Q&A: Building zero carbon emission economy in a decade

In the seventh of our interviews with representatives from the Least Developed Country Group, Negash Teklu from Population, Health, Environment Ethiopia talks about Ethiopia's ambitions for a zero carbon economy by 2025.

Article, 24 November 2015
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Ethiopia is described as one of the fast growing economies in the world and has set an ambitious plan of building a zero carbon economy within a decade without compromising its growth pace.

Negash Teklu is executive director of Population, Health Environment Ethiopia (Photo: Andualem Sisay)Negash Teklu (NT), executive director of Population, Health Environment Ethiopia, a consortium of 58 organisations, spoke to Andualem Sisay (AS) about the country's challenges in relation to climate change and the progress made towards achieving its ambitious target of building a middle income country with zero carbon emissions economy by 2025.   

NT: Can you briefly tell us what your organisation is doing?

AS: We coordinate projects and we also have our own projects in areas where the population pressure is high and the land is highly degraded. We work on projects that attempt to protect the land by addressing the social, economic and environmental concerns of the community. Our member organisations have pilot projects in different parts of Ethiopia.

We are also involved in coordinating DFID-supported projects in Awash and Simen Mountain and a big European Union-supported project with five of our members in Bale ecoregion. In general our major focus is on saving the highly degraded and highly populated areas by taking a multi-sectoral approach. 

NT: How do you assess the overall challenges of Ethiopia in relation to climate change? 

AS: Ethiopia is very mountainous country with a high population approaching 100 million people. The country's agriculture sector such as coffee and the like are highly impacted by climate change. Our pastoralists, around 12 million people, are very much affected.

Ethiopia is one of the 20 most vulnerable least developed countries (V-20) and highly affected by climate change. But these countries' contribution to global carbon emission is less than 2 per cent of global carbon emissions, compared to the United States of America, which contributes more than 21 per cent. 

We are the most highly impacted because of the climate change. If we continue globally with business as usual, global carbon emissions will affect the GDP of the V-20 countries, including Ethiopia, by 2.7 per cent. 

NT: What is the country doing to minimise the risk of climate change?

AS: Even though Ethiopia currently is not a carbon emitter, it is becoming a pioneer in bringing solutions to our planet, and taking the lead. Ethiopia's INDC pledge, which we submmited to the UNFCCC, was to reduce the country's carbon emissions by 64 per cent in 2030 from 1990, compared to the United States of America goal which is 28 per cent, starting 2005 to 2025. 

So though we are not the emitters, we are becoming an example of a country that is committed to bringing down emissions more than anyone. But the biggest emitters, such as US, EU and China, have made smaller INDC pledges. The reason we are doing this is for the sake of saving our planet in a constructive and meaningful way and keeping warming below 2 degree centigrade.

At this moment after even calculating the pledges of 150 countries, our planet is warming 2.7 to 3 degrees centigrade. But for Africa and Ethiopia even 2 degrees centigrade is not favourable; it should be below 1.5 degrees centigrade. 

NT: Do you think Ethiopia’s zero carbon emission target by 2025 is attainable? Don’t you think it is over ambitious for the economy growing fast aspiring to join the middle income countries group within a decade?

AS: It is a meaningful and attainable target as shown in the study. It is based on the level of emissions we have at this moment. If we continue business as usual, the country's carbon emission will increase from 150 million megatons to 400 million. But if our green economy strategy is implemented, it means all industries will have plans from the beginning on how they minimise their emissions without stopping development.

The main strategy in Ethiopia's Climate Resilient Green Economy (CRGE) is how all the industries and services in this country can use renewable energy. In this case, Ethiopia is currently developing renewable energy from hydropower, wind, solar, geothermal and biomass. In addition, we are developing our forests to make them a strong sink that absorbs the carbon.

So, if we follow that route, the country's zero carbon emission target is attainable even if we use coal like we are doing for our potash, we can still attain the target on aggregate.

Ethiopia's Simien Mountains National Park is a World Heritage Site, but resource degradation has made lowland areas vulnerable to flooding caused by changing rainfall patterns. (Photo: Hulivili, Creative Commons via Flickr)

I think what is most needed is a strong implementation process. And this has been initiated. For example, the second round of the Ethiopia's five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP II), expected to be launched this year, has already integrated CRGE. 

It is not only the Ministry of Environment that deals with the issue. Every line ministry and region is obliged to implement CRGE as part of its growth and transformation target. 

NT: Can you tell us which sectors in Ethiopia are highly vulnerable to climate change? 

AS: Ethiopia's biggest emissions are from agriculture because of methane and other emissions. That is why the CRGE has taken agriculture as one of the four strong pillars.

The second one is the transportation sector. There's also energy. These sectors are very crucial and are components of building a resilient adaptation and mitigation strategy.      

NT: How do you asses Ethiopia’s adaptation and mitigation strategies in general?  

AS: The CRGE demands each sector to develop sector planning. When it comes to implementation it is demanding that every region, every line ministry do this. In the case of agriculture, for example, it is not only the Ministry of Agriculture but also the Ministry of Health and other relevant ministries.

This is basically our adaptation strategy. Ethiopia is a highly populated country. The population dynamics in Ethiopia, unless we stabilise it, will negatively contribute to our GDP. It is easier to resettle small families during natural disastersor drought and at the same time more people on a small area creates more pressure on the environment.

So we need to take family planning intervention as one adaptation, mitigation and resilience building mechanism. Because resilience of communities comes from addressing their social, economic and environmental concerns. 

NT: Is Ethiopia using or considering the Loss and Damage Fund? 

AS: Ethiopia may benefit from the fund. But it is more to small islands and similar where tangible loss and damage is well documented. But loss and damage should be treated separately from the mitigation and adaptation fund.  

NT: As someone who have been closely following the global climate negotiations, what do you expect from Paris COP21?

AS: Combating negative impacts of climate change requires global responsibility. Mainly it needs financial support. From the very beginning of the COP negotiations we have been calling on those who contributed a lot of global carbon emissions to have to compensate and support the most affected developing countries with finance and technology.

Saving our planet is not simple unless countries like the United States of America make renewable energy their main source of energy and reduce their reliance on fossil fuel. 

Ethiopia is highly committed to green development and we will be a good example in Paris in showing how we can save our planet.