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COP21: Africa is powering the way to a better world

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Africa energy

By Olive Thiong’o

Aviah Kyalo, a 40-year-old mother of seven children, has been using Solvatten to heat and treat her family’s water supply since 2011. Before acquiring the solar-powered device, she and her husband, who reside in Kitui, Kenya, struggled to provide their family with safe water.

“It was sickness after sickness. We used to boil water to purify it for drinking, cleaning and cooking, and then store it in 20-liter jerry-cans, but our children still suffered from typhoid, amoeba and diarrhea every other day,” she says.

That’s a common narrative in Kenya and many other parts of Africa, where access to clean water is a challenge. Solvatten – and other similar innovations – is fast gaining popularity in Africa, with about 220,000 people currently using it across the continent.

Solvatten is just one part of an emerging market in Africa that is tapping into renewable energy to improve life. Together, these initiatives will contribute to the African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI), which was launched by African heads of state at COP 21 in Paris.

When fully implemented by 2030, AREI will provide 300GW of electricity to Africans. That’s twice the continent’s total current electricity supply. It is an ambitious initiative, not only for Africa, but for the globe. It combines financing, policy, business and other partnerships.

And it can make a significant contribution to the world’s collective effort to deal with climate change.

Pledges and contributions from various countries to date total approximately $8 billion. These funds are directly intended to improve the capacity of local people and communities involved in renewable energy management and technology transfer, and they will contribute to long-term climate change mitigation and adaptation measures, which are linked to the recently approved UN Sustainable development Goals.

In the next two decades African lives, livelihoods and landscapes will benefit from a $200 billion renewable energy industry and its many associated benefits, such as employment, entrepreneurship, and security.

African countries are driving this initiative but other countries are supporting it with finance and technology. Acknowledging their role in this initiative through Power Africa, John Morton, Chief Operating Officer of OPIC – the U.S. government’s development finance institution – said, “Africa has the resources for renewable energy: wind, water and solar, in partnership with the private sector. Power Africa hopes to attract innovative entrepreneurs and strong businesses to provide energy to over 600 million Africans in need.”

If not regulated and well-planned Africa’s rapid growth, will likely compound climate change. Renewable energy is a critical avenue for positive, impactful solutions through mitigation of adverse human effects, as well as adaptation to already felt climate changed-related problems, especially among impoverished communities.

The type of large-scale collaborative action to meet Africa’s energy needs that we saw at COP21 is what we need if we hope to achieve a safer climate future. It also shows the world that facing climate change head on is not only good for the environment but also people and communities.

Olive Thiong’o is Campaigns & Engagement Manager for WWF Regional Office for Africa.

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