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UN urges Africa to facilitate private investment in clean energy production

Government policies that facilitate private sector investment in energy markets are crucial to help tap Africa’s massive renewable energy potential, which can fuel the continent’s poverty reduction efforts and put it on a path to sustainable development, according to a United Nations report released today.

Experts estimate that unless stronger commitments are made to reverse current trends, half the population in sub-Saharan Africa will still be without electricity by 2030.

The report produced by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi to mark the Africa launch of the International Year of Sustainable Energy for All, outlines how current obstacles to the scaling-up of sustainable energy solutions in Africa, such as the cost of electricity generation or difficult grid access, can be tackled.

To meet the continent’s growing energy demands, the power sector in Africa needs to install an estimated 7,000 megawatts (MW) of new generation capacity each year, the report states, and argues that much of that can come from Africa’s wealth of untapped, domestic renewable resources. Cape Verde, Kenya, Madagascar, Sudan and Chad have particularly significant potential, the study says.

According to the African Development Bank, Mauritania’s wind energy potential is almost four times its annual energy needs, while Sudan’s is equivalent to 90 per cent of its annual energy needs.

“Accelerating and scaling-up sustainable energy for all will be key to realizing a transition to a low carbon, resource efficient ‘inclusive’ Green Economy,” said Achim Steiner, the UNEP Executive Director. He noted that an estimated 1.3 billion people worldwide have no access to electricity and 95 per cent of them live in Africa.

“Yet the continent has abundant renewable resources that, with the right kind of public policies in place can unlock a new development future and light up the lives and the livelihoods of millions of people,’ he said.

Mr. Steiner stressed that access to sustainable energy should be uppermost in the minds of delegates who will attend the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20) in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro in June.

Current barriers – that range from fossil fuel subsidies to the need for upfront financing – which have held back the massive sustainable energy production potential in Africa and elsewhere – should also be addressed during Rio+20.

The study gives examples of how policy incentives can help reduce the higher costs associated with electricity generation from renewable sources and improve the competitiveness of investments in the sector, compared to traditional energy sources.

In Kenya, a Government feed-in tariff introduced in 2008 to expand renewable energy power generation in the country, will give production incentives for an estimated additional energy generation capacity of 1300 megawatts, more than double Kenya’s present capacity, according to the report.

Uganda’s dedicated renewable energy policy has been praised for developing an institutional infrastructure for management of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) that has successfully led to a spike in renewable energy activity.

In a related development, a Nigerian radio journalist has won the UNEP’s Young Environmental Journalist Award (YEJA), beating over 120 entries from journalists across Africa.

Ugochi Anyaka, 28, received her award at a special ceremony held during the 12th Special Session of the UNEP Governing Council today in Nairobi. Her radio feature profiled a project in a low-income suburb of Abuja that manufactures briquettes from waste paper, in order to provide an alternative fuel to traditional firewood.

Meanwhile, a ‘Foresight Panel’ of 400 leading scientists and experts meeting at UNEP headquarters in Nairobi yesterday called for complete overhaul of the way the planet is managed to tackle the challenges of global sustainability for its seven billion inhabitants.

It concluded that the three leading issues facing the planet are aligning governance with the challenges of global sustainability; transforming human capabilities for the 21st century; and meeting global environmental challenges and moving towards a green economy.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41302&Cr=Energy&Cr1=

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Warning of destructive floods as Danube thaw sets in, UN urges better response

Destructive floods caused by the rapid thawing of the Danube River could add to the fatalities from an already harsh European winter, the head of the United Nations agency dealing with disaster risk reduction warned today.

In a statement, Margareta Wahlström, the head of the secretariat of the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), voiced concern for the consequences faced by those countries traversed by the Danube, whose sudden thaw is taking many by surprise.

“The thaw is now setting in along the Danube. While thousands of people remain snowbound from Serbia to Bulgaria, there are warning signs that destructive floods will add to the loss of life and economic assets particularly in places where there is an absence of flood management infrastructure such as dams and dikes,” Ms. Wahlström stated.

According to media reports, the quick thawing of Europe’s second longest river has sent massive ice floes careening into boats and bridges, causing widespread damage to river vessels. The cold front had previously frozen large tracts of the waterway, making it unnavigable in areas of Germany and the Balkans.

“This severe winter in which hundreds of people have died has highlighted several weaknesses in our built environment and our ability to prepare for worst¬¬–case scenarios,” Ms. Wahlström said. “Vulnerable communities across Europe have been cut off from transport, schools, health facilities and electricity in many cases.”

The cold spell which has paralyzed much of Europe also reportedly killed more than 300 people in Ukraine, Poland, France and Italy as extremely low temperatures and substantial snowfalls blanketed the continent.

Ms. Wahlström commended Bulgaria’s decision to inspect over 500 dams throughout the country and to release the water from some dams and reservoirs to contain the Danube’s eventual floodwaters.

However, she also urged governments to undertake better planning for the possibility of future extreme winter weather patterns

“The unpredictability of severe weather events leads to high human and financial costs,” she added. “More focus on winterisation planning will be a wise investment in the coming years.”

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41310&Cr=disaster+risk&Cr1=

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UN environment agency celebrates anniversary with star-filled races

Hundreds of runners took to the roads of Nairobi, Kenya, earlier today to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the founding of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and raise awareness about green issues.

More than 200 runners competed in a half-marathon race and over 300 others took part in a five-kilometre fun run, the agency reported in a press release.

Many of the competitors in the half-marathon were elite runners in training for events such as the London Marathon in April and the Summer Olympics in August. Victor Kipchirchir won the race in a time of 1 hour and 27 seconds and Mercy Chemutai was the fastest woman with a time of 1:12:51.

In the five-kilometre race, dignitaries and officials from 150 countries attending a UNEP meeting this week in Nairobi were invited to run alongside such luminaries as Patrick Makau, the current world record holder in the marathon, and Paul Tergat, the former world record holder and an Ambassador Against Hunger for the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

“This is the ultimate opportunity for athletes to demonstrate their support for the work of the UN Environment Programme in protecting the environment for the past decades,” said Mr. Tergat, whose foundation co-organized the races with UNEP and Athletics Kenya.

“This is a landmark partnership between sports and the environment in which celebrities can use their iconic status for the cause of the environment, for which I have a personal passion and commitment.”

Amina Mohamed, UNEP’s deputy executive director, commended the participants in today’s races.

“We also thank the wider public for not only joining this event but also for showing commitment to continue supporting UNEP in its work to protect the environment,” she said.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=41296&Cr=UNEP&Cr1=

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