Solar pioneer Piccard and UNCTAD to power up African green energy


UNCTAD and the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions – a Swiss non-governmental organization established by Bertrand Piccard’s Solar Impulse Foundation – agreed on 3 December to work together to bring renewable energy to Africa.

UNCTAD Deputy-Secretary General Isabelle Durant and Mr. Piccard signed the cooperation deal at an event during the 2018 United Nations climate change negotiations, the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24), taking place in Katowice, Poland, 2–14 December 2018.

“UNCTAD guides developing countries, including least developed countries such as those in sub-Saharan Africa, toward energy policies that support productive and sustainable economic activity. But we also aspire to connect governments looking for new solutions to the innovators that are working on them,” Ms. Durant said.

“With this agreement, UNCTAD and the World Alliance will work together to introduce concrete solutions to Africa in support of Sustainable Development Goal 7 on ensuring access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all.”

Mr. Piccard said: “Governments, companies and institutions must urgently adopt more ambitious environmental and energy policies. They should stop compromising on minimal targets and base their negotiations and objectives on the reality of what clean, profitable technologies can offer today.”

“By working with UNCTAD, the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions can help bring much-needed renewable energy to Africa,” Mr. Piccard said.

No electricity, no development

“There can be little economic activity and few development prospects without electricity,” Ms. Durant said. “No entrepreneur, no multinational, no digital infrastructure, no start-up can properly function without it.”

UNCTAD’s Least Developed Countries Report 2017 found that more than 40% of businesses operating in these countries are held back by inadequate, unreliable and unaffordable electricity. On average, they suffered ten power outages per month, each lasting around five hours, costing them 7% of the value of their sales.

More than 60% of the population in the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) – a category of 47 nations, mostly in Africa – on average lacks access to electricity. Moreover, LDCs as a group have around just 8% of the capacity of other developing economies to generate electricity for each person, and barely 2% of that of wealthier nations.

“Today’s agreement will help our organizations to raise awareness of the multiple benefits of renewable energy and help spread expertise and innovative solutions in Africa,” Mr. Piccard said.

Ms. Durant and Mr. Piccard also pledged to hold a joint workshop to link selected innovators to an audience of African diplomatic representatives at the United Nations office in Geneva, Switzerland.

Vice president of the European Commission Maroš Šefcovic congratulated UNCTAD and the World Alliance on their agreement and praised them as “guarantors” of momentum toward tackling climate change by both the private and public sectors.

How not what

Shortly before signing the agreement, Ms. Durand and Mr. Piccard participated in a discussion with Mr. Šefcovic organized by the WWF Climate and Energy Practice at COP24, which was webcast from the wildlife organization’s Panda Hub in Katowice.

“We now have profitable solutions to produce renewable energy,” Mr. Piccard said, explaining how the cost of solar panels, for example, had dropped precipitously in recent years.

He said that the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions searched the world for commercial companies that made a profit while producing clean and sustainable technologies and services.

“Can we accept importing palm oil and soy beans from countries that have cut down forests? Of course not. But governments don’t know how to solve this problem,” he said. “Knowing what to do is not enough, it’s how. Let’s show them!”

The event included presentations of innovative solutions that could soon make a difference, including sails for container ships, shoreline buoys to harness wave energy, and a cleaner battery to replace the dirty kerosene lamps widely used in sub-Saharan Africa.

Such promising solutions are presented by the World Alliance for Efficient Solutions to governments, businesses and institutions to encourage them to adopt more ambitious environmental targets and energy policies.

Mr. Piccard, a psychiatrist and aviator, was the first person to fly non-stop around the world in a balloon and was the pilot of Solar Impulse, a solar-powered aircraft that circumnavigated the globe in 2016. He is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador.