Andris Piebalgs stresses the importance of climate change for African development Photo: Corbis/Getty

Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development

By Adam Robert Green | Published:  15 November, 2011

“Our partners in developing countries appreciate we are living up to our promises on fast-start climate financing. There is no doubt we are delivering on the amount and the quality of investment”

The European Union is a dominant voice in the climate and development debate. It is the most proactive global bloc with regard to implementing rules to curb emissions – moving beyond price-setting and enacting fundamental regulatory and market reforms – and it disburses considerable aid for energy access and climate change adaptation. Andris Piebalgs, European Commissioner for Development, believes this combination of domestic will and external action should give African countries confidence in their own efforts.

Within its territory, the EU has moved fast. “We have adopted climate change legislation. Sometimes it has been criticised but its implementation is going quite well,” Mr Piebalgs declares. Last year, 69 percent of all new EU energy investments were for renewables. By 2020, Germany – which will not see new coal power built due to the EU permit system – should consume 14 percent less energy than in 2005 without causing a slowdown in growth.

“We have demonstrated you can achieve climate change goals and economic benefits,” he says. The EU is also at the technological frontier, Mr Piebalgs claims. “EU value-added could be substantial. We have technologies. We are advanced in solar, wind and biomass. We have a whole palate of instruments to deal with this.” Political will is evident not only in the likes of Germany and Sweden, but from carbon-intensive economies. Poland, during its presidency of the European Commission, has put green growth at the heart of its agenda.

This domestic commitment should give African countries confidence in the EU as a long term partner in climate and energy-related challenges says Mr Piebalgs, a former Commissioner for Energy, who stresses the importance of climate change for African development. “When you go to African countries, there is a perception that climate is changing. It is not political or intellectual talk but a grassroots issue. People see the changes on the ground.”

EU aid has a growing focus on disaster management and resilience, but improving energy penetration remains important in a continent where millions lack access to power. An energy facility of E400m has been established, with some lending through the Africa Infrastructure Fund, most recently supporting electricity connections between Ethiopia and Djibouti. Mr Piebalgs’ ambition is to scale up considerably. “Our partners in developing countries appreciate we are living up to our promises on fast-start climate financing. There is no doubt we are delivering on the amount and the quality of investment.”

Yet while aid for clean energy and adaptation is a necessary bridge, Mr Piebalgs hopes it will also stimulate private sector involvement. The risks to sustainable energy infrastructure are high and the returns long term, yet the fundamentals to attract private funding are now in place. “Africa is more stable than in previous times, and democratically-elected governments encourage more investment in the energy sector,” he argues, citing the example of Conakry which has enormous water potential untapped due to Guinea’s past instability.

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