Dubai, 22 October 2012
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai;
Majesties, Excellencies, Heads of State and Government;
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen;
I am honoured to be here and join this distinguished gathering in a discussion on a subject that touches the future of humankind – global energy security and environmental challenges. This subject is even more pertinent and pressing for Africa where access to energy is still very low despite incredibly large resources and potential for energy.
Today, the world is concerned about several energy-related questions: future demands of energy far outstripping supply creating massive price increase, uncertainty of supplies due to instability in producing regions, safety of energy sources and limited resources. These concerns have to be addressed.
Africa has equally pressing issues that need even more urgent attention. For instance, access to electricity, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, is only 31%. When it comes to rural areas where the majority of the people still live, access is only at 12%.
Furthermore, projections indicate that by 2030, Africa will be the only region where the number of people without access to electricity will actually increase. This, in addition to Africa facing higher energy costs than any other region, according to the World Bank.
While this is so, available evidence shows that there is a direct link between energy consumption and levels of people’s well being and development. It does not come as a surprise that Africa remains the least developed region where the quality of life needs great improvement.
For African countries to develop and their people enjoy a decent standard of living, we need to address the imbalances of energy between the developed and developing countries, and raise the level of consumption and utilisation. We can do this with relative safety because we have learned from the mistakes of the past when use of energy resources was often at enormous environmental cost.
I would like to propose some measures that can create greater equilibrium among world energy users, increase its access and spur development in Africa.
Over the last few decades, it has become clear that when the world acknowledges that there is a problem and acts to resolve it, the outcome is impressive. For instance, the Millennium Development Goals adopted by the UN as minimum benchmarks for improved life in various areas have triggered positive change in developing countries.
As a beginning, therefore, the world community should treat access to energy as a basic right, and essential to the development process. Appropriate policies can then be developed and resources mobilised to make energy accessible to all at affordable cost.
Once this has been recognised, we can then set up a consumption benchmark as a measure of well-being, indicating minimum energy consumption per capita. This would achieve several things: reduce waste, increase efficiency and cut costs, enabling wide access to developing countries.
Equally urgent is to make technologies, especially those for locally available renewable energy, easily accessible and affordable. Specifically, we should encourage investment in technologies that could also make African countries modernise faster. There are precedents to learn from. Mobile telephone technology has made it possible for African countries to close the communications gap. More significantly, applications of this technology have had great social and economic impact that could not have been imagined only two decades ago.
Lastly, since the major concern today is about increasing demand and limited resources, it is important that wasteful and unsustainable consumption of energy is tackled head on, the environment protected and equity achieved. For this we need a regulatory mechanism to which we all subscribe.
In Rwanda, we have devised policies and practices within our means to address some of the specific issues raised at this forum, such as safety, accessibility and sustainability.
As a general principle, Rwanda is promoting a green economy and the use of renewable energy. This is partly because our country’s socio-economic development is susceptible to the effects of climate change. It is also because our economic development will be stalled by the rising costs of imported fossil fuels.
In addition, we depend on hydropower for half of the electricity we generate. Sustainable use of our resources and improving the well-being of Rwandans dictate that we adopt measures that preserve the natural ecosystems in order to maintain the balance of hydrological systems. Such balance has been achieved through a combination of afforestation, protection of wetlands and other water systems, and the restoration of rivers and lakes that were in danger of drying up.
In order to power industries and expand the rural electrification programme, there is increasing generation of electric power from hydro and geothermal sources and from methane gas. In the case of rural electrification, the government of Rwanda encourages small hydro-electric plants operated by individuals, communities and institutions.
As a result of this, and with the support of partners, we have been able to connect 90,000 households annually for the last three years and plan to raise it above 100,000 from next year. I wish to acknowledge our partnership with the World Bank, the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and the Government of the Netherlands in generating additional energy and rolling it to rural areas .
In conclusion, let me say that it is in our interest and that of posterity to begin to invest wisely in this kind of green energy. This way, we can all benefit from economic growth that is sustainable and at the same time not harmful to the environment that we all share.
Thank you for your kind attention.