Can Developing Energy In Africa Stem Climate Change?

Written by Andrew Friedman

How to best combat global climate change was one of the major questions confronted by the leaders of more than 140 countries at this week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting last week.

While the UN has attempted to answer this question for many years now, Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon came with renewed vigor, hoping to leave with real, tangible commitments.

Tuesday’s climate summit was a necessary first step for progress on the climate, and one that has particularly large implications for the future of UN climate action, and development, on the African continent.

Among the major takeaways from the initial summit, according to UN Dispatch’s Mark Leon Goldberg, was a renewed interest in the Green Climate Fund, an important, if often overlooked, element of the UN’s overall sustainable development program and one with particular importance in the developing world, including many African states.

While the Fund was established in 2010 through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun, Mexico, it is yet to become fully operational. This is due to a difficulty raising capital along with bickering over the Fund’s governance.

Christiana Figueres, the UNFCCC’s Executive Secretary, has called for “at least an initial $10 billion” investment in the Fund while many developing nations say it requires at least $15 billion.

The $15 billion figure was echoed earlier this year by the Fund’s Executive Director Hela Cheikhrouhou. This is a major gap for an entity that has had tremendous difficulty raising any funds whatsoever.

According to Jeffrey Gogo, writing at Zimbabwe’s The Herald, there was a time when the Fund had only $7 million USD for its activities. Even now the Fund contains a comparatively paltry $55 million.

Going back to Tuesday, according to Goldberg, “France kicked off the day with a big announcement. French President Francois Hollande pledged $1 billion to the Green Climate Fund.” The contribution will take place over the next four years.

Largest Donors

France joins Germany as the Fund’s largest donor, with the latter having committed $1 billion in July of this year. Hollande went further, stating that he hoped his country’s contribution would serve as seed money, attracting private investment and contributions to the Fund. Only time will tell whether pledged donations are followed through on and whether they attract further investment from private and public sources.

The Fund’s purpose makes it particularly relevant for African states.

It is meant to serve as a means for developed countries to fund climate-neutral or low-carbon emission development projects in developing states. This includes clean energy projects such as wind or hydroelectric, green building and other environmentally friendly projects.

As we discussed earlier on AFK Insider, Sub-Saharan Africa is the most energy-poor region in the world. 10 of the 15 worst countries with access to electricity are located south of the Sahara, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business rankings. Additionally, according to a recent study by the Green Alliance, a London based environmental think tank, 41 percent of the world’s energy-poor population lives in the region. The problem is compounded by lack of access to health and education when 65 percent of the region’s primary schools and 30 percent of its health centers cannot access adequate electricity.

While the lack of energy is a significant impediment to development, the blank slate allows for significant investment through the Green Climate Fund. The continent is ripe for internationally financed wind, solar and other environmentally sound energy such as geothermal or biomass.

Potential Energy Sources

Simply picking one of the potential energy sources, solar energy capabilities south of the Sahara are extraordinary. According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme’s Finance Initiative, “many parts of sub-Saharan Africa feature daily solar radiation of between 4 kWh and 6 kWh per square meter…”

According to the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, these numbers are comparable to much of the American Southwest. Despite this potential, “ the current status of non-hydro electricity generation from renewable sources in sub-Saharan African countries is very modest” and “this type of electricity is generated only in a handful of countries…despite potentially large wind, sun radiation or biomass resources.”

This week’s United Nations General Assembly meeting has placed a renewed focus on the Green Climate Fund, a body that has the potential to have a huge impact on development in Africa. The region is the world’s most energy poor despite having tremendous renewable resources including sun, wind and a number of others.

The Green Climate Fund has the capability to unlock the potential of such renewables and make a significant dent in the continent’s energy needs, all financed by the international community and reducing international reliance on fossil fuels. In short, the Fund could be an incredible tool and leaders must continue to inject it with further funds if it is to live up to both its development and environmental potential.


Andrew Friedman is a human rights attorney and consultant who works and writes on legal reform and constitutional law with an emphasis on Africa. He can be reached via email at or via twitter @AndrewBFriedman.