EU and France hijacking Africa’s renewable energy initiative, allege civil society groups
200 African civil society organisations have expressed concern about the attempts by the European Union and France to “co-opt” the African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI), an Africa-led and Africa-owned initiative to scale up renewable energy in the energy starved continent.
In a letter released on April 6, the groups called for EU and France to maintain the integrity of AREI and respect the initiative’s direction and governance. They asked the European Union and France to “ensure AREI remains African-led and African-owned. AREI must be run by Africans for Africans. Interference in African governance belongs to another era.”
AREI was launched by 54 countries of the African continent during COP21 in Paris in 2015 to provide at least 10 billion watts of new and additional renewable energy to Africa by 2020, among other goals. It was supported by $10 billion in pledges for 2015-2020 by developed countries.
AREI is the result of work done by the African leadership in Workstream II of the Durban Platform submitted to the United Nations Framework for Convention on Climate Chang in May 2014. It requested for a “a global partnership to accelerate the energy transformation required for a well below 2° Celsius world by supporting renewable energy feed-in tariffs and other incentives.” The initiative has been endorsed by African Heads of State, the 41st G7 summit and the G20 energy summit.
What are the complaints raised by AREI?
The AREI complains that many projects have been approved by the board without ensuring they adhere to the basic principles of the initiative, which centres on “people-centred approaches, community rights, equity and a bold vision of Africa taking a global lead towards flourishing societies powered by clean, renewable energy.”
Many of the approved projects do not forward the agenda of meeting access needs through renewable energy. In fact, two projects were large grid connected projects based on large hydropower and natural gas resources. They were part of the business as usual scenario of meeting electricity of the West African region.
One of the projects, Tendaho geothermal project in Ethiopia, had already received funding approval even before the launch of AREI.
The organisations also allege European Union and France of attempting to “co-opt the initiative to serve their ends, supported by a small handful of Africans.”
In a meeting held on 29 January, 2017, the heads of state from Chad and Guinea, both former French colonies, took over the entire meeting and approved 19 projects under AREI. However, an Independent Delivery Unit (IDU) of the AREI is supposed to evaluate projects in line with AERI’s social, environmental and other principles. Since these projects were not evaluated by the IDU, Youba Sokonoa, the head of AREI and African Development Bank (AfDB), which announced its support to AERI in 2016, took a stand against approving any projects without meeting the principles of the initiative. Sokona has over 35 years of experience in energy, environment and sustainable development in Africa and has also worked with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
In March, when another technical meeting was held, experts hired by the EU approved the same projects. Soon Sokona offered his resignation as these projects did not meet any of the criterions set by the AREI. In the resignation letter, submitted to by Climate Home, Sokona accused EU and France of a strategy to sanction projects selected by Europeans without any evaluation.
He alleged that they were approved in haste to create an impression to the media that the initiative was progressing.
Moreover, AERI says that EU and France claimed board memberships when they were only invited to AREI’s meetings.
According to the Status Report of AREI released in January, 2017, “442 projects had approached AREI in the first preliminary compilation, but no projects or programs has yet been either attributed nor funded or supported by AREI.”
Another issue is that the money channeled into AERI is not coming from climate finance but Official Development Assistance (ODA). While climate finance sets a fixed amount to address climate change mitigation and adaptation, ODA is foreign aid to support development aims of developing countries, which lacks a fixed amount and a mandate. Moreover, the donating countries are counting their contributions from both climate finance and ODA.
This is not a new story in this region. Development finance has also been donor-led and is considered mere charity. Projects are built and forgotten about. AREI, on the other hand, insists on investing in programmes which have goals and ensuring monitoring mechanism to evaluate the impact.