“The climate crisis will sweep away my country if the world doesn’t keep its promises.”
In his recent plea to step up climate action, the president of Marshall Islands, David Kabua sought to remind the world that for many small island nations, climate change is a very real existential threat.
Small island developing states (SIDS) face a unique set of climate and energy challenges, where dependency on imported fossil fuels and vulnerability to climate change often go hand in hand with high poverty rates and lack of access to reliable energy. These difficulties are now compounded by the socio-economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But because island nations have had to face the climate crisis head-on, many have become climate leaders and are pursuing ambitious clean energy targets — including in Africa. UNDP is supporting this pursuit via its integrated global offer Rising Up for SIDS — targeting the systemic vulnerabilities island states face to act as a vehicle for green recovery and beyond. As a critical enabler of sustainable development, energy transition is central to UNDP’s support — ensuring the well-being of even the most remote island communities.
Mauritius is implementing a comprehensive sustainable energy programme to meet its goal of having 35 percent of its electricity produced by renewables by 2025 — a significant increase from 18.4 percent in 2018. The country is strengthening the existing power grid with batteries to store renewables and is planning to deploy an additional 25 MW of solar power, including a mini-power grid on the outer island of Agalega to bring reliable electricity to off-grid areas.
The climate finance challenge for clean energy
But clean energy projects require enormous investment, and many SIDS are facing difficulties in catalyzing the money to reach their ambitious climate goals.
This is the case of Sao Tome e Principe and Comoros. Both called for multilateral and private sector actors to join their efforts in scaling up financing for clean energy at a high-level event on the energy transition ahead of the UN General Assembly.
“We want to transform [the COVID-19] situation into a unique opportunity to fully establish in practice the vision of green and inclusive recovery by attracting partners to support us in our journey towards clean energy,” said the Sao Tome e Principe Minister of Infrastructure, Public Works, Natural Resources and Environment Osvaldo Abreu.
Sao Tome e Principe is already accelerating the development of its sustainable energy infrastructure, with the rehabilitation of the Papagaio mini hydro plant supported by a collaboration between UNDP and Sustainable Energy Fund for Africa from the African Development Bank. But recently, international partners have stepped up support for climate action through the Climate Investment Platform (CIP) — a partnership that aims to declutter the climate finance space and facilitate investments in clean energy. The CIP is developing, together with the government, innovative ways to increase the share of renewable energy and provide solutions to improve access to clean energy. The CIP will support the country to deliver greater distributed clean energy capacity development and improved energy access for households and businesses in tourism, health and agriculture.
In Comoros, the energy transition is part of the national development vision ‘Plan Comores émergent 2030’ and its Nationally Determined Contribution. The success of this strategy relies on unlocking the country’s geothermal energy potential. However, geothermal has a risky and costly early-stage phase to identify resources. The Global Environment Facility and the African Union Geothermal Risk Mitigation Facility (GRMF) are already partnering for this project, which has also received considerable financial and technical support from the government of New Zealand, and they are looking for additional internal resources and international partners to close the gap.
“Geothermal energy has the potential to be a game-changer for Comoros, both in terms of greenhouse gas emissions reductions and increased energy access. But at this stage, additional partners are needed for the country to be able integrate this renewable energy source in its mix. Attracting public and private capital is key, and that’s why we’re advocating for Comoros’s geothermal programme on the international stage,” said Fenella Frost, UNDP Resident Representative for Comoros.
Comoros has started a collaboration with the CIP which brings in specialized expertise to assist the government in de-risking investments in geothermal and ensuring current regulations and policies make such long-term and capital-intensive investments possible. It is also tapping into its network to look for potential investors and advocates for Comoros’ geothermal financing needs on the international stage.
Along with their fellow SIDS, African island nations are ready to accelerate their transition to sustainable energy. The international community must hear their call and join efforts to step up financing for climate action.