Energy poverty remains one of the major bottlenecks slowing Least Development Countries (LCDs) race to achieve Sustainable Development Goals. Recently, Heidi Schroderus-Fox, director of the United Nations High Office for the LCDs, Landlocked Countries and Small Island Developing Countries (UN-OHRLLS, launched a groundbreaking study which shows Malawi needs $2.5 billion to provide power for all by 2030 and $600 million for clean cooking. Our Staff Writer JAMES CHAVULA caught up with her during the launch of the nine-month Sustainable Energy Investment Study conducted by the Rocky Mountain Institute in partnership with the Ministry of Natural Resources, Energy and Mining and UN Malawi.
Tell us more about UN-OHRLLS?
My office advocates for the 91 vulnerable countries, with a total of about 1.2 billion population. They include least developed countries, landlocked developing countries and small island developing states.
What is your interest in energy affairs?
Access to energy remains a major challenge for the vulnerable countries that my office represents and has a direct impact on poverty eradication, climate change, health, water and economic transformation. As you all know too well, we live in an era when climate disasters can instantly reverse progress and push vulnerable communities back into energy poverty. We are already counting the consequences—the devastation caused earlier this year by cyclones Idai and Kenneth, and in the Bahamas only weeks ago.
How significant is the new study to Malawians?
The study is very significant in itself because it articulates how Malawi can attract and generate the required investment to achieve SDG7 and leapfrog to clean energy, but more significant is how do we take it forward. We have had a great partnership with the government of Malawi, the Rocky Mountain Institute and some development partners, including the government of China who are funding this to really make sure that we look at the opportunities that are there for Malawi to move forward. Right now, Malawi has very low access to energy. Only 11 percent of the country’s population has access to electricity. So there is a possibility of implementing the study to leapfrog within the next 10 years and to have affordable and renewable energy for everybody in the country in the next decade.
What areas does the county need to invest in to improve access to reliable, affordable and clean energy for all in line with Sustainable Development Goal number seven?
First it is important that the government, I mean all parts of the government come together and look at the priorities and how you need to move forward. This is a new approach. It’s a sustainable and green approach with this—and the study shows that in the next 10 years, the government can save up to $500 million in implementing this study as compared to some other options like coal.
How different is the study from previous efforts to understand the investment in Malawi’s energy sector?
This is focused on how to reach SDG7: reliable, affordable and sustainable for all. This is the target that everybody wants to have and that Malawi should also reach within the next 10 years so that we don’t want to leave anyone behind. So, how can we reach this target? That’s really the main point. So, everybody has access to energy that is really sustainable. A key part to that is how the government can work together with all different partners, including the private sector who have a very important role in the implementation and financing. If we sideline or exclude the private sector, where do we get all that money—the $3 billion dollar price tagged to this? Where does that come from? How can we make sure that there is private investment as well as government and international partners are there as well to provide funding for the recommendations of the study. How do we ensure that there is accountability?
Apart from the $500 million that we can save if we stick by this least-cost model, what other benefits will Malawians reap if we implement the recommendations according to plan?
This is a good question because energy obviously has a multiplier effect in the sector not only of making life easier but it is absolutely crucial for you to build up businesses that put energy to productive use to create jobs and wealth. Another important benefit is in the health sector. For example, clean cooking is an important theme of this study. We need to make sure that there is an opportunity for families cooking using unhealthy ways to have better lives free from hazardous effects of indoor air pollution caused by charcoal. Clean cooking is also good for the environment. It is also good for the environment because a lot of cooking in Malawi is based on burning wood fuel and this leads to deforestation and loss of fertile soils for agriculture. It’s a very broad base of benefits that the country will reap if it implements these recommendations.