Stop E.U. from Hijacking Africa’s Clean Energy Future*
By Mohamed Adow
The vision for an African-led clean energy revolution is in danger of being thrown off course because of attempts by the European Commission (EC) and France to hijack the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative.
The Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) was one of the greatest achievements to emerge from the COP 21 climate summit in Paris in 2015 and, as an African and climate activist, my proudest moment. It made headlines around the world. Attracting pledges totalling $10 billion of public support from the G7, E.U., Netherlands and Sweden, the scheme has ushered an exciting dawn of African leadership on climate change to see the continent harness it’s huge clean energy potential.
However, that vision is now in tatters after attempts by the EC to control and divert Africa’s renewable energy initiative to its own ends. It is imposing itself on the AREI Board and the initiative’s Independent Delivery Unit (IDU) and, together with France, forced through undue approval of a host of 19 energy projects, bypassing the AREI’s transparent procedures.
The EC is recycling its old financing commitments to meet its new financial obligations and has co-opted what was previously an African-led process to adopt and legitimise this double counting to the detriment of Africans.
The EC claims that the 19 projects correspond to €4.8bn of new investments and 1.8 GW of new generation capacity. However, this appears to include projects that are already in the making, most of them already approved by the financiers and a whole lot of the financing being new loans. It is also notable that despite EU making big claims, they are only minor contributors in most of the projects, with the total stated EU contribution being a mere modest €300m. It seems clear that ‘approving’ the projects in the AREI Board in reality has no impact on whether or not the projects happen – it seems rather an attempt at rubber stamping to get the ‘African’ blessing, and public relations exercise for some parties.
‘Approving’ projects without carefully assessing them against the AREI criteria flouts the core principles of the initiative. Furthermore, the implication of existing, rather than new projects, being pushed through the AREI Board means that there will be less new and additional power provided to Africa’s people, thereby undermining AREI’s goal of ‘’10 gigawatts of new and additional energy’’ and leaving people who need it in darkness.
After dragging its feet on international climate diplomacy in recent years, the E.U. now seems to be using its former colonies in Africa to cover up its low carbon failures and greenwash its credentials on climate change.
With the help of some African heads of state, the E.U. and France pushed through the “AREI Approval’’ of the 19 energy projects, claiming the AREI screening process was not required. Such strong arm tactics by the E.U. and France discredit the Africa-led values underpinning the AREI and go against the bottom-up, globally diversified, principles enshrined in the Paris Agreement. One would have thought the French would be keen to protect those. It’s also understood that EC and France pushed hard to place their technical experts inside the Independent Delivery Unit to directly influence the core activities of the initiative.
Questions also arise as to why the former and incoming chairs of the African Union are championing the interests of France and the E.U. over the concerns the African countries they are appointed to represent. If other African countries have just lost the opportunity (God forbid!) for billions in genuinely new and additional finance and projects that would deliver the 10GW of clean energy, we need to ask what have these leaders gained?
The appointment of both the European Commission and France to the board would furthermore displace a member from the global south, which flies in the face of the principle that there be both a developed and developing country on the board. The contradiction of the EC displacing a southern partner such as China on the board, just as they are supporting “trilateral’’ cooperation with China and Africa, is unlikely to go unnoticed by the Chinese, and undermines potential for South-South cooperation on climate change that would benefit Africa.
In the face of these events, the head of the AREI Independent Delivery Unit, the brilliant Dr. Youba Sokona, who has been at the core of conceiving, developing and leading the initiative, has felt forced to declare his resignation. Sokona, from Mali, is a leading figure with more than 40 years of experience in global energy, climate change and sustainable development. A vice-chair of the IPCC, among other high profile posts, he is the perfect person to pioneer this work. The fact that he declared he cannot continue under current conditions shows the scale of the crisis.
African politics has historically been tainted with accusations of corruption. The last thing it needs is its flagship energy initiative of the future to be mired in scandal and outside interference. To avoid this, it is crucial that transparent processes are followed and good governance is upheld. Instead, what we’ve seen with this current debacle is the opposite.
It is vital that the E.U. attempts to control and divert Africa’s renewable energy initiative to its own ends are opposed. It is now up to African countries to rescue it, and ensure its original vision and integrity are restored, and make it possible for Dr Sokona to resume his leadership.
Africa’s future requires it to build transparent and accountable institutions capable of addressing the needs of its people. Developed countries should be assisting this, while meeting their own obligations, particularly when genuinely African-led and African-owned initiatives arise such as AREI.
Each of the African heads of state who endorsed AREI must now fulfil their obligation to protect and advance AREI, with citizens in developed and developing countries doing the same. Strong, bold action is needed to save the initiative, revert the sad recent course of events, and regain the African-led spirit to enable AREI to achieve its goal of bringing clean and renewable energy to all Africans.