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Africa Progress Panel Urges the G8 to Go Green

Representatives of the world’s largest economies are meeting this week in l’Aquila, Italy. At the top of the agenda are efforts to end the global economic recession and promote growth, especially in the developing world.

A group of experts, the African Progress Panel, is asking the G8 to promote green technologies, which would protect the environment, yet create economic growth. The panel includes former Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, and international advocate for women’s and children’s rights, Graca Machel.

Reporter William Eagle spoke to the panel’s director, Michael Keating, who gave examples of workable green technologies.

EAGLE: Can you give example where green technologies are working well in a market economy ?

KEATING :Let me give you a small one and a bigger one.

In Bangladesh, photo-voltaic cells are being used at village level through the Grameen organization. The idea is to allow poor people an opportunity to become energy generators and link them onto a local grid so they can capture energy and earn money by selling whatever energy they don’t use to the local grid.

That is terrific from all sorts of perspectives, but that is very small scale stuff.But Africa is different: Bangladesh is densely populated, and Africa is not. There are precedents like that that need to be explored regarding their transferability.

On a larger scale, in northern Kenya, there is a major wind project underway to generate 25 percent of that country’s energy using wind power.The project is taking place in a part of the country that is very sparsely populated with minimal economic potential in terms of agriculture and livestock.

If this works, it is a real example of how you can take an area seen as economically marginal and use it to generate income and energy in a way that will make a positive difference to the country’s ability to grow and generate incomes the government will need to provide basic health and education and other services.

EAGLE: At the G8 meeting this week, food production is likely to be on the agenda.There was recently a US official quoted by Reuters about an expected Obama administration proposal for improving the delivery of food aid, and improving food production in the developing world.Is there a link between green technologies and food production?

KEATING: One of the great lessons that’s been learned in last couple of years is that there has been insufficient investment in Africa in agriculture.The World Bank, in an independent evaluation of its own track record in this area, issued a public [admission of guilt] recognizing they have not put enough money in this area.I have not read details of the Obama plan, but If it is not about food aid, because that has been part of the problem.

Singapore is food secure, but does not grow food.There is a big difference between food production and food security. Food aid is not necessarily the best way to achieve food production or security.

Trying to boost food production and food security has more to do with making sure farmers know what they’re doing, have the right seeds, water systems, access to water, that people producing the fertilizer are able to procure and distribute it on time. There are post harvest losses: between 20 - 40 percent of all food in Africa is lost after its production because it is wasted, because it rots before it can get to market.

There is vast potential to increase food production and security. Food security is more dependent on people having income than necessarily growing food themselves.

So the link between renewable green technology and food production and security is at several levels:you can use technology to improve food production in terms of water systems, infrastructure, mobile telephony to alert farmers as to what kind of weather is on the horizon and therefore when to plant and to protect.But also if you can get some serious renewable energy projects going that results in jobs, then people have an income and that increases food security, though not necessarily production.

EAGLE: I was thinking more about solar energy….What else to you have in mind when you talk about green technologies?

KEATING: Water and solar are obviously very important but there is also the potential for several hundred if not thousands of megawatts of hydropower in Africa. You have massive rivers that lend themselves to hydropower generation; you can also do [it on a] small scale.

There is also an abundance of biomass you can covert to power, fertilizer, heat and for cold chain infrastructure.Cold chains have been used in the health field and in seed germination. You also have wind power and geo- thermal power – the Rift Valley[in Kenya] and parts of Central Africa could use existing technology to produce lots of geothermal power.

There is a lot of money being available for Africa and we hope some of it goes into supporting projects that generate more renewable energy, not just solar but all these other forms of power.

EAGLE: This week, what is the Africa Progress Panel asking the G8 to do, not just with regard to green technology?

KEATING: What the Panel members are watching for is whether the high sounding resolution that emerges is backed up with real money. It is easy to come out of the meetings waving bits of paper about promises; it is a different matter substantiating those with concrete plans for generating the resources.And on the one hand, I think the panel recognizes that at a time when the US faces huge joblessness and there’s economic contractions across the industrialized world, it is tough for governments to make grand financial commitments.

But the Panel is arguing that if you do the math, the amount of money required for Africa is miniscule compared to the vast sums of money being mobilized in the US, Europe and the Far East to bail out the financial system and to bail out companies.One US company alone received more in a bailout than the world’s development budget.So even though politics are such that the opportunity of announcing financial contributions to Africa is tough on politicians, the panel is arguing that the figures are very modest, a couple of billion dollars for Africa, compared to what is going on.

The Panel would like to see action on financial security, climate change, water in particular, and maybe on education, though there is talk of that being given greater focus next year - but not just statements, actually financing proposals. That is the key test.