Future

Ethiopia's Ambitious Goal To Go Green

One of the poorest countries in the world is nevertheless setting big goals for itself and looking to richer countries for help. A 10-year, $70 billion plan aims to produce clean energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

A child rests near Ashegoda Wind farm, northern Ethiopia
Laurence Caramel

MEKELLE â€" Kindeya Redaie has no electricity in his house, but he bought two steers with the money the state gave him in exchange for the right to put a wind turbine on his land. "I would have preferred keeping my field, but I'm proud to live where the country's first wind turbine was set up," the farmer says as he gazes up at the huge white blades above his head.

On the Tigray region plateau, in northern Ethiopia, 70-meter-high masts â€" 84 of them â€" stand amid a landscape where the dry and stony soil is still turned over with a plow. The Ashegoda Wind Farm, built by the French companies Vergnet and Alstom, is a "clean" development in one of the world's poorest nations.

In its quest to be regarded as an emerging country, Ethiopia has set itself the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It's a huge ambition for the country of almost 100 million people, where the economy has been growing by 10% a year for more than a decade. It's a goal that makes the country a model six months ahead of December's United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris, which will aim to ratify a universal agreement to limit the rise in temperatures to 2°C.

Hydroelectric monster

Like the vast majority of Ethiopians, Redaie must still settle for charcoal and "cow wood" (dried cowpat) when he wants to cook his meals or have warm water. The power produced by the Ashegoda complex, which runs along underground cables before reaching the national network's high voltage lines, is still too expensive for him.

A woman working at the Ashegoda Wind Power Project substation â€" Photo: Lijing/Xinhua/ZUMA

All over, construction sites have emerged to build solutions without fossil fuels â€" which are for now expensively imported â€" and to provide a place for wind and solar energies, which are less vulnerable than hydroelectricity to repeated drought. The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, under construction on the Blue Nile River and a source of tension with the country's Egyptian and Sudanese neighbors, nevertheless promises to be one of Africa's most powerful hydroelectric monsters. Government officials contributed to its funding, which will be covered by national reserves.

"Important migrations"

"I invested two months of salary in state obligations for the Renaissance," says Ghrmawit Hailé, strategy chief at the Ministry of Environment. Her office adjoins the minister's, and she leads a 15-person commando. Her mission is to execute the roadmap of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. "Every ministry knows its CO2-production reduction goals," she explains.

The country is trying to create "a green economy that will hold up to the climate," which requires the involvement of every sector responsible or vulnerable to climate change. That means energy, of course, but also agriculture, transport, industry and construction. "Climate change is a strategic issue for Ethiopia," the preamble to this project statement says. "It can annihilate our development, exacerbate social tension, destabilize the Horn of Africa by stirring up the competition for the access to water."

Faced with such an issue, it is easy for the government to reject criticism. "No infrastructure project sees the light of day without causing population displacements," says Arkebe Oqubay, special advisor to Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn. "But we make sure that the affected communities are generously compensated. It's the law. Foreign NGOs claiming the opposite don't know what we’re doing."

For several years, the Gibe III Damn, being built in the Omo valley, has been the target of a virulent campaign by Survival International and International Rivers. "The government is certain it's right, and we know what it can cost to contradict it," says an ecologist activist who, fearing retribution, wishes to remain anonymous.

The temperatures in Ethiopia could rise by 1.2°C by the end of the next decade, authorities warn. "Climate modification is already causing significant migrations," warns Satishkumar Belliethathan, a member of the young Ethiopian Panel on Climate Change. "Farmers in the lowlands are seeing their pasturelands decreasing." This group, inspired by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, will provide the government with the remaining scientific data it needs to stick to its strategy despite the criticism it faces.

Foreign sponsors are getting in on the project too. "Ethiopia won't be able to do it alone," warns Sinkinesh Beyene, who leads the climate department of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Addis Ababa. "It needs money and foreign experts." The UN agency is one of the first to have embraced the late Zenawi's plans.

Today, it manages a part of the international aid through a fund based in New York, trains officials for climate negotiations, and sends others to train in renewable energies in Kenya or in India. In December, during the World Climate Summit in Lima, the countries of France, Germany, Sweden and Denmark joined Norway and the United Kingdom in promising to become generous backers.

"Our plan is to invest $7.5 billion per year by 2025," says Ghrmawit Hailé, indicating a cabinet filled with projects awaiting funds.

Far from Ashegoda and its promises, the pollution and chaotic urbanism of Addis Ababa are a constant reminder that the future is still unwritten. But if Ethiopia's gamble pays off, the carbon footprint of its 100 million people will be the same as the Netherlands' today by 2030.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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