Tag Archives: Climate Change

SAMSET Releases a New Guide to Clean Energy Transitions for Sub Saharan Municipalities

Simon Batchelor from Gamos writes on the recently-released Guidelines to Clean Energy document for SAMSET.

As a part of our ongoing work with Sub Saharan Municipalities in Uganda and Ghana, the research team have brought together some basic information on clean energy transitions.  “GUIDELINES TO CLEAN ENERGY:- A PRACTICAL GUIDE FOR SUB SAHARAN AFRICAN MUNICIPALITIES (2017)”. The Guide is intended to help decision makers in Municipalities in Sub Saharan Africa to consider ways in which they could make their city utilize cleaner energy. Its foreword states “This manual has been designed for use by city officials and planners working in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a practical handbook, which identifies easy to achieve energy interventions that will save money (for cities, businesses and households), promote local economic development, and enhance the sustainable profile of a city. This manual is specifically aimed as a support tool to achieve the implementation of key interventions within municipalities across sub-Saharan Africa.”

The 200 page document starts with a call for cleaner energy. Its opening chapter draws on various sources to show how our ongoing use of fossil fuels is linked to climate change. The historical contribution of Sub Saharan Africa to global climate change is small compared to the developed countries, however over the next 30 years it will increase its contribution particularly if ‘Business as Usual’ is continued. The opening chapters discuss how this global problem is the responsibility of all, and how municipalities could take a decision to move towards clean energy that might contribute to climate change mitigation in the long term.

The guide, however, is titled ‘A Practical Guide’ and we felt it important to move quickly on from the macro picture of global challenges to the specifics of what a municipality might do. Each of the chapters has the same format –

  • An overview, which includes some basic description of technology and social change options;
  • The Case; which discusses how simple changes can make considerable differences
  • Potential for Rollout; discussing the realities of Sub Saharan African life and whether the technology could be introduced
  • Barriers to implementation (and effort to resolve); an attempt to anticipate barriers, and suggestions of what might be done
  • How to go about implementation; some suggestions for action
  • Case Studies; some Sub Saharan African case studies to illustrate the relevance and possibilities of the chapters subject.

Chapter 5 starts with Energy efficient lighting a technology that is relatively easy to implement. LED bulbs have become common and simple action ensuring they are available in the market and ‘encouraged’ among consumers can save significant amount of electricity (compared to older lamps). Chapter 6 broadens the picture to include energy efficient buildings.Ideally these need some design at the very start, but the chapter also makes suggestion for retrofitting that can lower energy consumption. Chapter 7 considers public transport. Vehicles can not only consume considerable amounts of fossil fuel, but create localized pollution. The chapter focuses on the possibilities of public transport as an alternative to everyone getting their own car. Chapter 8 considers cooking. While it may seem that municipalities have little to say about the choice of domestic cooking fuels, the ongoing use of biomass (charcoal) in urban areas contributes to local pollution, kitchen pollution and global pollution. Municipalities can undertake various strategies to assist consumers to move toward genuinely clean cooking.

Waste to energy in Chapter 9 is very much a municipality concern. Collection of waste is a challenge to many SSA municipalities, and the possibility of converting it to useful energy is worth consideration. Chapter 10 talks about Solar Photovoltaics. Solar PV has come down in price considerably over the last few years and this chapter discusses the possibilities – from solar farms contributing to the national grid, to mini and micro grids, to solar home systems.

Renewable purchase agreements are a policy tool that can encourage clean energy. Chapter 11 discusses these, pointing the municipality players to consider the policy instruments available in their country. Chapter 11 touches on carbon trading – this again is effectively a policy instrument that municipalities might consider using. And finally , a last chapter summaries but does not deal in depth, some ideas on Concentrated Solar Power, Wind Power and Solar Water Heaters.

The guide ends with a call to action, to share ideas with colleagues, and to take small steps that help us tread lightly on the earth. “We may have discussed many ideas, technologies, approaches, regulations, policies, feed in tariffs, low energy light bulbs, and energy efficient buildings among others, but ultimately consumption and sustainability come down to you. Humanity has a large footprint on this world and currently we are not treading lightly. We consume; we consume fossil fuel, we create so much impact that our climate is changing, we build cities that can be seen from space; we are heavy on the earth.”

Ghana’s Drive for Gas Power Calls Commitment to Renewables into Question

Innocent K. Agbelie and Simon Bawakyillenuo from the University of Ghana ISSER write on the Ghanaian government’s gas policy and renewables development. This article was originally posted at urbanafrica.com.

From 2012 to the beginning of 2016, the Government of Ghana has been stretched to the limit due to the existing power supply infrastructure’s inability to provide constant and reliable electricity for domestic and industrial activities. This has resulted in the acute electricity supply load shedding known as ‘Dumsor’.


Ghana’s electricity supply market currently has an estimated 10 to 15 percent year-on-year demand growth rate, underpinned by increasing domestic and industrial demand. Prominent among the actions taken by government to placate highly agitated power consumers is the expansion of thermal plant facilities, which are powered by gas imported from Nigeria and also from the Atuabo Gas plant in Jomoro District in the Western Region of Ghana. Since 2000 the share of thermal plants in the total national installed capacity has been on the rise, contrary to the country’s avowed green economic development pathway. This share (computed from the difference between the total national installed capacity and total hydropower installed capacity as reported by the Energy Commission,2014 and 2015) went up from 16.8% in 2000 to 31.8% and 44.1% in 2005 and 2014 respectively.

In contrast, the total installed new renewables’ capacity is a woeful 0.1% of the national total power installed capacity in 2014, while the share of hydro-power installed capacity declined from 83.2% in 2000 to 55.8% in 2014. The increasing share of thermal power generation sources will increase Ghana’s carbon emissions, accelerating climate change and the associated extreme events.

According to the Minister of Energy and Petroleum, the Government of Ghana wants to ensure that the nation becomes self-sufficient in its energy supply. Accordingly, government intends to increase the share of thermal generation capacity to 80% in the total national installed power generation capacity in the next 10 years. These thermal plants, according to the Minster, will be powered by the cheapest source of fuel: gas. This pronouncement sadly evokes lots more questions than answers in the minds of many, including: “What is the future of renewable energy development in the next decade as it is uncertain what the remaining 20% of the installed generation capacity will constitute?”, “What will be the effect of having 80% thermal plants on Ghana’s carbon footprint in the next decade and beyond?”, “Does a cheap fuel source necessarily guarantee a clean fuel source?”

These and many other questions should prompt a rethink in the nation’s quest to become self-sufficient in not just energy, but clean and sustainable energy in the next decade.

Ghana’s 2010 National Energy Policy sets a target of 10% of total energy production from renewable energy sources by 2020. This will require an installed renewable energy generation capacity of 450MW. Although the target is backed by the Renewable Energy Act 2011 it is highly unachievable since the present total installedrenewable energy capacity as of 2014 is 2.5 MW representing 0.1% of the total national installed generation capacity.

Taking into account government’s pronouncement of increasing thermal share to 80% in ten years’ time, the future of the already unachievable renewable energy target is even more questionable. The thermally oriented energy mix projections into the future calls into question the sustainable development and green economy agenda of the country, given that Ghana is signatory to many international conventions and protocols that incorporate sustainability issues.

According to estimates by Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency, the country’s annual greenhouse gas emissions have been on the rise, growing from 10 Mt CO2e in 1991 to 34 Mt CO2e in 2012. The bulk contributors to these emissions are the Energy, Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) sectors. The country’s Third National Communication Report to the UNFCCC highlights that Ghana’s emission rate has grown significantly over the past two decades and contributes 33.66 Mt CO2e to global GHG emissions. With a projection of thermal plants making up 80% of the energy mix in the next 10 years, Ghana’s emissions are bound to increase significantly in direct contrast to the Policy Programme area of minimizing GHG emissions as outlined in the 2013 Ghana National Climate Change Policy.

Cheap-fuel thermal plants appear rather costly to the national and global environment in the medium to long-term. A more sustainable approach is required through commitment to policy strategies coupled with political will on the part of leaders, to take bold decisions in order to drive the renewable energy agenda just like they are doing on the thermal agenda. The fact is, the formulation of policies by policy makers are inadequate for a sustainable energy transition if practical actions are not taken to implement them. Civil society groups, research and advocacy organisations also need to put pressure on government so that it accomplishes its pronounced targets for renewable energy generation.

It is Time to Pay the Climate Debt: Financing a Low-Carbon Urban Africa

Johnathan Silver from Durham University highlights the flaws and limitations of current carbon financing mechanisms, and the pressure they put on an African continent at the forefront of climate change.

Even though sub-Saharan Africa has contributed little to historic Green House Gas emissions, a burgeoning body of research is pointing out that the continent is on the frontline of climate change dynamics and as a result facing multiple infrastructural pressures across an urbanising region.

It is an issue that is of concern to African leaders with the Vice-President of Tanzania, Mohamed Gharib Bilal expressing reservations at the recent ICLEI Local Climate Solutions conference in Dar es Salaam. In the opening session of the conference, he argued that the global response to climate change must be fair, reflecting common but differentiated responsibilities that would put the emphasis on industrialised countries to finance a low carbon urban future and support the separation of growth from carbon and wider resource intensity in African cities. Yet these commonly held views on the continent and beyond seem to be having little effect on the slow, painful process of financing low carbon infrastructures and a green economy in Africa.

This climate change driven, energy, resource and development crisis is not some imagined future but rather taking place in the here and now. Reflecting on these relationships between climate change, low carbon imperatives and infrastructure geographies from across urban Africa generates a critical question: Where is the financing coming from to transform energy systems that respond to low carbon and developmental objectives and fund the plethora of strategies and plans proposed over the last decade?

The prognosis is not an optimistic one. The failure of historic polluters to offer the necessary finance, technology transfer and solidarity highlighted by the Tanzanian Vice President as crucial to a low carbon, resource efficient urban future is achingly visible. The options out there now for African cities limited, full of contradictions and characterised by the dominance of carbon markets. Speakers at the ICLEI conference sought to help city policy makers navigate the Byzantine nature of market-based carbon financing, used (rare) case studies of success stories for the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and sought to draw some hope from a thoroughly discredited financing system. Yet these voices seem to be a minority as a growing consensus rejects the market rationalities embedded in carbon financing with a coalition of activists, academics and policy makers highlighting what seems like an endless number of problems with financing mechanisms such as the CDM.

These critiques of carbon financing cover a series of issues from the privatisation of the air and the atmospheric commons through to the non-linearity of climate change. The almost perverse notion that polluters are being rewarded under these market conditions, together with widespread examples of fraudulent behavior seems to reflect the wider flawed logic of relying on the market and corporations to address socio-environmental conditions. Work by researchers in cities such as Durban show that cities with carbon market-financed projects are often positioned around mega-sized waste to energy technologies that are having devastating social and ecological consequences for local communities. Price fluctuations, speculative behaviours and the post-2008 crash of the carbon price have illustrated that these mechanisms are even failing on their own (market) logics and terms, reflecting the wider contradictions of global financial markets, derivatives and such like. Beyond these extensive general critiques there are some very real distribution inequalities to the current financing across carbon markets that suggest even if these wider flaws didn’t exist then this form of financing would marginalise African cities in these global flows of infrastructure investment. Taking the CDM as an example we can see that the vast majority of financing has both a regional and a non-urban bias that leaves urban Africa on the margins.

climate-graph-1 durham


So while African cities have been promised the fruits of the carbon markets in reality such projects make a tiny and insignificant part of infrastructure investment through the CDM. There are various discourses emerging from organisations such as the Cities Alliance and the World Bank that seek to ‘get cities prepared to attract carbon finance’ yet previous experience would suggest that such preparations are likely to include energy sector liberalisation, policy reform and cause future difficulties for African cities to address climate change, poverty and other imperatives.

These series of problems, flawed logics and failures characterising carbon financing are not going to address the energy, climate change and development challenges facing urban Africa. So where does this critique of carbon markets and current financing landscapes leave cities in terms of financing low carbon, resource efficient urban futures? As the Vice President of Tanzania made clear in his speech, industrial countries must pay and there must be an equitable and fair way to finance the transformation of infrastructure across urban Africa. This is financing based on the idea of climate debt, of paying for the historical pollution of the atmosphere and offering an alternative to the failed logics of markets in addressing these global inequalities that continue to characterise relationships between the continent and the North.

The need for municipalities across urban Africa to instigate significant investment programs becomes ever more important to address climate change, low carbon imperatives and the multiple development challenges facing these spaces of poverty and inequality. Yet, as the ICLEI conference illustrated again, there seems little in the way of alternatives to the limited, compromised and hopelessly flawed carbon financing mechanisms as countries of the North fail to undertake their historic responsibilities. It is time to pay the climate debt and support African cities to undertake different trajectories from the resource intense urban systems of the North. Many of these cities have yet to construct the required infrastructure systems needed over the next century, providing a limited window of opportunity to build a low carbon, resource efficient and fair urban future. The time for the global North to finance these transformations is now.

This blog is also available on the London School of Economics website and the Situated Urban Political Ecologies platform.

Smaller Municipalities Today are Potential Mega Metropolises of Tomorrow: The Need for Climate Change Resilient Approaches

Simon Bawakyillenuo and Innocent Komla Agbelie from the University of Ghana on the recent IPCC “Key Roles of Cities in Climate Resilience” report.

Terence Creamer’s article entitled New report highlights key role of cities in building climate resilience[1] sheds light on the report ‘Climate Change 2014: Impact, Adaptation and Vulnerability’ produced by the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II. Quoted in the article, during a post-publication briefing, Dr. Debra Roberts, one of the authors of the ‘Urban Areas’ chapter of the report, warned that “urban areas are at risk and vulnerable to climate change simply because they have so many eggs in the basket in urban areas: the majority of people now live in cities; the bulk of our infrastructure is in cities”. Dr. Roberts noted further that “cities offer us one of the single greatest opportunities for global adaptation, if we get our act together around urban development and any step taken to improve the resilience of urban areas has the potential to greatly increase the global ability to adapt to climate change”. Adding a different dimension, Dr. Bob Scholes, an ecologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Systems cautioned that adaptation to climate change alone would have limitations, hence, the need to combine it with “early and aggressive mitigation actions” to tackle not only “how much the climate changes, but also how fast it changes”

Indeed, evidence abounds today, manifesting that cities such as Chicago in the U.S.A, Leicester in the UK, and Ekurhuleni in South Africa have made huge investments in retrofit programmes for public buildings as a way of reducing energy use, since energy consumption is a key driver of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions. Other innovations such as the Bus Rapid Transit system in Mexico City, biogas-powered buses in Lille, France and the solar-powered municipal bus fleet in Adelaide, Australia are all green strategies being introduced into city structures to enhance the mitigation of GHG emission as well as improve the resilience of these urban areas. The adoption of these clean and efficient technologies by the cities, which serve the dual purposes of climate change mitigation and adaption strategies are in sync with Dr. Debra Roberts’ views. Since cities are the highest contributors of GHG emissions, strong leadership and institutional set-ups are required to initiate innovative approaches that will embrace the dual purposes of adaptation to climate change and mitigation of GHG emissions. While existing mega cities will need to reorient their strategies and approaches, the lessons and opportunities, perhaps for local authorities of smaller cities and municipalities are that, they can leapfrog the fundamental mistakes of mega cities by pursuing development agenda that will involve meticulous planning, adoption of policies that will be clean and efficient technology driven as well as improving resilience to climate change.

It goes without saying that today’s mega cities are more complicated, structurally and institutionally compared to smaller cities; which therefore make it difficult to apply the same technologies, processes and scientific approaches to tackling what may seem homogeneous problems facing the two types of cities. Thus, a more proactive approach to building climate conscious cities and municipalities is the need for them to adopt adaptation and mitigation measures that are within their means, resource-wise. While mega cities need to integrate more climate friendly technologies into their existing structures in order to upgrade them to climate compatible levels, smaller cities and municipalities, having not developed complicated structures can just begin developing their structures with climate compatible elements, being mainstreamed in them.

The SAMSET project’s approach of supporting municipalities from three countries with varied setups in terms of size, structure and institutional arrangements, with sustainable energy transition paths, is laudable in building climate resilience in the selected municipalities and, therefore speaks to the views of Dr. Debra Roberts. The selected smaller municipalities on the SAMSET project, which are considered alongside other larger cities, are obviously potential mega cities in the future. Thus, these smaller municipalities are well placed in shaping their development trajectories in the right directions and protecting their fragile infrastructure by drawing lessons from the bigger municipalities that have faced numerous climate change issues. In effect, the SAMSET project has an enviable opportunity of impacting positively on climate change resilient approaches of all partner municipalities especially, the smaller cities through building the capacity of their personnel to come up with informed decisions, strategies and approaches to develop clean and efficient technologies.

[1]Available at: http://www.engineeringnews.co.za/article/new-report-highlights-key-role-of-cities-in-building-climate-resilience-2014-03-31

Urban Energy Transitions – Uganda

Prof. Simon Marvin from Durham University reports on the Durham SAMSET team’s recent work in Uganda.

During March we undertook initial fieldwork in Kampala, Uganda as part of our work on developing a knowledge exchange framework for urban energy transitions in African cities [1]. The work had three main components. i): a ‘netmapping’ exercise to review the institutional landscape of the energy sector with local and national policy makers. ii) meetings with agents of local energy transitions from the NGO and private sector. iii) And dialogue with our Uganda partners on understanding the case study cities and sensitising the knowledge exchange framework to the local context. Three sets of issues emerged that will be important in shaping our future work programme in SAMSET


Restricted Capacity of Municipalities to Shape Energy Transitions

We met the Municipal Town Clerks – the equivalent of a Chief executive in UK – from our two case study cities.  These municipalities have few formal responsibilities for energy issues with policy making priorities and capacity being exercised at a national level – through the energy ministry and the actions of an unbundled energy system of generation, transmission and distribution. Consequently, there was very limited capacity in the local authority to focus on energy issues – with only one member of staff employed to deal with all environmental issues – including working on forests, wastewater etc.  While municipalities were concerned about a range of energy issues in their cities including high costs, disruption, health and air quality plus access of households to formal energy system  – there are few formal mechanisms for them to interact with, or shape, the energy system.


By-passing Municipal and National Context

Mapping the urban energyscape revealed a wide range of local energy initiatives around lighting, fuel-efficient stoves and a range of decentralised technologies.  But these responses were strongly dependent on the actions of external intermediaries – NGOs and private companies  – who worked with local households and community-based organisations to develop local energy initiatives.  What was striking about these was the ways in which these responses tended to connect to international financial mechanisms, agencies and particular national contexts involving private companies, universities and NGOs to a particular local context – household, sewage works etc. There was strong sense that these initiatives largely by-passed the municipal and national contexts within which they were inserted according to external priorities – a form of transnational governance of local energy.


“District Champion” Energy Response.

While the energyscape was incredibly fragmented there was one example of an energy strategy at a municipal scale in Kasese that WWF has chosen as the “ Champion District”[2].  The imitative involves working with a cross-sectoral partnership designed to accelerate energy access for off grid communities through cooking and lighting. A number of different pathways are being experimented with including working with not-for profit NGOs and commercial models.  A private solar provider had report significant up lift in monthly solar installations from 2 up to 400 a month after the scheme provided enhanced access to the market through CBOs.  In contrast an efficient stove NGO reported that the scheme had been less successful in providing access to households.

Solar Lighting in Kasese

Solar lighting in Kasese © WWF-Norge/Will Boase

[1] http://samsetproject.site11.com

[2] http://wwf.panda.org/who_we_are/wwf_offices/uganda/

Telling Our Own Sustainability Stories

Melusile Ndlovu from SEA offers his thoughts on the importance on relating sustainability and climate change issues to everyday experiences.

Sustainability discussions or agenda (for lack of a better word) can be far removed from many people’s daily realities at times. This dawned on me when I was listening to “educated” colleagues, in a bar, talking about the climate change phenomena. Needless to say my friend, a climate change practitioner, in his attempt to drive the point home kept on referring to polar bears, melting ice caps, and all the humdrum stuff that you see on news channels. However, this seemed far removed from everyone’s day-to-day existence.

I once had an interesting discussion with my grandmother that somehow changed my thinking around sustainability and climate change specifically. Briefly about my granny; she lives deep in rural Zimbabwe, I say deep because if she wants to visit the nearest town she has to walk quite a long distance to get to the “nearest” bus station. That is to catch the only bus that passes through her village once a day very early in the morning around 4am. Our discussion might have started off on what the villagers expected to harvest from their fields. She mourned the shift in seasons that she felt was happening and could affect their crop outputs. You see, rain is very important to them as small-scale subsistence farmers with no access to complex irrigation systems. Her argument was that there is something happening with our climate, we didn’t put a name to “this something”. I tried arguing that what they were experiencing might be one of the normal climatic cycles (a drought year). But who am I to argue with an old lady who has seen more drought years than I? She went on to give me details of the past drought years they had lived through and that what is happening now is different from what she had experienced before. Seeing that I was losing the argument, I asked her if she has been to a climate change workshop in the village. Her response was that she had never been to one and hadn’t been listening to radio discussions on this topic. She was adamant that she knew what she was talking about (that “something”).

My point is that while the topic of climate change and energy in cities is gaining resonance, the question might be how to tell our stories in ways that resonate with a broader populace given that most people in cities have many other things to worry about and climate change is something that might be far removed from them. Municipal officials might feel this is not an important issue to them as they are faced with other service delivery issues. And in some cases this might be seen as an unfunded mandate but the question still remains on how to communicate the sustainability message in a way that resonates with most people. Therefore, the Samset project might have to find hooks within our partner municipalities i.e. identify the most pressing issues within a given locale and try to locate linkages with energy and sustainability.

The Challenges of Low Carbon Urban Development

Mark Borchers from SEA comments on the C40 City Mayors Summit, held in Johannesburg in February.

There are plenty of ideas about low carbon urban development. These tend to circulate in policy documents, reviews and conference presentations. The challenge is to take these ideas and let them take root and gain life in the messy engine rooms of cities where the aircon may have been broken for many months, the average qualification basic, a receptionist painting their nails, the engineer gone and the finance officer unwilling to do anything new. It may take 3 months just to appoint a staff member; up to six months to issue a tender and appoint a contractor. I have heard of instances where money for retrofit of public lighting ended up paying staff salaries; and funds for solar water heating installation could not be spent as there was no engineer to sign off that the houses could structurally bear the load.

Scratch the surface, however, and there is also a wealth of experience, irreplaceable on-ground technical knowledge and institutional memory. I have also experienced, across almost every municipality in South Africa at least, a massive commitment to meet the environmental challenges facing us.

In February city leaders met in Johannesburg for the C40 City Mayors Summit. Political analysts Richard Calland and Jerome van Rooij (‘African cities need to work together’) posed the question: will African cities be able to ‘catch the wave’ of cities being “where it’s at” with regard to sustainable development and green-growth, given their fiscal and political/legal limitations? Not without a major gearing up, they conclude.

SAMSET aims to address this, following a model that has been enormously successful in South Africa to date: taking an sustainable energy/urban development idea, working on it hand in hand with city staff; when it hits a snarl-up, deepening the investigation, exploring a number of possibilities and moving closer to a solution – a programme of real intervention. As the work happens, the finance begins to flow in, the capacity to do the work expands, new offices develop and the institution reconfigures itself. Incremental, but potentially powerful.