Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Relevance of a ‘Green economy’ to Uganda: Addressing the Energy Challenges

By Kimbowa Richard

While the discussion around ‘green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development', has gained ground globally, it is less pronounced here in Uganda. Part of the problem is that the Conference seems ‘still far’ compared to other biting needs such as the mounting fuel, food and energy prices and the political debates that are preoccupying the mainstream media and public discussions.

But the potential of ‘green economy’ to alleviate these problems might be there, as long as we understand what it is in the Ugandan context, and how it might contribute to address some of these needs. The (good) intentions of ‘a green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development, for example transformation of economies into resource efficient, low carbon emission economies leading to the creation of green jobs and further eradication of poverty’, sound so attractive to both politicians and development practitioners.

This is because to the politician, the ‘ever niggling questions’ related to job creation amongst the youths, addressing environmental issues and resource efficiency might eventually have answers. To the development practitioner, the idea that green jobs will be secured leading further reduction of poverty is a smart strategy to achieve needed targets.

Green economy: Need for a poverty reduction focus

From the perspective of a Least Developing Country citizen (Uganda), I strongly share the views of the UNDP Administrator - Helen Clark (2011), that a ‘green economy’ which works for the world´s poor could be expected among others, to promote equitable access to energy and its efficient use; and build resilience to environmental and other risks.

Hence, putting ‘green economy’ intentions into practice will need to vary depending on among others, the geographical area, and the level of economic development. In this respect, I provide an example of how the green economy discussion can make sense to development practice (energy sector in Uganda) through context specific pro-poor interventions that are informed by identified sustainable development constraints.

Uganda’s energy sector: Potential for ‘green economy’ interventions

Although access to a reliable, adequate and modern energy services is inextricably linked to sustained progress and growth, over 90% of Ugandans rely on biomass consisting of fuelwood, charcoal and agricultural waste as their main source. In addition to its inefficiency, use of biomass burnt mainly in open three-stone stoves, exposes the users to health hazards from indoor smoke and fire hazards. In addition, unregulated charcoal production is one of the key drivers of deforestation and forest degradation in Uganda (Government of Uganda, 2011) with its negative impacts on forest catchment areas that are key to Uganda’s rain-fed reliant agriculture.

Unfortunately, since the 2006 decline in the Lake Victoria water levels (the main source of hydroelectric power that relies on two dams - the Nalubaale and Kiira dams near Jinja, with a combined 320MW of electricity) a chain of worrying events have come up that threaten to accelerate the above process.

The most recent ones (September 2011) being charcoal prices are reportedly overtaking cooking gas (LPG), power cuts expected to double despite heavy rains; and Uganda’s capital (Kampala) being hit by a shortage of (LPG)

This is being felt by households (rising cost of living as energy is a basic need), small scale enterprises (loss of revenue due to limited operations), heath centres (disruption of surgical operations and treatment due to power blackouts) and schools (postponement of lessons that require lights and electricity) alike.

Relevance of a ‘green economy’ to Uganda’s energy challenges

In these circumstances, a ‘green economy in the context of poverty eradication and sustainable development’ would make sense to many Ugandans, if there are practicable opportunities and options, that can promote equitable access to energy and its efficient use; and build resilience to environmental and other risks as ably noted by Helen Clark (above). What does this mean in practice Uganda’s context?

In this case, working towards a ‘green economy’ means addressing the institutional, policy and practical gaps that impede the adoption of decentralised modern energy services. I particularly suggest the following ‘first’ steps in this regard:

- Scaling up clean, affordable, decentralised and reliable (sustainable) energy options like efficient biomass, solar, LPG, wind power and others. Particular geographical areas of the country will exploit the best option that best suited them

- Promote energy efficient technologies in using hydroelectric power and its alternatives (biomass, electric, solar, small hydropower dams etc). This should be supported by set regulations and standards for importation that must be enforced. This will avoid counterfeits like solar equipment and electric lamps that have ended up being expensive and frustrating potential users.

- Develop and promote energy-related policies in food production, water use and transport, etc. For example, a requirement for new houses and building complexes in major urban areas to have water harvesting systems. This can provide the dual purpose of reducing reliance on the main water supply whose pumping is energy consuming, while reducing run-off that clogs drainage channels resulting in public health problems

- Green investments through private / public / public – private partnerships: Uganda (or East Africa if it the most viable market) should be assisted in attracting Green investments like Efficient Lighting for developing countries that can cut down household and other institutions’ electricity bills, while contributing to improved livelihoods, other social and economic objectives.

- Green jobs: Efforts to address the energy needs of Uganda’s Small and Medium Scale Industrial base need to be progressively tackled. For example, promoting locally made and tested improved cook stoves as a strategy to generate green jobs while conserving the remaining forest cover. In addition, eco-friendly brick making techniques are urgently needed to cut down on the immense quantities of tree logs used to burn bricks, in light of the intensifying construction industry in Uganda.


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