Ethiopia Walked Tall at the COP27

COP27, the 27th Session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), started on November 6, 2022. The event, hosted by Egypt, marked the 105th anniversary of the Great October Revolution and took place 869 years after The Treaty at Wallingford.

This is not the first COP summit in Africa: COP7 and COP15 were held in Marrakesh, COP12 in Nairobi, and COP17 in Durban. UNFCCC is a very travel-happy organization, moving events from one continent to another almost every year.

About 40,000 people flew to Sharm-El-Sheikh from all over the world, including a small but very engaged group of 640 lobbyists from the oil and gas industry. COP27 tops the Davos Economic Forum with the amount and status of political celebrities: 112 presidents, vice presidents, and prime ministers. Political legends of modern times, such as Barack Obama, Al Gore, and Boris Johnson, were in attendance. There are Climate Change High-Level Champions, Climate Ambassadors, and Climate Action Advocates. Every year COP has a new President – this year it is Egypt’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sameh Shoukry.

Organization of United Nations certainly tries to cosplay Art Biennale in Venice with ten dozen exhibition pavilions, including country pavilions and mysterious #Atoms4Climate, Adaptation Fund, Business Pavilion for Climate Leadership, Climate Justice Pavilion, Climate Vulnerable Forum and Vulnerable Group of Twenty, Cryosphere Pavilion, Hub Amazonia Legal, Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion, Sustainable Development Goal 7 Pavilion, Water Pavilion, Wind and Solar Pavilion, Zero-Carbon Future & Clean Air Task Force.

One may suggest that in a few years COP events will be covered in the lifestyle section of glossy magazines and the focus will be on the designs of pavilions and the fancy costumes that celebrities wear for gala events. This year, the GOP has three themes, and I will review them one by one.

What was in it for Ethiopia?

Ethiopia generates CO2 in its own Ethiopian way: mostly by burning wood and charcoal when preparing food. Almost half of our electricity generation (97 Pct of on-grid electricity generation) is powered by our rivers, and therefore does not influence climate change. The rest of our electricity generation is off-grid, and we burn 1 billion dollars worth of diesel oil to generate 50 Pct of the electricity consumed in Ethiopia.

The good news is that replacing diesel-powered electricity generation with renewables will not only make our electricity generation carbon-neutral, but it will also save many billions of dollars. As soon as Ethiopia manages to increase electricity generation by at least 10 times, we should see intensive farming, agro-processing, and industries flourishing, and this will bring improved living standards and some moderate income to families. Cooking on fire will become a thing of the past as soon as families can afford simple and versatile electric cooking appliances.

The Ethiopian economy does not have to overcome legacy structures in order to be zero-carbon, we only need to increase energy generation (off-grid and renewable), implement energy-efficient tools in farming, agro processing, and industries and switch to modern cooking.There are multiple financing mechanisms from climate financing that Ethiopia shall access to become one of the first zero-carbon economies.

Ethiopia seized the opportunity to capitalize on its substantial renewable energy potential. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is expected to be a vital source of energy for the country and the region. Despite Ethiopia’s significant renewable energy potential and substantial generation and transmission infrastructure, the country’s electricity access rate remains below 50Pct.

“We are working hard to diversify and expand the energy mix to include other renewable energy sources such as geothermal, wind, and solar, with the goal of achieving universal access by 2030 through on-grid and off-grid technologies,” Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.) told the gathering at COP27. “My administration is committed to developing climate-resilient regenerative agriculture and food system transformations that will increase food production, promote health and nutrition, safeguard our valuable land and natural resources, and protect the most vulnerable communities.”

Climate resilient solutions in the Ethiopian context will be in the diversification of farming practices, the introduction of new crops and new varieties of existing ones, new processing techniques, new transport technologies, new industrial profiles, and substantially revised patterns of energy use.

The Ethiopian economy is on the verge of exponential growth, and this growth shall be managed in a climate-resilient, zero-carbon way, supported by global development mechanisms that are focused on the same objective: climate-resilient development.

Ethiopia cannot afford “climate ignorance;” we need to engage in climate-resilient behavior 100Pct of the time. Every industrial tool we utilize, every agricultural chemical we introduce, and every mechanism we import need to inflict the least damage to nature.

“Ethiopia is, indeed, in the eye of the storm. Climate change could push more than 100 million people into poverty by 2030 if appropriate adaptation measures are not taken. Ethiopia is near the bottom of the carbon emissions scale, but it is disproportionately vulnerable to climate change,” Abiy rightly noted.

Vast territory and rich soil give us an opportunity to help the world reduce the negative effect of greenhouse gas emission. The Green Legacy Initiative launched by the Prime Minister will bring 20 billion trees to Ethiopian nature and those trees will lower the carbon footprint of the planet.

“We have successfully demonstrated in recent years that it is possible to build resilience while also protecting people’s livelihoods. With the Green Legacy, 1 in 50 seedlings is set to improve food security and income generation. In addition, 500 million plants are fruit-bearing, producing papayas, mangoes, and avocados,” Abiy told COP27.

The Green Legacy Initiative should be rewarded financially as Ethiopia offsets the CO2 emissions of other countries, and it is important to complement this activity with the development of energy generation (off-grid and renewable), so newly planted trees would not be cut and burned as a source of heat for cooking.

We should have no illusion about potential support that could arise directly from COP27. Most COP initiatives are not supported by financial instruments, and most COP policies are just declarations. Good thing is that the most impactful component of a climate-resilient economy – energy transition towards zero-carbon energy, transportation, and industry – is also the most economical choice, and most profitable for investors. Virtually all off-grid solar energy generation projects for commercial and industrial enterprises bear at least 300 Pct profit, as energy supply enables processing, thus generating substantial added value. Electrification of agriculture (along with other modern technologies) can increase farmers’ income up to 50 times owing to irrigation, pest control, crop management, cold chain, extensive processing, etc. Even the simplest applications such as irrigation, mechanical threshing, milling, sorting, cold storage, and thermal processing can bring 10 times more sales than the status quo.

Ethiopia will be shifting away from fossil fuels for one simple reason: we do not drill oil or natural gas and have to import 100Pct of the oil and gas that we consume. Our on-grid, utility-based electricity generation is 97Pct renewable (hydro), and there is no economic reason why our off-grid utility generation is 100Pct carbon-based (diesel generators). Off-grid solar energy generation kits (panels+inverters+batteries) are cheaper and substantially more reliable than dirty, noisy, and smelly diesel generators. Our transportation is 100Pct carbon-based, although oil logistics and oil supply are terrible. Today, you only see electric cars on the streets of Bole, while electric ‘bajaj’ could be much cheaper, solar-based electric charging stations can be located in remote rural areas.

Total decarbonization of Ethiopian electricity generation and transportation is a challenging but viable goal that our country can achieve without financial help from outside and using Ethiopian skills – domestic and from the diaspora. At the same time, this development brings substantial growth potential and therefore great opportunities for investors.

11th Year • Dec 2022 • No. 113

Mikael Alemu

is co-founder and general manager of “10 Green Gigawatt for Ethiopia” (10G) – Ethiopian solar energy engineering and development company focused on solar energy generation for commercial farmers, agro processing, industries, and mining. You can subscribe to his posts at or follow him on LinkedIn.

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