Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week (ADSW), one of the largest sustainability gatherings in the world, launched today with a panel on the future of renewable energy development in Africa. Moderated by Adnan Z. Amin, director-general of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), and featuring comments from the presidents of Senegal, Sierra Leone and Ethiopia, the panel addressed the opportunities for economic growth in Africa and what the continent needs to grow sustainably.
"Ahead of us lies a future with a tremendous potential for sustainable growth," Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, Minister of State in the United Arab Emirates and CEO of Masdar, Abu Dhabi's renewable energy company, said in front of a crowd of dignitaries, world leaders and media this morning. "Nowhere is this opportunity more evident or immediate than in Africa."
"Africa is undergoing unprecedented and sustained growth," Amin of IRENA added. "It has been one of the fastest growing regions of the past decade, with a GDP expected to grow in the coming years on an average from 5 to 6 percent annually."
Africa is drawing more and more attention as the continent of the future. A March issue of The Economist featured the headline "Africa Rising," pinpointing the continent's economic boom as one to watch in the next decade. With rapid urbanization and economic growth on the continent, the need to meet rising energy demand sustainably is a hot-button issue on the world's mind.
"Indeed, Africa is at a crossroads. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that Africa is the continent of the future," President Macky Sall of Senegal said at the ADSW opening ceremony in Abu Dhabi. Sall referred not only to economic potential, but also to vast opportunities for renewable energy - pointing to his own country's potential for hydro and solar power and calling on governments and private companies to view Africa as an important partner in global sustainable development moving forward.
While daily headlines in the U.S. often speak of government corruption and human rights violations in Africa, panelists advised world leaders and corporate investors not to view the entire continent through the lens of a few countries still struggling to find their way.
"Africa is now prepared to move forward," said President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, whose own resource-rich country has overcome violent armed conflicts and is now on the path to economic prosperity. "Africa should not be defined by what has happened in the past. The issues that are…sadly happening in South Sudan should not be used to define what is Africa."
To date, almost half of African countries have undertaken national resource assessments for one or more renewable energy sources, according to IRENA. Solar and wind assessments exist for at least 21 countries, biomass assessments in at least 14 countries, and geothermal assessments are ongoing in seven countries. The agency also released a map that details renewable energy potential on the continent, ranging from bioenergy and geothermal to solar and wind.
In addition to recognizing this vast potential for growth in the renewable energy sector, panelists noted that the continent can't accomplish its goals alone. When asked what his country needs from the global community to move the needle forward when it comes to renewable energy production, Koroma said: "The potential for energy is great…but to get there we need interest."
To accomplish this, IRENA announced a new initiative to develop an Africa Clean Energy Corridor at its third assembly last week. Working with partners, IRENA will encourage accelerated expansion of renewable energy options on the power grids of Eastern and Southern Africa. The agency will help countries conduct assessments of wind, solar and other renewable energy resources, and to model the economic benefits of incorporating more renewable generating capacity into their expansion plans for power generation.
After identifying a set of goals for the region over the next five, 10 and 20 years, IRENA will help connect partner countries to public and private investors around the world - ensuring sufficient interest and investment that will allow Africa to meet its ever-increasing energy demands without excessive impact on the planet.
The panel on Africa marks the first event in a week-long sustainability gathering in Abu Dhabi, which includes the World Future Energy Summit, International Water Summit and the inaugural EcoWASTE summit.
Follow along this week for breaking news from the event.
Image credit: Mary Mazzoni
Travel expenses to Abu Dhabi were provided by Masdar, the main organizer of ADSW.