Liberia sees hurdles to EU electricity aid goals

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European plans for promoting public and private solutions to a pressing global development need – electricity – will do little to address the immediate challenges of one of the world’s poorest countries, Liberia’s energy minister said.

With 65 days to go before the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, EU officials yesterday (16 April) threw their support behind UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call to help the world’s 1.5 billion people who have no power.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso vowed to unleash EU money to support public and private investment in sustainable energy for needy countries, through a €50-million Energy Development initiative plus additional funding.

With 65 days to go before the UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, EU officials yesterday (16 April) threw their support behind UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s call to help the world’s 1.5 billion people who have no power.

European Commission President José Manuel Barroso vowed to unleash EU money to support public and private investment in sustainable energy for needy countries, through a €50-million Energy Development initiative plus additional funding.

“Aid alone is not enough, we need private sector on board and the strong commitment of our partner countries,” Barroso told journalists on the sidelines of an EU-sponsored sustainable energy summit.

“In the next months, the European Union and members states will also look to provide significant support – in the order of several hundred millions of euros – to boost concrete new investments in sustainable energy for developing countries,” he said.

“It will also be part of the EU contribution to the Rio+20 summit in June,” he said.

Energy now

But Patrick Sendolo, Liberia’s energy minister, said his country had little choice be to rely on traditional fuels – diesel and oil generators – for years to come to fill basic needs in one of the world’s most energy-deprived countries.

He said the West African nation will continue to depend on donor aid to help rebuild infrastructure destroyed by rival warlords during conflicts that ranged from 1989 to 2003.

“Liberia is a small country with a small population and small demand, which means it is very difficult to attract private investors,” Sendolo said at the EU’s Sustainable Energy for All Summit in Brussels.

Roughly 3% of Liberia’s 3.5 million people have access to electricity, compared with the sub-Saharan African electrification rate of 26%, UN Development Programme figures show. The country is one of the poorest, ranking 182 out of 187 countries in the 2011 UN Human Development Index.

Turning to other developing country ministers at the conference, Sendolo said: “How do we strike a responsible balance to provide what our countries need and transition to the types of energies that are clean and sustainable?”

Liberia eventually wants to capitalise on its biomass and solar potential, and to rebuild hydro plants that were dismantled and sold for scrap during the civil war years. But for now, it must rely on costly diesel and oil generators to supply what little energy is produced in the country – and nearly all of it in the capital Monrovia.

The country also needs to rebuild transmission lines and other energy infrastructure.

“The needs are enormous,” Sendolo told EURACTIV. “We can’t just go to the market and ask the private sector for everything.”

Ghana sets 2020 targets

In nearby Ghana, Energy Minister Joe Oteng-Adjei said his country was committed to sustainable growth and will use earnings from the country’s new offshore petroleum finds to help pay for it.

Ghana, considered one of Africa’s most stable countries and a new magnet for investment, last year approved a law to generate 10% of power from renewables by 2020 from less than 1% today.

Ministers from Ghana, Liberia, Sierre Leone and several other developing countries all told the Brussels conference that EU development aid and technical expertise will be critical in providing resource needs for sub-Saharan Africa’s 1 billion people, more than 60% of whom lack electricity and at least half lack a reliable water supply.

The EU is expected to push for universal and sustainable energy access at the UN’s Rio conference on 20-22 June.

EU leaders want to use the Rio stage to press for international sustainability targets on energy, water and food, and to give the UN Environment Programme more muscle to respond to global conservation and climate challenges.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the EU Sustainable Energy for All Summit in Brussels, said: "Rio +20 is an opportunity to mobilise support for sustainable energy. It can put the world on a truly sustainable path economically, socially and environmentally. It is our chance to connect the dots between climate change and the food crisis, water, poverty reduction and global health, and addressing inequality. It is our chance to make growth inclusive.

"Rio is not the end but the beginning. Sustainable energy for all is an idea who time has come – turning ideas into action depends on us all. The vision and leadership of the EU will continue to help show us the way." 

The 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development - or 'Rio+20' – is being held exactly two decades after a landmark international conference in Rio de Janeiro.

Nicknamed the 'Earth Summit', the 1992 conference agreed a plan of action (Agenda 21) and a declaration setting out the principles underpinning sustainable development.

A follow-up meeting 10 years later in Johannesburg recognised that fundamental changes in the way societies produce and consume were essential to achieving global sustainable development. All governments were invited to promote sustainable consumption and production and a plan to reinforce the implementation of the Agenda 21 was adopted.

Hosted by Brazil, the 2012 summit will seek to secure a renewed commitment to sustainable development and assess progress made over the past two decades.

  • 25 April: Earth Day
  • 20-22 June: UN Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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