Articles

We must move from commitments to execution to combat climate change

@Yandalux

This year, the world observed Earth Day under the theme “Invest in Our Planet” amid worrying reports that the global carbon dioxide emissions from energy combustion and industrial processes hit a record high of 36.8 Gt in 2022. Developing countries accounted for 63% of the total emissions. High concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is warming the planet causing climate change. The world is paying a high price for climate change, with damaging weather events disrupting the usual balance of life.

At the opening of the COP27 in Egypt, UN Secretary General António Guterres told world leaders that the fight for a liveable planet will be won or lost in this decade. “We are in the fight of our lives, and we are losing. Our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator,” warned the UN chief.

Accelerating the transition to clean energy generation in developing countries will contribute hugely to lowering carbon dioxide emissions. This transition needs the right focus, leadership and financing to be successful.

Minigrids can help combat climate change through clean energy technology. The World Bank suggests that climate action efforts can leverage solar minigrids that offer a lower greenhouse gas emission alternative to diesel-fueled systems and kerosene-based appliances. However, the growth of minigrids remains stunted, more so in Africa because of insufficient capital flow into the sector.

Data shows that there are huge deficits in clean energy investments in developing economies. Conversely, the demand for energy in these countries is high. The Energy Progress Report 2022 highlights dropping rates of international financial flows to developing countries in support of clean energy from 11.2 USD billion in 2010 to 10.9 USD billion in 2019. At the same time, the share of total final energy consumption from renewables rose to 17.7% from 16.1%.

In Africa, electricity is increasingly being generated from renewable sources. The continent has a high potential for renewable energy generation, with solar PV being the cheapest source of power in many parts of the continent. Unlocking the flow of capital investments into renewables will boost Africa’s ability to deal with the climate crisis through a clean energy economy.

A 2020 report on the state of the global minigrids market highlighted the importance of minigrids in electrifying households in developing countries, which is great news for climate action. According to the report, 238 million households will need to gain electricity access in Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and island nations by 2030 to achieve universal electricity access. Half of these – an estimated 111 million households – can be served with clean generated electricity from minigrids at a cost of USD 128 billion, stressing the need to unlock the flow of capital into the sector. To date, billions of dollars have been committed to the minigrid sector, but disbursements have been slow. As of 2020, only about 13% of the approved $1.6 billion funding for the minigrid sector had been disbursed.

Need for accountability

Holding businesses and institutions to account for commitments made was a key takeaway from COP27. We cannot continue walking on the path of political grandstanding and delaying actions. If we are going to continue down the path of pledges for PR purposes, then we need frameworks to hold institutions and businesses to these commitments.

In Sharm el-Sheikh, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Simon Stiell stated that “there is absolutely no point putting ourselves through all that we’ve just gone through if we’re going to participate in an exercise of collective amnesia the moment the cameras move on.” Sentiments that were echoed by UN Secretary General António Guterres who said that “net zero commitments can’t be a mere public relations exercise if we want to win the fight against climate change. We must have zero tolerance for greenwashing.”

As the UAE prepares to host COP28 later this year, we hope there will be opportunities to track the achievements that have been made in cutting emissions as opposed to making eye-catching announcements. Tracking progress builds accountability and creates a framework that allows success to be measured.

Removing execution bottlenecks

To unlock committed funds, we need to address various market-related and project‐specific risks that are acting as stumbling blocks. Across Sub-Saharan Africa, regulations are often complex and time‐consuming. For the minigrid sector, this complexity is holding up the flow of funds because projects cannot get through national regulations that were never designed for distributed energy resources. The 2022 Benchmarking Africa’s Minigrids Report finds that it takes approximately 58 weeks to attain all licenses and approvals for a single minigrid site.

Regulators across the continent are understaffed and inadequately funded to approve the hundreds of minigrid sites a year that are needed for the sector to scale and achieve its potential. We call on donors who are funding regulation processes and consultants who are working on them to work with sector stakeholders to creatively solve this problem. The World Bank’s Minigrids for Half a Billion People report states that regulatory frameworks should support private-sector investment, and advocates for innovative solutions that make it easier to do business by cutting down on red tape.

A call to action

Speaking at COP27 in Egypt, President William Ruto of Kenya made a clarion call for world leaders to act, saying: “In the face of impending catastrophe, whose warning signs are already unbearably disastrous, weak action is unwise. No action is dangerous.”

It would be extremely catastrophic if we do not move from commitments to execution to accelerate clean energy investments. Businesses and institutions must not take their foot off the pedal during this defining moment, because if they do, investments in fossil fuels will continue with business as usual to provide the energy that the world needs to power economic activities. This would come with several negative impacts that will “make climate chaos irreversible” as António Guterres said.

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