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CLIMATE CHANGE: From Dirty Fuels to Clean Technology

Servaas van den Bosch

WINDHOEK, Dec 10 2009 (IPS) - Tomorrow’s polluters are today’s emerging economies. To develop without retracing the polluting steps of the West, requires green technology, an expensive option for Africa.

COP 15 host Denmark has invested billions of Euro's in developing clean wind energy technology. Credit: Servaas van den Bosch/IPS

COP 15 host Denmark has invested billions of Euro's in developing clean wind energy technology. Credit: Servaas van den Bosch/IPS

Research and development, application of technology, energy policies, intellectual property rights, the vested interests of the fossil fuel industry, and diffusion of green technology constitute the negotiating nightmare that is clean technology.

And, of course, how to pay for all this.

“The main obstacle to get a deal on technology is finance,” says John Nordbo, head of the Danish climate change programme and global WWF-spokesperson on clean technology. “Developed countries are at best very reluctant to come up with serious money that can lead to dissemination of climate technologies in developing countries.”

The World Bank estimates that 85 percent of the cost of climate change will fall on developing nations. A total of $400 billion a year is needed for mitigation, including green technology. Currently such transfers average $8 billion a year under Kyoto’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). However, the CDM approach, meant to help kick-start expensive green technology projects has largely failed in Africa; of the 1500 CDM projects worldwide, just a couple of dozen are in Africa.

It doesn’t help that the parties are holding each other over a barrel on who should cut emissions, when and by how much. While the developing world as a whole is already responsible for 48 percent of emissions, Africa’s share is just 3.6 percent, with South Africa emitting almost half.

There is an acute power crisis in 25 countries and emissions from land use – constituting 60 percent of Africa’s total emissions – are directly linked to the energy predicament as Africans derive 80 percent of their domestic need from biomass.

According to the International Energy Agency, only 40 percent of 800 million sub-Saharan Africans is connected to the electricity grid, and that number is expected to decrease sharply in the next two decades.

A proposal for investment in clean energy by the African Development Bank points out that foraging for fuel for domestic use takes up a disproportionate share of women and children’s time. “Health impairment and an unacceptable high rate of mortality in the order of 400,000 deaths from respiratory diseases per year are linked to exposure to indoor pollution from ‘dirty fuels’ in poorly-ventilated dwellings,” the report reads.

“Energy poverty is also associated with deprivation of adequate light to facilitate evening and night-time chores and leisure activities. Thus, for example, children have less time to study at home in the evenings.”

Experts think a twofold approach that would see funding for decentralised renewable energy solutions for households, while initiating major green power schemes to supply emerging commercial centres, could yield the best results.

“An example of carbon reduction focused on prevention can be found in residential technologies such as individual wind turbine or solar technologies,” says Heath Naquin, who works with the Green Technology Alliance, which aims to diffuse clean technology throughout the South. “These solutions are cheap enough to be implemented by nearly any household.”

Big schemes like Grand Inga in the Democratic Republic of Congo on the other hand have the potential to accommodate Africa’s development in a clean way. “Only 10 percent of Africa’s hydro power potential is developed,” says Katai Kachasa, general manager of Lunsemfwa Hydro power station in Zambia. “This comes down to 20 gigawatts per year, while Grand Inga alone could provide 39,000.”

“In Namibia the conditions are perfect to build large solar farms,” chief climate negotiator Teofilus Nghitila tell IPS. “We have dry conditions, and a record number of sunny days per year. There is no reason we cannot emulate those big planned solar projects in the Sahara.”

But money is needed to build these projects and distribute the power from remote regions to where it is needed. Hardly any government on the continent has money for this, and relying on CDM income seems unrealistic.

In a recent reoprt, the World Economic Forum (WEF) proposes a number of public-private investment initiatives in six developing regions that will amount to almost $2.7 trillion by 2030.

The African Development Bank’s Clean Energy Investment Framework (CEIF) is an example of such a “regional low-carbon cornerstone fund”. In May, together with the World Bank’s Clean Technology Fund (CTF) the CEIF injected $13 million in Evolution One, a Cape-Town based private equity fund that specialises in investing in clean technology.

But where South Africa can attract funding on the low-carbon technology market, Least Developed Countries (LDCs) will be left behind, fear analysts. Out of the 49 LDCs, 33 are African. For them importing green technology raises the problem of intellectual property rights.

At last month’s New Dehli meeting on clean technology transfer a five-country study indicated that stronger enforcement of property rights does not lead to increased transfer of technology. Rather intellectual property rights “are believed to restrict technology transfer through high license costs,” the researchers concluded.
 Regarding Copenhagen, the end is not in sight. “We booked absolutely no progress on the issue of property rights in the pre-COP meetings,” Peter Acquah, Secretary of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) told IPS.

While industrialised nations will push public-private partnerships in Copenhagen, the African countries under the G77/China, will demand an unconditional independent Multilateral Climate Technology Fund (MCTF) under the UNFCCC.

“Developed countries will probably give in to this in the end, but there is a very large risk that this will only get us more bodies, and paper work,” says WWF’s John Nordbo.

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