An official website of the United States government

Climate solutions in developing countries
July 8, 2016

Screenshot of Melanie Nakagawa and course title (Courtesy of YALI Network)
Melanie Nakagawa teaches YALI Network’s online lesson “The Science of Climate Change.” (Courtesy photo)


You asked, we answered. As part of our #YALIGoesGreen initiative, we invited YALI Network Green Champions to ask questions of Melanie Nakagawa, deputy assistant secretary of state for energy transformation in the Bureau of Energy Resources and the instructor for the first lesson of Understanding Climate Change.

What are some pragmatic solutions to climate change in Africa? (Guinea)

We have learned that the most effective approaches to address the impacts of climate change are those that take into consideration overall national development objectives and include broad stakeholder engagement across all levels of governance (national, subnational, local) and all vulnerable sectors of the economy. For example, many African countries would list food security as one of their top national development priorities. The agriculture sector is certainly vulnerable to the impacts brought on by recurring droughts and floods, which are expected to increase in severity and frequency due to climate variability and change. In order to begin addressing these vulnerabilities, national, subnational and local governments must integrate these climate risks into their agriculture plans and raise the awareness of those affected to the potential impacts and the associated best practices to address these impacts. Improving the ability of communities, households, people and systems to adapt their actions to withstand or recover quickly from the impacts and unpredictable variability of a changing climate will help equitable economic growth in Africa continue and even increase.

How do poor/developing countries afford to finance clean energy, which is better for the environment, while they could better overcome poverty by investing more in fossil fuels, natural gas, coal and minerals extraction, which lead to environmental problems? (Tanzania)

In today’s world, more than 1 billion people lack access to energy, a fundamental ingredient for a prosperous society. Clean water, sanitation, healthcare, education and lighting all require access to affordable, reliable energy services.

Renewable energy and energy efficiency are crucial tools in the fight against energy poverty and climate change. Making smart energy choices — including effective integration of energy efficiency and renewable energy — is key to ensuring universal access to electricity and advancing global energy security while also combating climate change.

Clean technology costs continue to fall, and for the first time in energy history, renewables are cost-competitive with new fossil fuel development in every major region of the world. Taking into account the lifetime costs of new coal and natural gas power plants, the cost of installing solar or wind power is cost effective even with the drop in fossil fuel prices. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF), the cost of wind power generation is now half what it was in 2009. Developing countries are using auctions to contract for solar energy at historically low prices in the 4.5 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour range.

In addition, advances in smart-grid technologies have made it possible to integrate increasingly larger quantities of renewable energy on the grid. Countries that deploy efficient buildings and appliances can avoid costly investment in generation and transmission infrastructure. Meanwhile, supportive policies and new financing mechanisms have made investing in clean energy and energy efficiency much more attractive to investors — even those with low risk tolerances.

The World Bank, according to its Climate Change Action Plan, will invest $1 billion to promote energy efficiency and resilient building in urban areas, as well as catalyze $25 billion of private-sector funding for clean energy over the next five years. In addition, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency (MIGA) have committed to opening new markets and facilitating new investment opportunities to spur the development of clean energy, particularly hydropower, wind and solar.

The U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance initiative (ACEF), with $20 million in initial funding from the Department of State, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), and the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA), has supported 32 renewable energy projects across 10 African countries. Collectively, these projects are on track to unlock hundreds of millions of private investment dollars that would not otherwise flow. In 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry pledged an additional $10 million for ACEF, enabling the program to expand its reach in response to significant private-sector demand for ACEF’s project preparation support. A small amount of support at the project preparation stage can leverage significantly larger investments. For example, $400,000 in U.S.-ACEF support enabled $19.4 million in private financing for Gigawatt Global’s 8.5 megawatt, grid-connected, solar power plant in Rwanda.

Power Africa, a U.S. government–led initiative launched by President Obama in 2013, works with African governments and private-sector partners to remove barriers to sustainable energy development in sub-Saharan Africa in order to unlock the substantial wind, solar, hydropower, natural gas, biomass and geothermal resources on the continent. To date, Power Africa has leveraged nearly $43 billion in commitments from the public and private sectors. On April 22, Power Africa signed an agreement with FMO, the Dutch development bank, committing to provide $5 million in support of the Climate Investor One fund, which finances wind, solar and hydropower projects in sub-Saharan Africa.