UN climate summit strengthens renewable energies and food security in Africa

28 October 2014

At the UN Climate Summit in New York on 23 September, the participants announced two initiatives for the use of and access to clean and renewable energy in Africa and small island developing states (SIDS). Moreover, the heads of state and representatives from business and civil society joined an alliance for the promotion of climate-smart agriculture.  

Several ministers from Africa endorsed the African Clean Energy Corridor, a project aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emission levels among 22 countries in eastern and southern Africa by 310 metric tons by 2030. Moreover, the corridor is planned to witness an increase in the portion of renewable energy use from currently 12 percent to at least 40 percent by 2030. 

Speaking at the climate summit, Nkosazana Clarice Dlamini-Zuma, chairperson of the African Union, affirmed that “Africa’s surging economic growth can be fuelled by an energy mix that emphasises the development of its vast renewable energy resources.”

Dlamini-Zuma was seconded by the Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta who promoted regional cooperation on renewable energy in Africa, saying that these efforts would save 2’500 metric tons of cumulative carbon monoxide emissions by 2030, and double electricity supply. Currently, four-fifths of all electricity in eastern and southern Africa comes from gas, oil or coal.

SIDS, in turn, will benefit from the Small Island Developing States Lighthouse Initiative which aims to foster the use of clean energy through financial commitments ($ 500 million within the next five years) and the installation of approximately 120 megawatts of renewable energy by 2019. The latter will comprise new solar photovoltaic capacity, wind power, small hydropower, geothermal energy, and marine technology.

The Lighthouse Initiative was introduced earlier this month at the UN Small Island Developing States Conference in Apia, Samoa.

Both initiatives are spearheaded by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IREA), an Abu-Dhabi based intergovernmental organisation. The Director-General Adnan Z. Amin promoted the two projects with the idea that “renewables can provide an affordable pathway for developing economies to leapfrog the dominant energy paradigm and move towards a sustainable energy future.”

Another deliverable from the UN Climate Summit is that more than 20 governments as well as 30 organisations and companies joined the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, whose purpose is to ensure the prospect of climate-smart agriculture for 500 million farmers by 2030. Speaking at the reception of the alliance one day after the summit, US Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted the importance of climate-smart agriculture for the future global economy. In this context, Kerry praised the efforts of the World Bank and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization in “making successful investments in drought-resistant corn, soybeans, [and] other climate-resilient crops”.

The negative ramifications of climate change are particularly pronounced for African farmers: According to a report by the World Bank, the agricultural sector – accounting for 30 to 40 percent of African GDP  – will suffer from drought-induced reductions in arable land if global warming is perpetuated. For example, the World Bank predicts that “35% of cropland will become unsuitable for cultivation in a 5°C world.” Even if temperature increases are contained to lower levels, the agricultural sector will be undermined, with a “1.5°C to 2°C increase in temperature by the 2030s and 2040s (…) [leading] to a 40- to 80-percent reduction in the area of land suitable for growing maize, millet and sorghum.” These products constitute the main pillar of African diets.

sources: Islands Business, At UN summit, plans announced to boost low-carbon, renewable energy in Africa, small islands, September 24, 2014; SolarServer, World leaders back major renewable energy initiatives for Africa and islands at UN Climate Summit, September 24, 2014; Reuters Africa, Give people worst-hit by climate change a voice, September 25, 2015; Modern Ghana, Listen more closely to Africa’s voice on climate change, September 22, 2014; Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, Africa building alliances to tackle climate change in agriculture, September 22, 2014; allAfrica, Africa Seeks Commitment to Adaptation in Climate Deal, September 21, 2014

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