Developing Solutions

29-11-2013, Vienna, Austria

Alfred Ofosu Ahenkorah, Executive Secretary of the Ghana Energy Commission and REEEP Deputy Chair, and REEEP Director General Martin Hiller, write in UNEP's Our Planet about the challenge of balancing development priorities with environmental concerns in creating sustainable energy policies.

By Alfred Ofosu Ahenkorah, Executive Secretary, Energy Commission and Deputy Chair Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) and Martin Hiller, Director General, REEEP

In Ghana, what might seem a minor policy intervention is tackling three  problems afflicting the country. A recently introduced energy efficiency standards and labelling regime for white goods – refrigerators, deep freezers, lighting, and other household appliances – is showing results in:  reducing the dumping of  older, second- or third-hand goods discarded from Europe, but often sold at prices equivalent to new appliances; helping increase overall energy efficiency, alleviating pressure on electricity grids and lowering carbon emissions; and reducing electricity costs to consumers.  It can thus serve as an example of how countries should approach the challenge of low carbon development over the coming decades.

Ghanaian decision makers are well aware of the dangers posed by climate change, but they also understand that their primary responsibilities to their people lie in improving well-being through economic and social development. Ensuring stable food supplies, basic health care and education, and creating economic opportunities, remain top priorities. If the threat of climate change often seems very far removed from political discussions in industrialised nations, they are even more so in developing countries.

How then can we bring development and carbon reduction efforts together? Until now, the Kyoto Protocol has represented the greatest effort to internalize the costs of greenhouse gas emissions to the global environment. That it has not (yet) worked should not cause us to despair but instead invigorate us to adjust our approach. This must not only be pragmatic and practically effective but also be conscious of history: the industrialized world paid little heed to the environment or to climate change in its development and  it is only just to expect those nations who benefited most – and contributed most to the current stock of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere – to bear a greater share of the effort.

Europeans in particular might understand the need for development as they look back to the ruins left by the Second World War, and to the effort and urgency to rebuild after it. Accepting the need for rapid improvements in human well-being in developing countries is a critical step towards establishing a fair and successful global carbon regime.

Of the United Nations’ great initiatives, the Millennium Development Goals stands out -  not because every goal will be met or every objective reached, but because they are succeeding in focusing at least a part of the global agenda on the needs of the poorer half of the world’s population. Now, the United Nations is conceiving the next set of 15-year targets: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). We hope that negotiators will see the need for rapid economic and social development and incorporate access to sustainable energy as a key pillar in their formulation, using the UN’s own Sustainable Energy For All Initiative as guidance. This could not only serve to make existing aid programs more sustainable but also benefit the UN climate negotiations.

The SDGs offer an opportunity to look at the question of energy access from a different angle: seeing energy – and clean, renewable energy – not as an end in itself, but as a key enabler for nearly all the necessary services upon which  a developed and fair society. We must focus on modern energy services.

Energy plays a critical role in support of nearly all other development goals, from public health and health care to education, from women’s rights to food security.
The Ghana Energy Commission and the Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency Partnership (REEEP) are currently developing a new approach to this last issue, at what is known as the food-energy nexus.  We intend to focus on value chains in agriculture and farming, such as for cocoa and coffee production, working with clean energy entrepreneurs who can offer specific energy solutions for individual steps in the chain. This might include using solar water pumps, solar cooling storage, process heaters, biomass heaters or generators, or various other technologies. But the solution will always be specific to the needs of the people, and to the available resources. The need must dictate the role and method of energy production.

Our goal is not simply to promote clean energy but also to identify new business models that solve specific problems, support entrepreneurs in their development by attracting private investment, and apply real-world lessons to policy and regulatory adjustments so as to further incentivise development. The Ghana Energy Commission, as energy policy advisor and regulator, is ideally placed to do this work. Monitoring and evaluating actual business cases in the market will inform the specifics of policy making: regulatory or tax incentives for specific energy sources, managing barriers to entry, larger-scale public policy mechanisms, and financing support for scaling-up existing projects and initiatives.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change could help similar schemes by putting low carbon development at the centre of its focus. The Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) are an important step in the right direction. The hotly contested area of MRV – Measure, Report, Verify – might take on a more constructive image: rather than a controlling device between countries it could become a critical data delivery mechanism for one’s own country and economy. The Green Climate Fund could focus on energy solutions related to the SDGs. Promising technology initiatives such as the Climate Technology Centre and Network are already gearing up to support precisely such processes.

As clean, green, low carbon development takes hold it will begin to grow on its own, helping developing countries to industrialize and feeding data and technological innovation back into developed economies to promote novel and better ideas for products and services. And Ghana might become a leading producer of energy efficient white goods in West Africa.

This article originally appeared in UNEP's December 2013 issue of Our Planet. Article reprinted in full with permission of UNEP.