May trend towards sustainable energy solutions continue apace

Rwanda Energy Group workers fix electric cables. File.

THE RECENT series of gatherings highlighting the shift toward sustainable energy solutions are both timely and necessary and continue to urge haste towards renewable resources in powering development.

The 1st Sustainable Energy Forum for East Africa (SEF-EA 2018) held in Kigali last month is one such, going under the theme “Fostering Socio-economic Transformation in the East African Region through Equitable Access to Sustainable Energy for All”.

Preceding it was the meet headlined “Renewable Energy in East-Africa: New Frontiers” in Nairobi in January this year, followed by the Global SDG7 Conference in February in Bangkok, Thailand.

These gatherings had a similar agenda and facilitated the exchange of lessons, insights and experiences relating to Sustainable Development Goal 7.

Specifically, however, the Bangkok conference was in preparation for the High-Level Political Forum (HLPF) set for July this year in New York. It sought to consider challenges and opportunities for furthering progress towards the UN 2030 Agenda.

The HLPF is the central platform for follow-up and review of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs, and which the energy meetings will culminate under the theme “Transformation towards sustainable and resilient societies”.

All through the gatherings, the message has been unwavering, as energy is inextricably interlinked with many of the SDGs. It is in gauging progress in their implementation the High-Level Political Forum will be focusing, particularly looking at four other goals in addition to SDG7.

The goals bear recounting, for the important place they hold wherever we live. The four SDGs include Goal 6 which seeks to ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, Goal 11 which dwells on cities and human settlements that are inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable, and Goal 12 on sustainable consumption and production patterns.

The other one is SDG 15, which aims to protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.

In addition to these goals, perhaps Kigali deserves special mention. It brings to mind the now famous Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol that was ratified in record time and is now set to take effect in January 2019 under Goal 13.

The much-hailed amendment was agreed on in October 2016 by the 197 Parties to the Protocol with the aim bring about a global phase-down of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs). 

Its particular significance is the high expectation it will help to substantially contribute to the Paris Climate Agreement objective to limit the global temperature rise to well below 2 degrees Centigrade.

This is worth mentioning, as SDG13 calls for urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts, already being felt locally and around the world, and which directly relates to sustainable energy use and the role this plays in reducing use of fossil fuels and emission of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and the resulting rise in temperature.

Thus, to come back to SDG 7, it was established by the 2030 Agenda in recognition of its importance in helping make possible the other development goals. It was the first-ever universal goal on energy and has five targets. These relate to access, efficiency, renewables and means of implementation.

Last month’s forum in Kigali aimed to forge closer partnerships on the various aspects, bearing in mind the region remains beset by energy challenges characterized by low electrification rates and high reliance on solid biomass (i.e., firewood, charcoal, etc) for cooking and heating.

While EAC fares somewhat better compared to some of the other regions, the forum also focused on financing sustainable energy projects in the region, as well as the gender dimension.

Note that, aside from the time it takes to look for firewood disrupting women’s socio-economic activities, smoke from solid biomass often has an effect on health with women and girls frequently being the most affected in the kitchen. Fumes from the open-flame kerosene lamps used at night in many homes further exacerbate these effects, also affecting the family.

However, it is a testament to the progress made that, to a significant extent, these issues are already being addressed in the various universal energy access strategies currently being implemented across the continent and in the region.

In Rwanda, for instance, the government is already implementing the seven-year 7-5-2 plan to have all households in the country connected on- and off-grid by 2024.

Kigali is slated to be connected by 2019, with productive users in cottage and other small industries across the country expected to have been covered by 2022.

Aiding in this endeavour is a sizeable number of off-grid energy providers offering easily accessible and affordable prepaid solar technology solutions.

Though there remain some hurdles (see, “What’s holding back deployment of solar energy in Africa?”, TNT, 13 April, 2018), other countries in Africa and the region are apace with similar solar tech initiatives already under implementation.

Twitter: @gituram


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