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Assessing Ethiopian Climate Change Mitigation Efforts

Climate Change in Ethiopia in Light of Statements at the UN Climate Summit

By Bereket Gebru
Tigrai Online, Oct. 3, 2014

If there was ever a single point of focus for international politics, it would be in New York in the last couple of weeks. The two weeks from mid September to the beginning of October, 2014 saw over 130 heads of states and governments congregate in New York for the 69th General Assembly (GA) meeting of the United Nations (UN).

Although the GA meeting was the main reason for the international get together, the opportunity was used to deliberate on other pressing issues on international, regional and bilateral levels. Accordingly, numerous topics were deliberated on between heads of states and governments of participating nations. The most notable international meeting held during this period is the Climate Summit 2014.

Climate Summit 2014 was a gathering of world leaders convened by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in New York on September 23, 2014. While not a formal part of the UN climate negotiations, the summit was organized to “raise political momentum for a meaningful universal climate agreement in Paris in 2015 and to galvanize transformative action in all countries to reduce emissions and build resilience to the adverse impacts of climate change.” An unprecedented number of over 120 heads of states and governments along with over 800 leaders of business, finance and civil society were in attendance of the summit.

At the end of the Summit, world leaders came up with wide ranging statements on a comprehensive global vision on climate change. During his attendance of the summit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn delivered a national statement at the UN Climate Summit. This article intends to analyze the correlation between the efforts of Ethiopia towards mitigating the harsh effects of climate change and some of the statements world leaders announced at the end of the summit with a view to pinpoint how far along the country has gone in that section.

The first statement presented in Ban Ki-moon’s summary of announcements by world leaders states that they “agreed that climate change is a defining issue of our time and that bold action is needed today to reduce emissions and build resilience and that they would lead this effort.” The second statement also deals with a related note and states: “leaders acknowledged that climate action should be undertaken within the context of efforts to eradicate extreme poverty and promote sustainable development.”

Cognizant of the need to accord climate the utmost attention it deserves in today’s plans for the future, the Ethiopian government sprung to action and designed detailed strategies and policies to reduce emissions and build resilience. In line with the second statement, the strategies and policies designed were associated with the country’s plan to eradicate extreme poverty and promote sustainable development.

The Ethiopian strategy aimed at mitigating climate change related problems while striving towards sustainable development is called the Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy and it was formulated back in 2011. The first two paragraphs of the foreword on the strategy document put by the then Prime Minister Meles Zenawi clearly denote this fact:

“For Ethiopia, green growth is a necessity as well as an opportunity to be seized. It is an opportunity to realize our country’s huge potential in renewable energy and a necessity so as to arrest agro-ecological degradation that threatens to trap millions of our citizens in poverty. We have therefore embarked upon the development of a Climate-Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy addressing both climate change adaptation and mitigation objectives. We have now completed the preparation of the green economy strategy, which will be fully integrated into our five-year Growth and Transformation Plan. Our goal is quickly to improve the living conditions of our people by reaching a middle-income status by 2025 based on carbon-neutral growth.”

As foreseen by the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, Ethiopia has embarked on a low-carbon growth path since 2013. The speech by his successor, Hailemariam Desalegn, at the summit also clearly showed Ethiopia’s approach of the issue of climate change in light of the need for sustainable development.

The Prime Minister noted that the country had set a long-term national vision of ensuring its renaissance as well as a medium-term goal to become a middle-income country by 2025. To achieve this, he noted, it had rejected the conventional business-as-usual path of development in favour of building a green climate-resilient middle-income economy with zero-net carbon dioxide emission. The Prime Minister said economic growth had historically been associated with increased emissions of greenhouse gases but Ethiopia had been working for continued double-digit economic growth without increasing emissions, rather indeed reducing them.

Another statement by the leaders dealing with cutting emissions states that “many leaders, from all regions and all levels of economic development advocated for a peak in greenhouse gas emissions before 2020, dramatically reduced emissions thereafter, and climate neutrality in the second half of the century.”

The projected international goal, as stated above, is to achieve carbon neutrality in the second half of the century. As stated in the Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy of 2011, Ethiopia aims to achieve carbon-neutral middle-income status before 2025. As set forth in the national Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP), this leap will require increasing agricultural productivity, strengthening the industrial base, and fostering export growth. Economically, it means growing fast enough to increase the current gross domestic product (GDP) per capita of around USD 380 to USD 1,000 (the lower threshold of middle-income status), decreasing the share of GDP contributed by agriculture from more than 40% to less than 30%, and migrating from farming and herding to jobs in the services and industry sectors.

In a bold and ambitious move, Ethiopia has set itself lofty goals towards achieving rapid development in the face of decreasing emissions that would culminate in a carbon neutral economy by as recently as 2025. This humongous task precedes the international bench mark for carbon neutrality by a whole generation.

Another one of the statements by world leaders incorporated in the secretary-general’s summary states that the transport sector brought substantial emissions reduction commitments linked to trains, public transportation, freight, aviation and electric cars.


In his speech at the UN climate summit, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn stated that the first stage of the light-railway system, powered by electricity from renewable energy sources, is set to start operation at the beginning of next year. He also mentioned that efforts are underway to ensure a major modal shift in the transportation of freight through investment in electric-powered railway lines. The purchase of Boeing 787 Dreamliners and the recent order of twenty technologically advanced Boeing 737 Max airplanes worth billions of dollars by the Ethiopian Air Lines is a clear indication of the path the aviation sector in Ethiopia intends to take for the foreseeable future. With their significant fuel economy and other advanced features that ensure less carbon emission, such aircraft signal the more advanced environmental friendly era for aviation that is upon us.

Yet another one of the statements stated that “leaders from more than 40 countries, 30 cities and dozens of corporations launched large-scale commitment to double the rate of global energy efficiency by 2030 through vehicle fuel efficiency, lighting, appliances, buildings and district energy.”

The Ethiopian Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy document states that the country is planning to develop the green economy strategy based on four pillars:

  • Improving crop and livestock production practices to increase food yields, hence food security and farmer income, while reducing emissions
  • Protecting and re-establishing forests for their economic and ecosystem services, including as carbon stocks
  • Expanding electric power generation from renewable sources of energy fivefold over the next five years for markets at home and in neighboring countries
  • Leapfrogging to modern and energy-efficient technologies in transport, industry, and buildings.

As can be clearly seen, the last of the four pillars of the CRGE strategy of Ethiopia produced three years ago matches the commitment made by countries, cities and corporations made at the UN Climate Summit a week ago. That is not a bad start for a country committed to realize its sustainable development while at the same time curbing on the problems climate change poses.

Another of the most notable statements states that “leaders from 19 countries and 32 partners from government, regional organizations, development institutions and private investors committed to creating an 8,000 kilometer long African Clean Energy Corridor.” Reports indicate that the initiative was coordinated by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA). The secretary-general of the UN, Ban Ki-moon was quoted as saying: “… will help reduce emissions and contribute to improved health, wealth and opportunity, and a life of dignity for all.”

According to a press release on the initiative, if developed as planned, the initiative will advance the development of renewable energy projects used by the Eastern Africa Power Pool and Southern African Power Pool from its current 12 percent to at least 40 percent by 2030. Four-fifths of all electricity in eastern and southern Africa is from gas, oil or coal.

The switch away from carbon-bearing fossil fuels would save 2,500 tonnes of cumulative carbon dioxide emissions. The combined effort will also diversify resource availability, improve energy security and foster investment opportunities and job growth. Cooperation on renewable energy deployment in the region would reduce generation costs by four percent and nearly triple electricity supply, transforming the current energy mix of a large portion of the African continent.

Considering Ethiopia is one of the most notable countries endowed with a great deal of renewable energy resources, its contribution to the Eastern and Southern Africa Clean Energy Corridor would clearly be immense. The amazing thing is that the country has set its plans along these lines long before the coordination and adoption of this initiative.

The Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) strategy states that electric power based on renewable energy sources is a fundamental enabler of green growth, powering green cities, industrial operations, and crop irrigation. Ethiopia is endowed with ample natural resources to meet these demands and already generates 90% of its electricity from renewable sources. It has a master plan to exploit its vast potential for hydro, geothermal, solar, and wind power to increase supply capacity fivefold over the next five years and then to double it again, to 67 TWh, by 2030, and achieve zero emissions even sooner.

Furthermore, the document states, due to the expected impact of energy-saving measures, Ethiopia foresees having a surplus of clean power, which it could export. In 2030, such exports could replace up to 19 Mt CO2 e per year of neighboring countries’ generation from fossil fuels while contributing positively to Ethiopia’s trade balance. The total investment required over the next 20 years for the planned generation capacity expansion is USD 38 billion. Commitments for about half this amount have been received.

The document further states that financing the remainder, about USD 1 billion annually, is crucial and could be realized by adjusting tariffs and attracting private capital, sovereign wealth funds, and climate finance. The latter could be obtained by negotiating with countries that import Ethiopia’s hydro-electric power to share the monetization of their reduced emissions or by mobilizing international assistance in the form of grants.


While closing the UN Climate Summit, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon was reported as saying, “I asked for bold announcements from governments, business, finance and civil society in five key areas. The Summit delivered.” According to reports, he went on to say “this summit was not about talk. History is made by action. And now we have seen that the world is ready to act.”

As has been demonstrated above, Ethiopia has long ago come up with a strategy that would help it cope with the problems associated with climate change while pushing its efforts towards sustainable development further. Considering that some of the goals set are more ambitious than the once summarized by secretary-general Ban Ki-moon during the UN climate summit, we can say that Ethiopia has “delivered” on the planning stages of designing a strategy to mitigate climate change.

With the country already on course to realize its stated goals in curbing the adverse effects of climate change, the future also holds for more good news in Ethiopia’s efforts. Firmly entwined with the country’s five year plan, the Growth and Transformation Plan, the strategy to mitigate climate change would benefit a lot in terms of implementation from the commendable achievements of realizing the GTP.

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