AfDB’s Environmental Economist, Daniele Ponzi: Adaptation is the Way Forward

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AfDB’s Environmental Economist, Daniele Ponzi: Adaptation is the Way Forward

Question: Climate change is a major threat to economic development and poverty reduction efforts on the continent. What is the African Development Bank Group doing to help African countries in this regard?

Answer: The Bank’s activities on climate change focus on two areas, first, assisting Regional Member Countries (RMCs) in reducing Green House Gas (GHG) emissions -also known as GHG mitigation- mainly through investments in Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency (REEE) and second, supporting RMCs’ adaptation to a changing climate. With regard to GHG mitigation, the Bank’s public and private sector windows are already supporting clean energy initiatives through their regular operations in the energy and other infrastructure sectors. Through our Private Sector Department, for example, we have a growing pipeline of REEE projects, including interventions for industrial electricity co-generation, wind energy and small hydropower. Our Finesse program and other multi and bi-lateral trust funds are also instrumental in these efforts. On adaptation we are moving forward in two main directions: (1) we are supporting early adaptation efforts of our RMCs in terms of capacity-building and investments to increase climate resilience and ensure that they can continue meeting their development objectives in a context of rising climate risks; (2)  we are moving towards climate risk due diligence in Bank operations, that is, gradually introducing climate risk reduction methods towards "climate-proofing" climate sensitive projects such as  interventions in agriculture or infrastructure sectors. This will more effectively protect Bank investments from risks of climate impacts and assure their development effectiveness.  All these activities will come under the AfDB’s Clean Energy and Development Investment Framework; a strategic investment framework that is about to be finalized and presented to the AfDB’s Boards. The framework presents strategic proposals around three pillars: expanding energy access, greenhouse gasses mitigation through low-carbon development and climate adaptation. In the framework, we also propose a new clean energy and climate adaptation facility for Africa (CECAFA) to support capacity building and investments in renewable energy and energy efficiency, better access to carbon finance, low carbon development and carbon sequestration, and climate adaptation also through investments in environmentally sound natural resources management, including forestry.

Question: Sir Nicholas Stern, a climate change expert, was recently at the Bank Group where he did a presentation on climate change and indicated that adaptation was one of the surest ways to cope with this phenomenon. What is the Bank Group doing to help its regional member countries meet their adaptation needs?

Answer: We strongly agree with Sir Nicholas’s point that adaptation is the climate change overarching priority for Africa. Climate adaptation is also the area where African countries need most support from the Bank. As seen above, the Bank, on adaptation, is moving forward through a two-pronged approach: on the one hand, building RMC’s climate resilience and, on the other, undertaking climate risk management of its own interventions. To this end, we have started addressing adaptation needs in our work, both at the policy and project level. At the project level - with grant financing from the Global Environment Facility- we are doing this by supporting the preparation of the Malawi: Climate Adaptation for Rural Livelihoods and Agriculture (CARLA) Project.  CARLA aims at increasing resilience to current climate variability and future climate change by developing and implementing cost effective adaptation strategies, policies, measures and investments that will improve agricultural production and rural livelihoods. We have more projects of this kind in the pipeline. At the policy level we are preparing a concept note towards the development of a climate adaptation policy for the Bank. The policy will build around the two-pronged approach described above. Of course, in doing all of this, and while remaining ambitious we will need to be rather selective and intervene in those areas where we have a comparative advantage. And we will also have to forge strategic partnerships as we cannot do it all by ourselves.

Question: As part of the Bank Group’s strategy to help reduce poverty on the continent, it is urging African countries to invest in heavy industries which are likely to create jobs and improve living conditions for millions of Africans. At the same time, heavy industrialization is responsible for most of the pollution that has caused climate change. Isn’t this a bit contradictory and if it is, what is the Bank Group doing to strike a balance between reducing poverty and maintaining a healthy environment?

Answer: We are aware that economic growth, especially if it is largely based - at least in the current period- on extractive industries activities, can be accompanied by increasing resource depletion and environmental degradation. These processes threaten the well-being of many on the continent, especially the poorest. However, key Bank strategies and policies – especially the Bank group policy on the Environment and related Bank procedures for environmental and social impact assessment of Bank operations - call on sound environmental management in the development process. In particular, they require the rigorous application of environmental safeguard policies and procedures. At the same time, environmental sustainability with gender equality is a main cross-cutting dimension that is increasingly recognized as crucial in the Bank’s development strategies and assistance programs. More specifically, the Bank addresses environmental dimensions in Bank operations through the following activities: the systematic use of the Environmental and Social Assessment Procedures (ESAP) in the preparation of all Bank operations, including country strategy/programming and project design.  It may be recalled that the ESAP are not only intended to cover the identification and/or preparation of mitigation measures to reduce potential negative environmental impacts, but also proactively address opportunities to improve environmental sustainability of Bank strategies (CSPs) and project operations. The infrastructure, heavy industry and mining sector projects are covered by the ESAP review process. In addition, specific tools such as the Strategic Environmental and Social Assessment (SESA) studies are already being used to proactively and strategically address environmental opportunities and risks in selected Bank sector, policy and project interventions. In 2006, five SESA studies were carried out.

Question: Energy shortages on the continent remain a huge challenge to many Africans. To cope with this unfortunate situation, many Africans burn a lot of biomass. But biomass burning, according to many experts, is a major killer in Africa. Many of these experts are calling for the use of biogas as an alternative, but many Africans are poor, with many living on less than a dollar a day. Is the Bank Group investing in research in the area of biogas in order to make it affordable to ordinary Africans?

Answer: Indeed, in Sub-Saharan Africa - excluding South Africa - over 80% of the population does rely on biomass as its main source of energy. Biomass is often used inside the house or hut for cooking and heating and, this results in severe indoor air pollution. Women and children are particularly vulnerable to biomass burning.  As a result of indoor air pollution, about 1,100 people die in Africa everyday. This is appalling. Furthermore, biomass fuels are harvested mostly using unsustainable practices that lead to deforestation and accelerate land degradation processes, including desertification. Generally speaking, the problem should be tackled by increasing access to safe and reliable energy supplies mainly through the expansion of national power grids, the expansion of local power distribution, including off grid small networks in remote rural areas, the improved distribution of refined petroleum fuels and the introduction of clean stove technologies.  These latter, in particular, seem to have promising application in the short to medium term due their affordability, their high-energy efficiency and low pollution potential. Solar cookers drastically reduce the amount of wood needed for cooking, if not eliminate it all together. Solar cookers do come as box-type of cookers and as parabolic concentrating cookers. Technically, solar cookers are a very viable option, but cooking habits need to be adapted as the best time to use solar cookers is in the middle of the day, which might not always fit traditional habits. With respect to biogas, the biogas digesters can indeed produce biogas that can be used in the kitchen to cook and for lighting. Recently, the "Biogas for a better life" initiative was launched in Nairobi, aimed at introducing biogas technology to Africa. The program builds upon a very successful experience in Asia and received generous support from a number of donors. The African Development Bank is a subscriber to this initiative and is currently looking into ways of integrating biogas components in its development projects.


Joachim Arrey, External Relations and Communication Unit Phone: +216 7110 2759


Name: Daniele Ponzi Title: AfDB’s Environmental Economist
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