The head of the African Development Bank’s (AfDB) is defending his decision to continue financing coal-fired power plants, despite pressure from environmental groups and UN officials to shift more funds towards cleaner energy.

President of the bank, Donald Kaberuka said the region did not “have the luxury” of ruling out polluting fuels in favour of more costly renewables such as wind and solar.
“It is hypocritical for western governments who have funded their industrialisation using fossil fuels, providing their citizens with enough power, to say to African countries, ‘You cannot develop dams, you cannot develop coal, just rely on these very expensive renewables’,” Kaberuka said midweek. “African countries will not listen.”

Lobbying groups have been pushing development banks to scale back on finance for the most polluting forms of energy in an attempt to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, with scientists warning the world is headed for dangerous climate change.

Public finance institutions provided at least $55.7 billion for coal projects from 2007 to 2013, according to the Natural Resources Defence Council, a New York-based environmental group.

Kaberuka said the bank planned to balance its energy lending between fossil fuels and renewable sources, so funds for projects using natural gas would be matched with a renewable development.

Kaberuka’s comments echo those of the head of the IEA Clean Coal Centre who told Power Engineering International recently that moves by the World Bank and other institutions to end investment in coal-fired power plants would be ‘misguided.’

Dr Andrew Minchener OBE told Power Engineering International that this strategy would be detrimental when it comes to reducing emissions as developing countries would still forge ahead with coal power, but choose not to integrate clean coal technology.

“The World Bank is changing their lending criteria to end funding of coal-fired plants in these countries – personally I think that is a misguided approach. The rationale behind it is if we don’t fund coal and it doesn’t get built we won’t get the emissions, “Dr Minchener told PEi.

“The reality is that these plants will still get built because these countries need the power and they don’t necessarily have alternative options to coal but it will cost more to build it. So they will skimp in the efficiency systems or the environmental control systems and what you are left with is the opposite of what the World Bank and others thought they would achieve.”

The AfDB, based in Ivory Coast, is supporting wind power in Kenya, geothermal power in east Africa and a major solar project in Morocco.

The bank last year mobilised lending of $1.8bn for energy-related infrastructure, including $350 million for renewables. Excluding a $1bn loan in May to revitalise Angola’s energy industry, about 45 percent of the lending was for renewables last year.

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