World Bank acknowledges coal’s potential to improve Africa

Despite announcing last year that it would only support coal-fired power projects in rare cases, the head of the World Bank told a Washington forum this week that more consideration must be given to coal if African economies are to grow.

World Bank President Jim Yong Kim provided strong indications of that mindset, saying that African “demand for access to power” may lead the lender to support coal-fired power projects on the world’s poorest continent.
Dr Jim-Yong-Kim
“We are very sensitive to the idea that Africa deserves to have power,” Kim said, referring to the possibility of supporting coal projects. “There’s never been a country that has developed with intermittent power.”

This represents a further softening towards financing coal. Last year this was ruled out except “where there are no feasible alternatives available to meet basic energy needs and other sources of financing are absent.”

Bloomberg reports that Africa is experiencing an “almost energy apartheid,” where two-thirds of the population lacks access to power, Kim said in a Bloomberg Television interview at the Africa Business Forum in Washington.

He added that investment will be made in renewables sources as much as possible. He had one proviso: “But at the same time, we’ve got to respect the Africans’ demand for access to power.”

The World Bank also used the forum to announce that it will be committing $5bn to boost electricity generation in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria, and Tanzania.

Energy shortages are a major obstacle to growth in Africa, with about 70 per cent of the population lacking electricity, according to the International Energy Agency.

Barack Obama’s administration has proposed a Power Africa programme, which still requires action by Congress. It is a five-year, $7bn plan to double access to power in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania.

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