Obama promotes Africa energy links at White House summit

US president Barack Obama champions electricity for Africa and insists business leaders accept climate change

Geothermal energy, Kenya (Pic: GDC)

Geothermal energy, Kenya (Pic: GDC)

By Megan Darby

Barack Obama is promoting efforts to double the amount of electricity in sub-Saharan Africa, as African leaders converge on Washington this week.

The US president told the Economist he was “really excited” about Power Africa, a “transformative” aid programme to improve access to electricity.

In the first event of its kind, the White House is hosting a three-day summit with heads of those African states “in good standing with the United States”.

With the focus on trade and investment links, energy infrastructure is high on the agenda.

The summit also includes a session on boosting resilience to a changing climate.

Starting with six partner countries, Power Africa promises to add 10GW of “cleaner, more efficient electricity generation capacity”.

This includes gas-fired generation in Ghana, Nigeria and Tanzania as well as renewable energy and smart metering projects.

“There are a whole bunch of different models for generating power,” Obama told the Economist, adding that America could “play a unique role” in getting neighbouring countries to cooperate and spread the benefits.

The US has committed US$7 billion over five years to the programme, which was launched in June 2013. To date, private investors have put in double that.

The International Energy Agency estimates some US$300 billion is needed to bring electricity to all sub-Saharan Africans by 2030.

On climate adaptation, the summit will highlight how climate change is threatening food production.

The agenda noted: “Climate shocks, as well as shocks caused by other environmental, social and economic disturbances, undercut household and community stability and resilience, and erode hard-won development gains.”

Barack Obama: Corporate CEOs do not engage in climate change denial "nonsense" (Pic: White House)

Barack Obama: Corporate CEOs do not engage in climate change denial “nonsense” (Pic: White House)

In a wide-ranging interview with the Economist, Obama also raised the subject of climate change in a defence against criticisms his administration is anti-business.

His recent moves to curb coal pollution were welcomed by international climate negotiators and NGOs but met resistance from certain sectors of the US business lobby.

Despite opposition to his policies, Obama said even in the fossil fuel industries, corporate CEOs he talks to do not deny “climate change is a factor”.

Obama said: “What they want is some certainty around the regulations so that they can start planning. Given the capital investments that they have to make, they’re looking at 20-, 30-year investments. They’ve got to know now are we pricing carbon? Are we serious about this?

“But none of them are engaging in some of the nonsense that you’re hearing out of the climate-change denialists.”

Businesses “always complain about regulation”, Obama said, insisting his policies had been friendly towards business and these complaints should be taken “with a grain of salt”.

While corporations might say they care about the environment and other policy issues, Obama challenged them to reflect that in their activities.

“There’s a huge gap between the professed values and visions of corporate CEOs and how their lobbyists operate in Washington,” he said.

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