing higher returns on investment .
Solar energy was highlighted as the most promising energy solution by the year 2020 and Africa is now entering a global trend of development of renewable energy at the expense of fossil fuels.
The fall in global commodity prices has not decreased investor confidence in the continent, the research says. Adding that investors are willing to keep and even increase their investments in Africa, with Ethiopia, Nigeria, Morocco, Ghana and Senegal, showing immense potential.
However, investors cited issues surrounding legal procedures and governance as some of the main setbacks.
Havas Horizons polled 55 banking and financial institutions between January 14 and February 29.
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The New Urban Agenda must reinforce three key city assets, says ICLEI secretary general Gino Van Begin: Ambitious leaders, skilled staff, and strong community and stakeholder engagement.
This is life in a sustainable city. You weave through other cyclists each morning on a seamless network of cycle tracks that bring you straight to work at a renewable-energy start-up. The air is fresh and light, filtered by native trees and shrubs that line the streets.
Your office is adjacent to a public park that replaced a once-vacant plot of land. It has a popular picnic area that is full of different languages and accents when the weather is dry and a rain garden to absorb excess water from storms. When leaving the office after dark, you can see bright constellations of stars in the sky.
Can you picture this happening in your city? Can you picture it in every city around the world?
For some, the notion of living in a sustainable city can feel vague and distant, a dream of the future. But others are already living in this city or are advancing quickly towards it.
For ICLEI, sustainability is indisputably the necessary path for all city life and operations. Sustainable cities reap the benefits of environmental, social and economic innovation, becoming better equipped to respond to pressing urban challenges, shifting demographic and economic trends, and environmental change. They are designed with people and planet in mind.
Cities, towns and regions across the world join ICLEI to push the boundaries of sustainability and multiply the positive impacts they have on the world. At ICLEI, we envision no less than a world of sustainable cities that go beyond zero waste, are free from fossil fuels, and drive continual innovation in order to protect and enhance life equitably and for all.
A sustainable city goes beyond zero waste to become a productive system, upending the idea that economic growth relies on resource extraction and depletion of finite energy and materials. This city makes the most of existing resources through reuse, sharing, and exchange rather than relying on a continuous path of production and consumption.
In this way, the city restores and enhances natural systems. It also decreases dependence on international resource chains while creating a thriving sharing economy that changes consumption patterns among residents. Imagine a city where organic waste feeds thriving green space and urban gardens and where residents share rather than buy electric cars.
A sustainable city is on the fast track to becoming free from fossil fuels, proving that such dependence is a relic of the past. These cities diversify and modernize mobility and transport, commit to 100 percent renewable energy, and divest from fossil fuels.
Together, these strategies shift the balance of power away from industry. They also open up space for residents and small businesses to decide upon, participate in, and even profit from new energy systems. This is a city where residents sell excess solar power to the grid and can choose to ride biofuel buses or cycle to work.
A sustainable city is also a hub of economic, social and environmental innovation. These innovations, driven by local governments and residents, have the potential to transform nearly every aspect of urban life and city operations.
Innovation in a sustainable city means building a local economy that is brimming with green jobs. That process is supported by skills development and training, encouraging entrepreneurship, and employing smart ways of collecting data and translating it into innovative policy and action.
An innovative city also maps vulnerabilities and risks with data generated by residents. And it provides incubator space for start-up businesses of all kinds.
A sustainable city is on the fast track to becoming free from fossil fuels, proving that such dependence is a relic of the past.
The net effect is that sustainable cities ultimately protect and enhance daily life for all residents.
It is not easy for cities to achieve this vision. It takes myriad small steps to achieve big goals. Yet cities are already making progress and committing to bold action.
The world is past the point of questioning whether sustainable urban development is essential. It is clear that we need sustainable cities, and we are increasingly aware of the figures that support this vision: Cities represent more than two-thirds of the global economy and 70 percent of global greenhouse-gas emissions. Over half the global population lives in cities, a figure that will rise to two-thirds by 2050.
We are quickly approaching the Habitat III conference in Quito, where nations will define the course of urbanization for the coming decades. Now is the time to ensure the New Urban Agenda — the conference’s outcome strategy — equips the world to create truly sustainable cities that meet our ambitious vision.
At ICLEI, we are well aware that cities have unique assets, with the potential to shift the trajectory of global development. The New Urban Agenda must therefore reinforce these assets to globalize the sustainable city and its concomitant benefits, with a particular focus on the following three areas.
Ambitious leaders: Sustainable cities have ambitious leaders who push the envelope of sustainability. They communicate a clear vision for their city and ensure that sustainability becomes the norm in daily life and discourse.
Curitiba, Brazil, stands out with a widely recognized tradition of sustainability and transport innovation brought about by visionary planning by Mayor Jaime Lerner in the 1960s. This legacy has continued under the leadership of Mayor Gustavo Fruet, who is advancing transport innovation as part of his own vision to continuously improve quality of life in the city.
The City of Seoul, South Korea, also is widely recognized as a pioneer in urban sustainability. Mayor Park Won Soon, who is also president of ICLEI, envisions a “new urbanization” that fights climate change, achieves energy self-reliance, and allows people and nature to coexist.
Under his leadership, Seoul is creating a thriving sharing city. It is also avoiding 10 million tonnes of greenhouse-gas emissions by 2020 through its “One Less Nuclear Power Plant” programme. The initiative sought to reduce energy consumption equivalent to one nuclear power plant — a goal that was reached before the project moved into a second phase.
Through the New Urban Agenda, nations must make room for ambitious leaders to be visible and engaged, advocating and shaping policies and mechanisms that enable cities to act on their ambitions.
Skilled staff: Sustainable cities can exist only with skilled government staff members who know precisely how to achieve the ambitions of city leaders. They understand the technical, natural and social systems that underlie everyday life in their cities, and can deliver interventions that will change the course of development.
Deborah Roberts of eThekwini municipality in Durban, South Africa, is one such example. As head of environmental planning and climate protection and Durban’s first chief resilience officer, she has invigorated biodiversity and community-based adaptation as a central part of urban planning. Ultimately, the aim is to bring together people and ecosystems in a way that creates jobs and alleviates poverty.
In 2011, Roberts helped rally more than 100 local governments around urban adaptation by bringing the Durban Adaptation Charter for local governments to the international climate talks that year. Most recently, in 2015, she was elected as co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II on Adaptation, as the first scientist with an urban practice background to take on this global role.
The New Urban Agenda must ensure that cities receive adequate funds to hire skilled staff and build their capacity to shape and carry out ambitious programmes and projects.
Strong community and stakeholder engagement: Civil society holds collective knowledge that is full of potential for outside-the-box thinking based on intimate knowledge of daily life in city neighbourhoods. Residents and community-based organizations are sources of ideas, data and feedback, and if leveraged properly, they can become powerful agents of change.
The City of Reykjavík, Iceland, has opened up unused urban space for residents to experiment with potential sustainable uses that support plans to liven public space, enhance creativity and engage residents in designing their own surroundings. Residents receive grants from the city to experiment temporarily with their space to spark discussions around more-permanent use.
At Habitat III, nations must encourage open processes for engaging members of civil society, and empower cities to respond to the demands, ideas and needs they present.
These are the key assets that differentiate cities and make them stand out from the crowd. When all three of these factors are strong, cities can transform themselves — and consequently the rest of the world. Now is the time to globalize the sustainable city and empower cities to lead this change.
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The key question for South Africa is how will it be done, and how we ensure it that it does not hurt the economy, nor the poor. In any case, given the increase in electricity prices over the last few years, the tax liability of companies that have adjusted to these price hikes will be better off than companies that are stuck with old technologies or business models that make them reliant on fossil fuels or methods of production that lead to high emissions of carbon dioxide.
The carbon tax ought to help achieve three things: lower carbon intensity from improved energy efficiency or through switching to alternative energy; it ought to stimulate new growth, new technologies and enterprise; and it should encourage development of new product lines which in turn would stimulate new investments and jobs. This is why a carbon tax, unlike alarmist claims, is not a zero-sum game.
With more than 40 countries, 20 subnational jurisdictions and over 200 global companies imposing carbon pricing in some form, the writing is on the wall: a global carbon price is on the horizon. Airline emissions will be priced soon, and it is likely that shipping will be included in the near future. Basically, if South Africa does not impose carbon pricing, it will be imposed upon it. It is true that the current carbon tax proposal is not perfect, but it is nevertheless immensely better to have a flawed, but fixable, instrument in place than to have nothing at all.
Increased electricity prices already make a strong case for business and industry to invest in energy efficiency. The proposed tax price of R120 and the extent of rebates mean that the carbon tax will not change this much, with no increase in electricity price and a 1% to 4% increase in the price of fuel. It nevertheless makes sense that an initial, low-cost tax be piloted in order to iron out the monitoring and reporting structures to ensure its enforceability, while accustoming tax-liable entities to the process.
It is critical for government to adhere to the proposal to increase the carbon tax over the first phase, and when the rebates are reduced during the second phase, alternative options such as on-site renewable electricity generation and more significant efficiency investments become financially attractive. Without this increase, the carbon tax will fail to leverage any real change.
It is also important to bear in mind that those industries and businesses that act early will have an advantage, both competitively through improved efficiencies and through reduced tax liability. In effect, a carbon tax can improve business viability, by requiring investments in energy efficiency that would otherwise be uneconomic for a business.
In the transition phase the carbon tax should be used as a tool to prod change, and revenues generated from the tax should be used to assist struggling sectors and those most likely to be affected from the transfer of costs to consumers (in the first phase the effects will be negligible). In the short term there should be revenue neutrality and in the long term government will benefit its tax base through improved use of energy, new investments due to productivity, and new technology.
Accompanying the draft carbon tax bill are the just-released draft carbon offset regulations, which are an important component of the national mitigation measures. They indicate that the National Treasury has been listening to inputs from the public, and has put serious thought into the risks of carbon offsetting. At present, any tax-liable entity will be allowed to avoid some of their carbon tax liability by purchasing offsets.
The basic concept underlying carbon offsets is that a tonne of greenhouse gas is effectively the same wherever in the world it is emitted. Therefore, if the implementer of some regulated activity that emits a greenhouse gas can pay to have an equivalent amount measurably removed (or “sequestered”) from the atmosphere elsewhere, on balance he will have met his obligation.
Of course, this requires that the activity that sequesters the greenhouse gas is not itself subject to regulation, and that this removal would not have occurred anyway (termed “additionality”). Government needs to put strong requirements in place to ensure this additionality, and to regularly check that the assumptions are still valid for projects.
Offsets need careful consideration if they are not to be abused and used as false measures of progress. Offsets should reduce the overall emissions profile of the economy, not maintain the status quo or result in an increase (which is termed “leakage” in the technical jargon of the field). Offsets should not be a free pass for polluters and a financial windfall for market speculators.
There is still a need for some changes to the proposed carbon offsets structure – principally limiting it to sectors that have no alternative but to offset – but it is a necessary component of the national mix of measures required to facilitate a transition to a low carbon economy. The main risk is associated with the complexity of implementation.
Carbon offsets are a critical part of what is called the mitigation hierarchy. It is important first to both avoid emissions wherever possible through investment in renewable energy and ceasing activities that provide little benefit to society, and to reduce emissions across low energy technologies, public transport, solar water heating, and any number of means of improving energy efficiency.
However, certain essential activities such as the manufacture of steel have no alternative to greenhouse gas emissions. As long as society depends on these activities, greenhouse gas emissions are a given; offsets are the only means of reducing total emissions from these sectors. For this reason, offset allowances should be limited only to essential activities that provide the most benefit to the economy and the poor.
The appetite for offsets from these activities should suffice to catalyse improved mitigation in sectors not currently liable for a carbon tax. Not using offsets for other sectors will prevent offsets from undermining the incentive provided by a carbon tax to improve the efficiencies and reduce intensity of processes in these sectors.
Moreover, not all offsets are created equal. While the Treasury white list of approved activities excludes many of the more egregious forms of offset generation, some have more risk associated with them than others. Curtailing methane emissions from waste or dairy manure lagoons is straightforward, readily measured, and largely uneconomic at present, and therefore is a good, low-cost option that makes sense to implement.
Fuel switch options are less simple; switching between different fossil fuel types should not be encouraged as South Africa transitions towards a low carbon economy, and the economic case for renewables makes these viable even without carbon credit finance. However, for effective fuel switching to occur, reforms in the energy sector are necessary.
A more effective means of financing the switch to renewables would be the finalisation of a feed-in tariff to allow generation of electricity by homes, businesses and larger installations.
This should be decentralised to local government.
The national offsets registry should be complemented by recording all offsets generated within the country, voluntary or regulated. If this is not done, a credit could be sold to a buyer outside the country, who will record the reduction against his regulation. It will also be captured in the national Greenhouse Gas Inventory, which is part of South Africa’s regular reporting to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. This is called “double counting”, where a single emission is claimed by two different people, and is one of the big risks of offsets. By ensuring that the national registry tracks where such credits are sold, it will enable South Africa to avoid double counting.
Moreover, government must ensure that the systems in place for application of the tax and offsets are up to the task. Given that many of the proposed offsets have a restricted credit period, it will be necessary for offset purchasers to replace credits once they expire: this means that seven to 20 years after a credit is purchased, the entity will have to buy new credits.
This is considerable longer than the usual period for which tax records are retained; government must ensure that this is adequately enforced or the validity of the offsets will be undermined.
Overall, it is encouraging to see that the government of South Africa is pushing forward with internal measures to make good on its international commitments and obligations to its own citizens to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
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Future in which global concentration of CO2 is permanently above 400 parts per million looms
The world is hurtling towards an era when global concentrations of carbon dioxide never again dip below the 400 parts per million (ppm) milestone, as two important measuring stations sit on the point of no return.
The news comes as one important atmospheric measuring station at Cape Grim in Australia is poised on the verge of 400ppm for the first time. Sitting in a region with stable CO2 concentrations, once that happens, it will never get a reading below 400ppm.
An atmospheric measuring station at Cape Grim in Australia is poised on the verge of 400ppm for the first time. Photograph: CSIRO
Meanwhile another station in the northern hemisphere may have gone above the 400ppm line for the last time, never to dip below it again.
“We’re going into very new territory,” James Butler, director of the global monitoring division at the US National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, told the Guardian.
When enough CO2 is pumped into the atmosphere from burning fossil fuels, the seasonal cycles that drive the concentrations up and down throughout the year will eventually stop dipping the concentration below the 400ppm mark. The 400ppm figure is just symbolic, but it’s psychologically powerful, says Butler.
In Hawaii, the Mauna Loa station is sitting above 400 ppm and might never dip below it again. Photograph: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The first 400ppm milestone was reached in 2013 when a station on the Hawaiian volcano of Mauna Loa first registered a monthly average of 400ppm. But the northern hemisphere has a large seasonal cycle, where CO2 concentrations decrease in summer but increase in winter. So each year since it has dipped back below 400ppm.
Then, combining all the global readings, the global monthly average was found to pass 400ppm in March 2015.
A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration graph of global monthly mean carbon dioxide. Photograph: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
In the southern hemisphere, the seasonal cycle is less pronounced and atmospheric levels of CO2 hardly drop, usually just slowing in the southern hemisphere summer months. This week scientists revealed to Fairfax Media that Cape Grim had a reading of 399.9ppm on 6 May. Within weeks it would pop above 400ppm and never return.
“We wouldn’t have expected to reach the 400ppm mark so early,” said David Etheridge, an atmospheric scientist from the CSIRO, which runs the Cape Grim station. “With El Nino, the ocean essentially caps off it’s ability to take up heat so the concentrations are growing fast as warmer land areas release carbon. So we would have otherwise expected it to happen later in the year.
“No matter what the world’s emissions are now, we can decrease growth but we can’t decrease the concentration.
“Even if we stopped emitting now, we’re committed to a lot of warming.”
Over in Hawaii, the Mauna Loa station, which is the longest-running in the world, is sitting above 400 ppm, and for the first time, might never dip below it again.
“It’s hard to predict,” Butler told the Guardian. “It’s getting real close.”
Meanwhile, the global average, after controlling for the seasonal cycle, popped above 400ppm late last year. Within a couple of years, the seasonal dips will never drop below 400ppm in the global average too.
Air samples collected at Cape Grim, Tasmania, Australia, under clean air (baseline) conditions. Photograph: CSIRO
All together, the world is on the verge of no measurements ever showing a reading under 400ppm.
“There’s an answer to dealing with this and that’s to stop burning fossil fuels,” Butler said.
Butler also emphasised that this CO2 is locking in future warming. “It’s like lying in bed with your electric blanket set to three. You jack it up to seven – you don’t get hot right away but you do get hot. And that’s what we’re doing.”
The CO2 concentrations are driving what appears to be runaway climate change around the world.
This year has seen record hot global ocean temperatures, which have caused coral reefs all around the world to bleach and devastated Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
Air surface temperatures have also been shocking climate scientists. Yearly and monthly temperature records have been breaking regularly, with many of the records being broken by the biggest margins ever seen.
“It’s pretty ugly when you look at it,” Butler said.
Because of the interconnectedness of energy, food, and water systems, a vulnerability in one can hold serious implications for the others.
Recently, the Sustainability Institute and School of Public Leadership in Stellenbosch, South Africa published a report, “Mitigating Risks and Vulnerabilities in the Energy-Food-Water Nexus in Developing Countries.” The report was compiled for the United Kingdom Department of International Development, and it outlines the dynamic interactions between energy, food, and water systems to identify vulnerabilities and propose policy solutions. The linkages described in the report include energy and water inputs in the food system; crops and water which are used to produce energy in the form of biofuels, fossil fuels, and hydroelectricity; and energy and agricultural production which adversely impact water quality.
According to the authors, “this escalating tension between increasing demand and limits on resources and environmental sinks threatens to create energy and food price shocks that ripple across integrated global markets and result in local shortages of key resources. This, in turn, threatens to undermine energy, food, and water security, and thereby reduce human welfare and possibly lead to social tensions and geopolitical conflict.” If these systems are addressed independently of one another, rather than holistically, it could result in policies and measures which are ineffective or even harmful to other parts of the nexus.
While resource availability and environmental space might not be an immediate obstacle to global economic growth, resource constraints and climate change have been identified as crucial challenges in the twenty-first century which have the potential to impact political security and stability. According to the World Bank, some 1.3 billion people lack access to electricity while 1.2 billion people have unreliable access and over 780 million people lack reliable access to clean and safe water. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), at least 800 million people suffer from chronic undernourishment. Demand for these resources is projected to increase significantly in the next half century, driven by increased population, global economy expansion, rising living standards, and a continuing process of urbanization. Most of the increased demand is expected to happen in developing countries, and the lack of available resources will increasingly limit the ability to meet demand.
This study is composed of a literature review of documents on the energy-food-water nexus, a qualitative analysis of vulnerability indicators, and a policy analysis to produce recommendations for mitigating those vulnerabilities. In addition to global analysis, specific case studies in Malawi, South Africa, and Cuba were conducted to understand the systems of different types of regimes. Malawi is a primarily agrarian system which depends on low productivity, rain-fed agriculture, and biomass energy and has low access to electricity, improved water sources, and adequate nutrition. South Africa is heavily dependent on fossil fuels to power high energy industry and agriculture, and complex water supply infrastructures which are threatened by fossil-fuel-intensive energy and food systems. Cuba incorporates extensive agroecological farming and a growing use of renewables, but it is weak regarding reliance on imported grains and fuels.
The identified risks and vulnerabilities faced by developing countries include extreme events such as droughts or floods, oil price shocks, food price shocks, geopolitical tensions, and financial speculation in commodity markets. The result of food, energy, and water insecurity is the potential for heightened social instability in countries and throughout regions. Concerning policy strategies moving forward, it was noted that any mitigation strategy has to begin with the creation of well-functioning institutions, efficient government systems, and integrated policy frameworks to design and implement effective policies. In rural areas, the critical issue is to optimize land use to provide necessary services, and in urban areas, the emphasis should be on creating resource efficient low carbon cities. For primarily agrarian regimes, the recommendation is to expand access to water, food, and energy while limiting the adverse environmental impacts, and in industrial countries, the greatest challenges are to minimize the vulnerability to international energy prices, reduce resource and energy intensity, and reduce the negative impacts of fossil fuels.
Why should the whole world have to repeat our mistakes?
When solar farms in sub-Saharan Africa start to become more common than coal-fired power plants, it is time for the rest of the world to take notice. The clean energy revolution is happening right now under our feet.
“The rapidly unfolding energy transition is bypassing coal and going straight to low-cost renewables.”
Two centuries of burning fossil fuels brought development to much of the world, but also brought large-scale climate change and a host of severe impacts: millions of deaths from air pollution and excessive heat, lack of access to modern energy services for billions of the world’s poor and geopolitical conflicts over resources. While climate change is one of the most urgent crises of our time, extensive research indicates that the possibility of quickly switching to 100% clean, renewable energy that will mitigate these impacts is at our fingertips.
The recently signed Paris Agreement is a watershed moment for the clean energy transition. It provides the strongest market signal yet for companies and countries to double down on their renewable energy investments and to continue moving away from fossil fuels.
That change is already happening in many parts of the developing world. The rapidly unfolding energy transition is bypassing coal and going straight to low-cost renewables. As countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America seize this chance to “leapfrog” over fossil fuels and expand their clean energy capacity, they not only benefit from economic growth and cheap electricity, they also increase their security and avoid the severe damage to health and the environment that burning fossil fuels causes.
In fact, the Paris Climate Conference prompted the creation of the African Renewable Energy Initiative, a continent-wide program to massively increase Africa’s clean energy over the next 15 years while bypassing the pitfalls of fossil fuels.
As the new African Renewable Energy Initiative indicates, countries have the ability not only to leapfrog fossil fuels, but also to replace them while still keeping the lights on. Our research, conducted at Stanford University and the University of California, shows that by 2050 nearly every country in the world can transition its all-purpose energy to 100% clean, renewable wind, water and sunlight.
Africa has significant clean energy resources available that make it technically and economically feasible for 80% of the continent’s energy to be switched to renewables from fossil fuels no later than 2030.
As Africa’s current population grows from 1.1 billion to 1.6 billion by 2030, wind and solar could overtake fossil fuels as the dominant forms of energy. For example, our analysis shows that South Africa could get 56% of its electricity from utility-scale solar, Kenya 28%, and Mozambique 34%, all for lower cost than electrifying with coal. While conservative scenarios predict about half of the continent will have access to the electricity grid by 2030, this means 640 million Africans will plug into the grid for the first time thanks to renewables.
“640 million Africans will plug into the grid for the first time thanks to renewables.”
This is not just pie in the sky. Our work is based on detailed engineering and an itemized mix of technologies and costs for 139 nations, including how much land and rooftop area would be needed to add renewable technologies. Some may wonder where all of this energy will come from. The vast majority of electricity will be generated by wind and solar power: nearly a third from wind, over half from solar power (the majority utility-scale photovoltaics) and the rest via hydroelectric dams, geothermal and tidal power.
The clean energy transition will occur by electrifying everything: cars, heating, agricultural and industrial equipment can all run on electricity. Rapidly advancing battery technologyensures this power will be there when needed. Electrifying reduces power demand by about a third thanks to the efficiency of electricity over burning fossil fuels.
There is no doubt that undertaking this type of massive transformation in developing countries will be challenging. It will require sufficient financial and political support, which can be hard to come by in countries that experience political instability and low public financing. Public money will be necessary to get the ball rolling through initiatives like the public funds transfers from developed countries to developing ones, set up by the Paris Agreement. These funds will open the door for trillions of dollars of private sector investment.
The benefits of achieving this transition are global. They include eliminating 4 to 7 million premature air pollution deaths per year—similar to the annual deaths caused by smoking. It would provide steady power to four billion people that do not currently have it, and create over 20 million long-term clean energy jobs. Turbocharging the clean energy transition is also critical to tackling climate change.
Countries that choose to skip past fossil fuels in favor of renewables avoid increased healthcare costs and see stronger job growth and greater political stability. The clean energy transition will avoid air pollution costs that that are over 3% of annual world GDP, and prevent $16 to $20 trillion per year in global climate costs by 2050.
“The main barriers to a more rapid conversion are neither technical nor economic. They are social and political.”
The main barriers to a more rapid conversion are neither technical nor economic. They are social and political. As Western leaders like President Francoise Hollande of France acknowledge, there is a huge opportunity for developing countries to move immediately to new, clean energy technologies. The moment is ripe for international policymakers to leverage the Paris Agreement’s strong market signal and accelerate the current progress. The roadmaps to clean energy that we have developed give confidence to world leaders that the path to 100% renewable energy is clear and achievable. Much of the world is already heading down that path to a clean energy future. The more we support that transition, the better off we all are.
Mark Jacobson is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and director of its Atmosphere and Energy Program. Jacobson develops computer models about the effects of different energy technologies and their emissions on air pollution and climate. He is a Senior Fellow at both the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Precourt Institute for Energy at Stanford. He’s also the co-founder of the nonprofit Solutions Project.
Davos – Nuclear power is just one part of a much larger, integrated South African strategy focused on a mix of energy sources that seeks to improve local, regional and pan-African stability and economic growth.
Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson said her short- to medium-term focus would be on renewable energy, reducing South Africa’s emissions and dependency on fossil fuels.
Currently coal accounts for more than 90 percent of the country’s energy output.
Joemat-Pettersson told Independent Media that gas featured strongly in the short term and that it was definitely a “game changer”.
“In the next 18 months we must bring gas on board, with shale gas being a long-term intervention. Negotiations with Mozambique to increase the gas supply to South Africa are at an advanced stage,” she said during an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Friday.
“If we don’t bring gas on board, we will be overtaken by our neighbours.”
Part of the gas plan is to build power hubs under Operation Phakisa, which is a results-driven initiative setting out clear plans and targets driven by the Presidency.
This approach, among other aspects of the energy plan, has been favourably received by financial institutions and potential investors.
“We discussed the energy mix with our banks so they could see that we are not obsessed with nuclear power,” she said, keeping coy about which financial institutions and companies she had held talks with.
Independent Media understands that she held meetings with Ericsson, Siemens and Standard Bank.
She will also be going to the US shortly to meet with large gas players to assess their levels of interest.
So key is gas to the energy mix that it is also expected that President Jacob Zuma could well use the State of the Nation Address to provide more details on the plans.
Joemat-Pettersson said nuclear was cheaper and had the country accepted and implemented a nuclear energy plan earlier, much of the electricity crisis could have been averted.
Gas, she said, was more expensive than nuclear.
Joemat-Pettersson said nuclear energy was projected to generate 9 000 megawatts.
But nuclear was still “a couple of years away”.
She said the main reason for looking at nuclear energy was due to South Africa being a “dry country” and going ahead with the plan would increase the country’s water stability.
She cited the high volumes of clean water used at the Medupi power plant in Limpopo and the current drought as clear examples of how nuclear energy would be a more sustainable proposition in terms of energy generation.
“We are getting water from Lesotho and we are providing them with electricity. Regional stability is vital to the energy plan.”
Joemat-Pettersson said the plan included looking at helping to build energy capacity in neighbouring countries and further across Africa.
In this regard, South Africa will be pursuing interconnection with the Southern African Developmental Community countries including Botswana, Lesotho, Zambia, Mozambique, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
For South Africa, her focus for the short-term would be looking at unlocking the potential of an energy mix that includes coal, nuclear, gas, hydro and other renewable energies such as solar and wind.
“By 2020 we will be decommissioning 12 coal-fired plants and for that we must have something in place.”
The minister said South Africa was committed to honouring the decisions that were made at COP15.
These include that the emission profile of South Africa’s energy mix peaks around 2020 and falls around 2030; and that. energy efficiency improvements in electricity end-usage play a big role in reducing dependency on fossil fuels.
The renewable energy programme was getting an overwhelming response from foreign investors, she said.
“Renewable energy costs are high and the initial investment (around infrastructure) is high, but will greatly assist the economy. We will have to build towns around these plants and would, for example, need cement and steel.”
In terms of the processes involved, particularly with regards to the nuclear plan, the minister said the plan had been agreed on in 2010 as part of the Integrated Resource Plan and approved was by cabinet.
She is also part of a cabinet energy sub-committee which includes Public Enterprises Minister Lynne Brown, Trade and Industry Minister Rob Davies, Economic Development Minister Ebrahim Patel, State Security Minister David Mahlobo, Mineral Resources Minister Mosebenzi Zwane, and Defence Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula.
She said the nuclear plan had been subjected to intergovernmental processes in which other ministries were involved, and for which she was not solely responsible.
The nuclear plan, therefore was underpinned by transparent processes and affordability, Joemat-Pettersson said.
“The first step is intergovernmental agreements. The second is requesting information and the third is request for proposals,” she said.
These proposals are then sent to the Independent Power Purchase office which “has credibility and a requisite range of skills” and which has to “test the proposals”.
These experts are from the Treasury, the Department of Energy and the Development Bank of South Africa.
“Because there is no interference, business interest is oversubscribed. There is nothing shrouded in secrecy. I am not starting the process, I’m implementing what’s already there,” she stressed.
Joemat-Pettersson said the energy plan was crucial for the next 100 years. “If we get this wrong, the country will suffer a legacy of compromise.”
The bulk of Africa’s energy comes from renewables, that’s the problem. To reduce poverty the continent needs more fossil fuels.
Africa is the world’s most “renewable” continent when it comes to energy. In the rich world, renewables account for less than a tenth of total energy supplies. The 900 million people of sub-Saharan Africa (excluding South Africa) get 80 per cent of their energy from renewables.
A person in Europe or North America uses 11,000 kilowatt-hours per year on average (much of it through industrial processes), while a person in Sub-Sahara Africa uses only 137kWh – less than a typical American refrigerator uses in four months. More than 600 million people in Africa have no access to electricity at all.
All this is not because Africa is green, but because it is poor. Some 2 per cent of the continent’s energy needs are met by hydro-electricity, and 78 per cent by humanity’s oldest “renewable” fuel: wood. This leads to heavy deforestation and lethal indoor air pollution, which kills 1.3 million people each year.
What Africa needs, according to many activists, is to be dotted with solar panels and wind turbines. But when US President Barack Obama hosted a summit of African leaders in 2014, most said they wanted more fossil fuels. In the words of Tanzanian Minerals and Energy Minister Sospeter Muhongo: “We will start intensifying the utilisation of coal. Why shouldn’t we use coal when there are other countries where their CO₂ [carbon dioxide] per capita is so high?. We will just go ahead.”
The International Energy Agency estimates that if all countries fulfil the pledges made at the Paris climate change conference last month, the proportion of renewables could increase slightly in the next 25 years, to 18.7 per cent. In the International Energy Agency’s more likely scenario, the share will reach just 15.4 per cent.
COW MANURE AND WOOD
Most of that “renewable” energy will still come from crop residue, cow manure, wood, and biofuels. While a solar panel can provide energy for a light bulb and a charge for a cell phone, it does little to help run stoves to avoid indoor air pollution or fridges to keep vaccines and food fresh, much less power agriculture and industry. By 2040, in the IEA’s optimistic scenario, solar power in sub-Saharan Africa will produce 14kWh per person per year, less than what is needed to keep a single two-watt LED permanently lit. The IEA also estimates that renewable power will still cost more, on average, than any other source – oil, gas, nuclear, coal, or hydro, even with a carbon tax.
In its recent Africa Energy Outlook, the IEA estimates that Africa’s energy consumption will increase by 80 per cent by 2040; but, with the continent’s population almost doubling, less energy per person will be available. Although nearly 1 billion additional people will gain access to electricity by 2040, 530 million will still be cut off.
But the IEA outlines another possible future – what it calls the “African Century” – in which Africa’s governments and donors invest an extra $US450 billion ($640 billion) in energy. This would sharply increase the use of fossil fuels, reduce much of the most polluting renewables, and provide energy access to 230 million more people. Providing more – and more reliable – power to almost two billion people will increase GDP by 30 per cent in 2040. Each person on the continent will be almost $US1000 better off every year.
In Western countries, environmental campaigners would focus on the downside – 300 million tonnes of additional CO₂ emissions in 2040, and higher outdoor air pollution from greater reliance on coal power – and ask why anyone would want to increase CO₂ and air pollution. But let’s look at the costs and benefits.
One day, innovation could drive down the price of future green energy to the point that it lifts people out of poverty more effectively than fossil fuels do. Globally, we should invest much more in such innovation. But global warming will not be fixed by hypocritically closing a path out of poverty to the world’s poor.
Africa could be the first region in the world to power its economic development on renewable energy rather than fossil fuels such as coal, according to the head of the International Energy Agency (IEA).
“I’m very excited about this,” said Fatih Birol as he launched the World Energy Outlook 2015 last month. “When we look at the history of energy – in Europe, the U.S., China – economic development was realized by a substantial amount of coal. But in Africa, we may well see, for the first time, a region [realizing] its economic growth using renewable energy.”
Birol said the big push from governments to get electricity to the two out of three people in Africa who don’t have access will help support this, as will falling costs of renewable energy. The price of solar panels fell by 75 percent from 2009 to 2014 and the costs of producing energy from the sun continues to fall.
Energy demand is growing in Africa, the Middle East and south-east Asia, said Birol, but India is “the engine of the global energy demand” now that China’s energy demand is plateauing.
This year, India is the special focus of the World Energy Outlook report, the “bible” of the sector, which comes out annually. It predicts that industrial growth, with the government’s emphasis on “make in India,” will lead to a rapid growth in energy demand. Birol told the press conference that the IEA expects coal and oil consumption to grow significantly in India, but the country is also focusing on renewables, with a pledge to have 40 percent of power sector capacity non-fossil fuels by 2030.
According to the report’s central scenario, which forecasts changes to the global sector by 2040, energy demand in south-east Asia will rise by 80 percent and by 70 percent in the Middle East, 90 percent of which which still be provided by domestic oil and natural gas.
In Latin America, according to the report, energy demand will increase by 50 percent and the region expands its relatively high share of renewables to 35 percent in 2040. This takes into account Brazil’s current drought, which is affecting hydropower and increasing reliance on gas. The report predicts that the region will continue to be a world leader in biofuels.
Low oil prices are affecting Africa’s exporting countries – Libya, Algeria, Nigeria and Angola. But countries in east Africa, such as Mozambique and Tanzania, are becoming significant natural gas exporters and users. The report predicts that nearly 40 percent of the total power generation capacity in Africa will be from renewables by 2040.
In developed countries, the report observes that economic growth and carbon emissions are no longer inextricably linked. “In advanced economies – Europe, U.S. and Japan – energy demand is declining despite growth in [their economies],” said Birol. “So we see a decoupling of energy demand growth and economic growth in major advanced economies.”
In total, the report predicts that electricity consumption will grow by more than 70 percent to 2040, although 550 million people will still not have access, and that renewables will overtake coal as the largest source of power generation by the early 2030s. “Renewables are not a niche fuel anymore,” said Birol. “Renewables have become a mainstream fuel as of now.”
The climate agreement reached in Paris is provoking a flurry of caveats, criticisms and cautions. Many of those criticisms are warranted and there’s a lot of work ahead to make sure countries live up to their promises. But we should not miss a chance to celebrate a historic turning point.
World leaders finally made commitments to clean, renewable energy that will help to ensure a safer, healthier and more prosperous future for us all. The agreement signals that the age of fossil fuels is coming to a close, and the age of renewable energy is dawning.
In many ways, the Paris deal is the mother of all market signals. To deliver on the promises world leaders made, we will need to leave coal and oil in the ground and move toward a complete reliance on clean energy. Let’s not miss the writing on the wall: fossil fuels are a losing bet, while renewables offer economic opportunity.
This is true for all segments of society – from energy investors to individual households that can save money on their energy bills by switching to rooftop solar power.
The Paris pact ratifies an ongoing renewable energy revolution spreading across the globe. Each year since 2013, the world has added more power-generating capacity fueled by renewable sources than from coal, natural gas and oil combined. Global investment in renewable energy hit $310bn last year, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. And major companies are pledging to go 100% renewable, too.
Much of that growth in clean, renewable energy has come from the subnational movement, in which cities, states and regions are banding together and leading even if their national governments are lagging. This bottom-up approach – one that so many people around the world are already part of – is what was most alive about Paris.
It is what drove so many people to COP 21 this year, and is the driving force that makes so many hopeful. In my home state of New York, for example, we have a robust movement to ban fracking, courageously embraced by governor Andrew Cuomo, and we support his leadership on renewable energy. We have found a new way of approaching this problem. Whole towns, communities and cities are racing to a full reliance on renewable energy, despite the gridlock in Washington, DC. This is where so many sense real hope coming out of Paris.
Meanwhile, cities from London to Los Angeles, from Jakarta to Rotterdam, are pioneering innovative approaches to cutting their own carbon footprints. Momentum is growing, too: following the meeting, Republicans and Democrats in San Diego, America’s eighth largest city, unanimously agreed to transition to 100% clean energy.
What cities are doing, countries can do, too. As my co-founder at The Solutions Project, Stanford professor, Mark Jacobson, told the US Congress last month, transitioning to 100% clean energy is not only good for the environment, human health and the economy, it is doable. His team has developed roadmaps showing exactly how 139 countries can each completely transition to renewable energy by 2050 using technology we have right now.
The Paris climate agreement brings that vision – of a world where all people have access to 100% clean energy – closer to reality. Much more has to go right if nations are to fulfill their promises over the coming years. But finally, the wind is at our backs.
The voices of people gathered in Paris – from big-city mayors intent on making urban life better, to indigenous people and small island countries fighting for their right to live in some of Earth’s most unspoiled places – echoed hundreds of millions of voices, all around the world, demanding action.
In response to those demands, world leaders have finally agreed to steer us away from a climate disaster. This is a moment of real hope. It is a recognition, at long last, that we’re all in this together.
And as negotiators in Paris acknowledged, some countries will need financial help to move to renewable energy. But the payoff for investing in them – through mechanisms such as the UN’s Green Climate Fund – will be tremendous. Just as poorer nations skipped landline phones for mobile telephones, they can skip generations of coal-fired power plants for clean, renewable power.
In wealthy nations we benefit from the switch to renewables, too. The United States has tripled wind and solar capacity since 2008, and last year, we installed as much solar-generating capacity every three weeks as we did in all of 2008. That translates into job growth – the solar industry already employs more people than the coal industry, by some measures – as well as cleaner and healthier air.
Critics of the Paris deal are right to point out that it cannot “solve” climate change on its own. Countries will have to work hard to fulfill the promises they made last week, and set even more ambitious targets in the future. And the people of the world must stay engaged, doing their part to tackle climate change while holding political and economic leaders accountable.
There is much to be done. But after years of walking in circles, Paris was a giant step in the right direction. Now the renewable energy race is on, and we need to run – not walk – to the finish line.