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WORLD BANK INTERVIEW: “Huge green growth opportunities in Africa"

Updated: Jan 26

WORLD BANK INTERVIEW: “Huge green growth opportunities in Africa provided all the key stakeholders can work together in a coordinated way"

Exclusive interview with John Roome, Regional Director, South Asia Sustainable Development at the World Bank Group. At the upcoming Africa's Green Economy Summit in February 2023, he will moderate the session on “Accelerating Green Investment in Africa” and he will address the conference during the closing session, focusing on “Taking Action—the road map for implementation of success.”

You joined the World Bank in 1989. Tell us more about your current role there and the kind of work that you have done for them over the years.

I'm currently the regional director for sustainable development covering South Asia. That includes urban transport, water, environment, agriculture, climate change and disasters. We've got about a four or five billion dollars of new lending every year and I manage a portfolio of about $25 billion and a team of about 400 people. Over the years, I've worked mainly on East and South Asia and on Africa.

I spent the first 14 years of my career working in Africa in the early 1990s, I worked on the Lesotho Highlands Water Project and reconstruction in Mozambique after the war.

Immediately prior to this assignment, I was the World Bank's lead on climate change, developing our overall climate change strategy and globally leading our work on climate change.

Are there any current exciting projects that you want to share?

Well, at this point in South Asia, lot of our work is on climate adaptation. What has been keeping me busy over the last few months is the $2 billion package to respond to the flooding in Pakistan. But we also have a lot of water resource management on the Bangladesh Delta. One of the big opportunities that's also relevant for Africa is to combine work on climate change and air quality management.

Air pollution in South Asia is really bad, and there are things that can be done to improve air quality and reduce emissions. There are also very exciting opportunities on cooling. Countries are going to get warmer, but if we use traditional cooling mechanisms, emissions are going to go up. So, looking at innovative ways of cooling cities and doing urban development that cools.

There are also huge opportunities in urban development with urban transport to try and have more efficient low carbon urban transport and climate smart agriculture. In many of parts of South Asia, agriculture is still very important and there are opportunities to shift agriculture to a pattern that will increase yields and incomes for farmers while also making it more climate adaptive and reducing emissions at the same time.

On the analytic side, we are working on something called Client Country Climate and Development Reports. As the bank, we've done 26 of these in different countries. In South Asia, we've completed Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan and we're starting on India.

What these reports do is they look at opportunities in countries to continue to develop, reduce poverty and increase growth, while at the same time, reducing carbon emissions and increasing climate resilience. These reports are showing great opportunities to find

these synergies. There are some trade-offs, but there are great opportunities in terms of synergies to move both in a climate smart way and continue to reduce poverty.

Let's move to the African continent. What, in your view, are the biggest challenges in developing a green economy for the continent?

I think that we can divide these challenges into two categories. The first is that, as we know, getting good investments to take place in developing countries is a challenge. So making sure that you have good policies that allow private sector investment to take place in a way that benefits poor people.

Secondly, to ensure that you have a financial sector that allows financing to be provided both through the public sector and the private sector.

A specific challenge with respect to green growth is that in many cases, green opportunities provide a lower life cycle cost. So, you have lower costs for renewable energy now, lower cost for electric buses, but the cost upfront is higher. It's a higher capital investment that gets traded off for lower operating costs later, which puts a stronger onus on finding ways to finance these upfront investments.

In an environment where finance is constrained, particularly public finance given that we've gone through COVID and other kinds of economic shocks, the big challenge is to prioritize those opportunities where a small amount of public money and good policy can crowd in large amounts of private sector finance and to try and find ways of leveraging private financing that might exist already within banks and insurance companies where those exist in more advanced economies.

What would you say are the opportunities?

I think there are huge opportunities in green growth that come largely from technological innovation. The innovation we've seen in technology has driven down the cost of renewable energy of different forms, wind energy, concentrated solar power, and rooftop solar and we're seeing advances in technology in green hydrogen and in battery storage, all of which provide opportunities for investment in Africa, where a lot of the capital investments still has to take place. There's an opportunity to take advantage of this technology innovation.

The second opportunity is through innovation and business models that are supported through this technology.

One good example is in Kenya, where Safaricom has been able to link their mobile phone payments for renewable energy to renewable energy solar panels in rural areas, which has provided a financing mechanism that is sustainable because of this technology and has allowed households that have not been able to have renewable energy in the past to get access to that renewable energy. I think there are a few areas that offer big opportunities.

One is around e-mobility in Africa; a lot of this might be around tw-wheelers, motorized trikes and through electric buses.

Because if we simply were to electrify existing motor vehicles, congestion will still be a problem. So the opportunities in green public transport are huge. In addition to the opportunities in energy, what also what strikes me is that there are lots of opportunities for small entrepreneurs to provide agricultural services, better marketing, reduced food loss and waste, all of which provide small opportunities to develop green alternatives throughout Africa.

You are a moderator and a speaker at Africa's Green Economy Summit in February. What will be your message at the event?

I think there are huge opportunities for Africa to take advantage of business and technology innovation to drive green growth opportunities in the continent that will give both good climate outcomes but increase incomes and growth on the continent. This will require public policymakers, private entrepreneurs, investors and the

financial sector to work together in a coordinated way to deliver on these opportunities. But Africa doesn't need to reinvent the wheel.

There are four examples that I will talk about from India that give good examples of how India has been able to drive down the price of LED light bulbs and create a new business opportunity in street lighting, how they've been able to drive a growth in e-buses across the country, how they've expanded rooftop solar and how they have expanded renewables through renewable energy solar energy farms, using a combination of public policy, private investment and financial sector innovation.

So there is a huge opportunity provided all the key stakeholders can work together in a coordinated way.

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