Sierra Leone national virtual parliamentary roundtable agrees to establish national Climate Parliament group
A cross-party group of legislators in Sierra Leone agreed to set up a Climate Parliament group to accelerate the country’s transition to renewable energy at an online meeting of legislators on December 16th.
Opening the meeting, Hon. Dr. Kandeh Yumkella said that Sierra Leone is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change and that access to clean energy is key to reducing climate emissions and deforestation in Sierra Leone.
While being forward thinking in approaching access to electricity as a fundamental human right, only 15-20 percent of the population currently have access to electricity.
Eight out of ten families burn firewood or charcoal to cook their meals which drives deforestation and threatens the rich biodiversity of the country.
Climate Parliament and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) hosted MPs and legislators at the online meeting, which was supported by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for International Development Cooperation and sponsored by the Pan-African Parliament.
The round table meeting was chaired by Climate Parliament’s Executive Director Dr. Sergio Missana and co-chaired by Hon. Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, former United Nations Under-Secretary-General and former Director-General of UNIDO.
Ms. Mariatu Swaray, Country Representative for UNIDO in Sierra Leone, and Mr. Alexandre Serres, Policy Officer at the EU Delegation in Sierra Leone gave expert presentations on the UNIDO and EU portfolios in Sierra Leone.
Dr. Yumkella told the meeting that Sierra Leone is vulnerable to climate change and was already experiencing floods, mudslides, water scarcity and increased migration, so had to quickly transition to green energy.
A central issue is deforestation. Forest cover is receding because 85% of the population uses firewood and charcoal for cooking. Accelerating the transition to clean energy will help to protect forests and reduce emissions.
However, to do this, Sierra Leone will need assistance with capacity building and will need many more electricity mini-grids than the 52 already operating to provide clean energy to communities across the country.
Dr. Yumkella told the meeting that Sierra Leone must analyse how other countries have incentivised climate action for both private and foreign direct investment to further develop its mini-grid infrastructure. It currently has 52 mini-grids, and the government is planning to expand supply.
Ms. Swaray explained UNIDO’s new Country Programme (2021-2024) in Sierra Leone. UNIDO is supporting Sierra Leone’s drive towards integrated and sustainable industrial development.
The programme focuses on the development of international competitiveness, compliance to various multinational environmental agreements, and renewable energy, she said.
UNIDO partners with government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), the private sector, academia, EU and other UN agencies to achieve their goals.
Mr. Serres outlined how the 11th European Development Fund (2014-2020) focuses on the three major sectors of agriculture, education, and governance, which are central to sustainable development within Sierra Leone.
The EU’s work supports resilience to climate change, diversification, climate-smart funding, and preserving and protecting areas of biodiversity. It has been engaging the private sector to encourage investment in agriculture, as well as the transition to renewable energy.
Mr. Serres concluded by emphasising that parliamentarians should push for ambitious targets in the energy transition.
Dr. Missana then presented a selection of action ideas on climate action that could be implemented in Sierra Leone. He outlined opportunities for action in large-scale renewable energy, green grids, sustainable transport, rural access to energy, and energy efficiency, so that they might be adapted to the local context.
Discussions between legislators focussed on how climate change was impacting the country and how Sierra Leone is developing country-wide access to electricity. It was noted that access to electricity is an important vector for creating local prosperity. They also highlighted that regional grid interconnections could help Sierra Leone in widening their access to electricity.
As climate change affects a range of sectors, including education, sustainable transport, energy, water, agriculture, and food security, they emphasised that integrated policy development that takes account of all of these areas is needed.
Legislators stressed that women are especially vulnerable to climate change in Sierra Leone as it is often a woman’s societal role to collect firewood for cooking, so access to clean cooking is a central issue. Women must be involved in the energy transition, the parliamentarians said.
A key issue that arose throughout the discussion was the need for capacity building. Parliamentarians were keen to talk to the EU and UNIDO on how they can support them.
Mr. Nick Dunlop, Secretary General for the Climate Parliament, suggested that parliamentarians might encourage the Sierra Leone government to join the International Solar Alliance. He encouraged them to push for increased climate ambition.