Africa Must Set Alternative Energy Agenda - UNPublished by MAC on 2007-03-23
Africa Must Set Alternative Energy Agenda - UN
23rd March 2007
NAIROBI - Africa must be bold and follow the examples of Brazil and Germany to plan an energy future around renewable and alternative sources, the head of the UN environment agency said on Thursday.
Many of the plans being considered by African governments, including huge hydropower dams and fossil fuel plants, were simply "more of the same", UN Environment Programme executive director Achim Steiner told a development conference in Kenya.
Many would be able to supply the huge appetite of industry and city dwellers on the world's poorest continent, he said, but would "lock in" the rural majority to decades without power.
"We should not live with the dream of a trickle-down of energy supply (to villages) in 20 to 30 years time ... Africa should not follow the technological path the rest of the world is willing to give it access to," Steiner said.
"More imagination, honesty and boldness to set an African agenda ... is what the continent is screaming for today."
Africa was rich in renewable energy resources like wind, solar and geothermal power, he said, which could be harnessed relatively cheaply to power small communities.
African governments should be encouraged by a new focus in the West on fighting climate change through promoting clean energy generation and carbon financing, he said.
And they should look to countries like Brazil and Germany, which he said took "strategic decisions" years ago to become leaders in biofuels and wind power respectively.
"Everyone laughed at Brazil at the time ... The theory was they could not afford to invest in alternative energy," he said. "They spent $25 billion on public funds for the ethanol sector, but have saved $50 billion now on avoided oil imports."
Steiner was speaking in Nairobi at the start of a major two-day meeting on sustainable development jointly organised by Japan, the United Nations and the World Bank.
Takeshi Iwaya, Japan's senior vice-minister for foreign affairs, said the focus must be on quickly improving livelihoods threatened by power shortages, poverty and pollution.
"The first step towards sustainable development for ordinary citizens is not to discuss global environmental issues, but to grasp day-to-day environment and energy needs and to remove the immediate threats to their lives," he said.
The head of the UN housing agency Habitat, Anna Tibaijuka, told delegates the rapid growth of cities and slums, especially in Africa, meant such concerns must be addressed without delay.
"Those slums mirror the huge chasm between rich and poor," she said. "This gulf is an affront, even a danger, to humanity."
Story by Daniel Wallis
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE