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Is the world ready to end the coal era and embrace clean energy?

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Access to electricity has transformed the world, helping countries to develop their economies, and lifting millions out of poverty. However, this success has come at a great cost: the energy sector, heavily reliant on fossil fuels, is responsible for some 40 per cent of global carbon dioxide emissions – one of the so-called greenhouse gases, which trap heat in the atmosphere and warm the Earth – and almost two-thirds of these emissions come from coal.

But, despite the United Nations calling urgently for an end to fossil fuels, hundreds of new coal-fired power stations are still being built, and hundreds more are in the pipeline. Is the world ready for a new era of clean, cheap and accessible energy for all?

Kick the coal habit, and put a price on carbon, urges UN chief

The UN chief has called for taxes to be placed on carbon emissions, an end to the trillions of dollars’ worth of estimated subsidies for fossil fuels, and for the construction of coal-fired power stations to be halted by 2020, if we are to stand a chance of ending the climate crisis.

Many countries, particularly developed economies, are starting to heed the UN’s message. However, Southeast Asia, one of the fastest-growing economic regions in the world, appears to be stuck on fossil fuels as the answer to its energy needs: In November, Mr. Guterres told a meeting of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) group in Thailand that coal “remains a major threat in relation to climate change”, adding that countries in Southeast Asia are some of the most vulnerable to climate change.

Asian development still fueled by coal

According to studies by the International Energy Agency, the region is expected to become a key driver of world energy trends over the next 20 years. Millions of people in Southeast Asia have gained access to electricity since 2000, and the region is on the way to achieving universal access by 2030.

The UN-backed Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL), has compiled data showing that the region has the third highest number of coal power plants in the pipeline after China and India. Indonesia, Viet Nam and the Philippines have the largest coal plant pipeline of all South East Asian countries, with Malaysia and Thailand not far behind.

The wealthier Asian countries are also bankrolling coal beyond their borders: State-owned financial agencies in China, Japan, and South Korea are now, respectively, the largest sources of funding for coal plants in other countries: research from SEforALL shows that China was the largest international source international source of finance for coal, committing more than $1.7 billion in 2015/2016.

Coal is losing power

Nevertheless, the world, as a whole, is slowly moving in the right direction, and the number of plants currently being planned is falling. The amount of permits of new coal plants has dropped to record lows, and over a thousand have been cancelled,  a reflection of a tougher economic climate for coal plant developers, and the growing consensus for the need to limit global warming, and protect human health.

In November 2019, four years after the Paris Agreement, a key UN climate conference at which countries committed to step up efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures and boost climate action financing, the UN Secretary-General convened a Climate Action Summit in New York, where many nations announced beefed-up measures to combat the climate crisis, including putting limits on the amount of electricity produced from coal-based sources.

The UK, for example, is expected to completely phase out coal in the next few years, Germany – one of the world’s biggest users of coal – has agreed to stop by 2038, and eight other European Union countries have announced that they will put an end to coal use by 2030. Chile has pledged to close all of its coal-fired power stations by 2040, and South Korea will close 10 plants by 2022.

A “Powering Past Coal Alliance”, made up of 32 countries, 25 regional, provincial and municipal level governments, and 34 business members,  announced new members, including Germany and Slovakia, at the conference, committed to speeding up the transition from coal-based to clean energy, and to lead global efforts to curtail coal use.

Here comes the sun

In addition, more and more countries, and businesses, acknowledge that the use of renewable energy is not only the right thing to do for the planet, it also makes economic sense.

Technology already exists to enable the world to transition away from coal, and other fossil fuels; and also to connect the 840 million people who still don’t have access to electricity to clean, renewable energy sources. And it’s affordable.

SEforALL research shows that renewables are now the cheapest form of new electricity generation across two thirds of the world — cheaper than both new coal and new natural gas power – and, by 2030, wind and solar will undercut coal and gas almost everywhere.

Disconnect between words and actions

However, even with the decline in coal use, and growth in the use of renewables, the transition to clean energy is not taking place quickly enough, and there is still a big gap between countries’ climate commitments, and their planned production of fossil fuels, as demonstrated by the 2019 Production Gap report, the first of its kind, from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and research partners.

The gap is largest when it comes to coal: countries are currently planning to produce 150% more coal in 2030, than would be consistent with limiting warming to 2°C, and almost three times more than would be consistent with limiting warming to 1.5°C.

“Despite more than two decades of climate policy making, fossil fuel production levels are higher than ever,” Måns Nilsson, head of the Stockholm Environment Institute, one of the organizations that produced the study, said in a press release. “This report shows that governments’ continued support for coal, oil and gas extraction is a big part of the problem. We’re in a deep hole, and we need to stop digging.”

In 2020, the UN launches a Decade of Action, to kickstart efforts to achieve the goals that make up the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. When it comes to energy, the goal is to ensure affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all: the challenge for the UN, and the world, is to rapidly speed up the move towards renewables, and kick the coal habit once and for all.

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Burkina Faso: AfDB approves €48,82 million for Desert to Power Yeleen programme

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The Board of Directors of the Bank has approved a €48,82 million loan to the Government of Burkina Faso for the Yeleen solar plant, intended to boost national power supply.

Yeleen, which is to be implemented under the Bank’s Desert to Power ( DTP) Initiative, and which will span a period of five years from 2020-2024, is the second project under the DTP initiative in Burkina Faso. The total project cost is estimated at €136.69 million.  The rest of the financing for Yeleen is provided by Agence Française de Développement (AFD), European Union (EU), and Société Nationale d’électricité du Burkina Faso (SONABEL).

The electricity access rate in Burkina Faso is one of the lowest in Africa at around 21% at national level in 2018. Upon completion, the project will increase and diversify electricity supply through the construction of four new 52 MWc photovoltaic (PV) plants and extend power distribution networks to connect 30,000 new households, or about 200,000 people. It will also contribute to the avoidance of 48,000 tCO2eq emissions annually.

Wale Shonibare, the Bank’s Acting Vice-President for Power, Energy, Climate Change & Green Growth said: “This project will augment the Bank’s efforts to ensure inclusive access to energy through improvements in rural electrification, regional interconnections and energy sector reforms. Notably, it will increase Burkina Faso’s generation capacity by 15%, which will greatly help to reduce Burkina Faso’s reliance on fossil fuel imports.”

Dr. Daniel Schroth, the Bank’s Acting Director for Renewable Energy & Energy Efficiency also added that the approval would further the Desert to Power Initiative’s momentum in line with commitments made at the Sahel G5 Summit on 13th September in Ouagadougou. 

“With this project, we are making concrete progress on two of the five priority areas under the Desert to Power initiative which include adding new solar generation capacity and strengthening the transmission and distribution networks,” said Schroth.

The current project is part of Burkina Faso’s broader 2025 Solar Programme, known as “Yeleen” with three components: (i) Development of photovoltaic plants (PV) connected to the interconnected national grid; (ii) Increase in the electricity distribution network; and (iii) Rural electrification by mini-grids (isolated) and individual solar systems. The rural electrification “ Yeleen rural electrification project” which aims to to increase electricity access in Burkina Faso by connecting 150,000 households to solar mini- grids (50,000 household) and through stand-alone solar kits systems (100,000 households) was approved by the Bank in December 2018 with joint financing with EU and GCF.

The project aligns with Bank’s Country strategy paper for Burkina Faso (CSP 2017-2021), its High-5 “Light Up and Power Africa”initiative, and the Bank’s Climate Change plan. Desert to Power initiative aims to accelerate economic development by adding solar energy generation capacity of up to 10 GW by 2025 through a combination of public and private interventions.

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Improving gender diversity in the energy sector is an important measure of success

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From left to right: Ted Garrish, Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the US Energy Department, United States; Kenji Wakamiya, State Minister for Foreign Affairs, Japan; Christyne Tremblay, Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Canada; Dr Fatih Birol, IEA Executive Director; Megan Woods, Minister of Energy and Resources, New Zealand; Michał Kurtyka, Minister of Climate, Poland; Anna Brandt, Ambassador to the OECD, Sweden; Mechthild Wörsdörfer, IEA Director, Sustainability, Technology and Outlooks; and Catherine Bremner, Director, United Kingdom

Energy industries have lacked female participation throughout their history, with women making up only about one-fifth of the traditional energy sector labour force.

The International Energy Agency, which promotes the need for equal opportunities, today hosted a high-level event focused on how to advance gender diversity in the energy sector to support future workforce needs.

Held in Paris ahead of the IEA’s biennial Ministerial Meeting, the event was chaired by Christyne Tremblay, Canada’s Deputy Minister of Natural Resources, and Megan Woods, New Zealand’s Minister of Energy and Resources. At the event, the United States launched the C3E International Ambassador Programme, which gives all countries an opportunity to nominate individuals who will support governments’ efforts in improving gender diversity in the energy sector.

Other participants included ministers or senior government officials from Austria, Australia, Belgium, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Kingdom and other IEA Family countries, as well as executives from several major energy sector companies. During the meeting, participants expressed enthusiastic support for advancing gender diversity across the energy sector and its importance for clean energy transitions.

“Achieving a better gender balance is not only an issue of fairness. It is also good for results as well, as studies show that diverse organisations perform better,” said Dr Fatih Birol, the IEA’s Executive Director.

Participants at the meeting emphasised the importance of integrating gender into energy policies, promoting female employment and careers, and sharing best practices. They welcomed the activities of C3E TCP, which aims to build a community of women leaders across a range of clean energy sectors, and the Equal by 30 campaign, which secures commitments from public and private sector organisations to work towards equal pay, equal leadership and equal opportunities for women in the clean energy sector by 2030.

The meeting identified those two initiatives as platforms to exchange best practices and strengthen collaboration in several areas, including knowledge and data collection, recognition of female leadership, reducing barriers and raising ambition on implementation.

The 2019 IEA Ministerial Meeting is taking place in Paris on 5-6 December. It is chaired by Mr Michał Kurtyka, Poland’s Minister of Climate and the President of COP24. Ministers of IEA Member, Accession and Association countries and CEOs of leading companies are attending the meeting.

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ADB Approves $300 Million to Reform Pakistan’s Energy Sector

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The Asian Development Bank (ADB) today approved a $300 million policy-based loan that will help the Government of Pakistan to address financial sustainability, governance, and energy infrastructure policy constraints in Pakistan’s energy sector.

The financing will support the first of three subprograms totaling $1 billion under the Energy Sector Reforms and Financial Sustainability Program, a key component of a comprehensive multidonor economic reform program led by the International Monetary Fund that aims to put Pakistan’s economy on the path to sustainable and inclusive growth after a deterioration in its fiscal and financial position in recent years.

“The cash shortfall across the power supply chain in Pakistan, also known as circular debt, has shot up to more than $10 billion and is a longstanding chronic issue ailing the country’s power sector,” said ADB Director General for Central and West Asia Mr. Werner Liepach. “A comprehensive and realistic Circular Debt Reduction Plan, assisted by ADB in close coordination with other development partners, is the cornerstone of this subprogram. The plan aims to drastically cut the new flows of circular debt and provides policy directions on addressing accumulated circular debt.”

While Pakistan has made significant effort in recent years to expand its electricity generation capacity and stabilize supply, the country is yet to overcome the challenge of inefficiencies, distortions, and uneven reform progress in the sector. These inefficiencies were estimated to have cost the country’s economy up to $18 billion, or 6.5% of gross domestic product, in 2015.

The energy reform program aims to address the underlying causes of circular debt with a focus on improving inadequate tariff and subsidy systems, strengthening energy accounting, and reducing generation costs.

ADB will finance the program with support from its development partners. The Export–Import Bank of Korea has confirmed it will provide $80 million in cofinancing for the first subprogram.

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