I am pleased to welcome you all today to this signing ceremony for an important new EU supported programme in the energy sector. The European Union recognises the energy sector as key for both economic development and raising living standards in Lesotho. We are confident that the 7 million Euros, equivalent to around 100 million Maloti, made available under the 11th European Development Fund (EDF 11) for this first phase of EU support to the sector, will assist in unlocking the potential Lesotho has in its energy sector. The funding will be used to explore a number of innovative approaches towards sustainable energy in the country. This should help bring about a more conducive environment for larger investments in the future.
This Financing Agreement between the EU and Lesotho is concrete evidence of the reaffirmed commitment made by EU Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, Neven Mimica, to the Africa Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI) which was launched at COP21 in 2015. The EU intends to continue to play a leading role in supporting the African continent in the fight against climate change and the promotion of renewable energies. Lesotho stands among 193 countries that signed the Paris Agreement, which is now in force.
In the past, our focus, as agreed with the government of Lesotho through the National Strategic Development Plan, has been mainly on water, infrastructure, governance, social protection and other sectors. But today's signature acknowledges that with the unprecedented growth rate in the world's population over recent years, there is a growing demand for energy and inevitably a pressing need for investment in the energy sector, specifically, for clean energy, as we all continue the fight against climate change.
Although this is the first time the EU supports the energy sector through the National Indicative Programme (NIP) of the EDF, there has been support previously, and indeed, there is also on-going support through a number of other projects. For example, the EU contributes to the National University of Lesotho (NUL) over 435,000 Euros out of a total cost of 554,000 Euros for the project "Southern African Sustainable Energy Initiative (SASEI)." This project aims to enhance the institutional, human and systems development capacity of Universities in Southern Africa, in the areas of renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainable energy. Under the project, NUL launched last September short courses on sustainable energy with the hope of introducing a Masters in Energy this coming academic year.
Furthermore, the EU Delegation, with funding provided by the Government of Ireland, is currently supporting the Lesotho Meteorological Services with a team of four experts. This team is helping the Government to set up the required policy and institutional framework to reverse environmental degradation and adapt to climate change, specifically on climate change response and sustainable energy strategies. Under the Technical Assistance Facility of the EU's 'Sustainable Energy for All' initiative, the EU Delegation is also supporting the Department of Energy with a team of experts to contribute to strengthening the energy sector in Lesotho – this is done by helping the department to redefine the mandates of institutions in the sector, to improve sector coordination, as well as by contributing to an updated and improved electrification master plan and resource mapping, and contributing to translating into legislation the recently approved 'Lesotho Energy Policy, 2015-2025.'
Combatting erosion and providing support to food security are key issues when considering the 'energy–water nexus' in Lesotho. Energy for the majority of households still depends very much on the use of woody biomass, emphasising the need for sustainable catchment management. I can add to this the importance of hydropower generation, where there is an abundant potential in Lesotho.
Part of the EU support to the energy sector in this first phase will be in the form of technical assistance to reform the sector. In addition a call for proposals for piloting innovative energy projects will soon be launched by the EU Delegation. The target group for projects under this call will be particularly rural communities living in remote areas, but also small and medium scale businesses. The projects proposed will have to provide for an increased access to modern energy services, while at the same time combatting erosion through limiting the use of biomass and enabling economic growth. Access to electricity in more remote areas can nowadays be provided also through so-called off-grid systems, whether solar or hydro, etc. These energy projects will be particularly beneficial for women as they are the most affected given that tasks like gathering firewood for cooking fall disproportionally on them. In summary, this EU funded programme will support the increase of sustainable access to renewable energy sources for households and for businesses.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We all know that industrial growth is essential to the development of the country. We cannot ignore the fact that such growth depends on the production of more energy, which in turn can contribute to climate change, a national and global challenge. So how do we best balance the need for growth of industry and development and not endanger the livelihood of future generations? The best way to solve this trade-off between industrial growth and climate is through the promotion of renewables, low-carbon technology and innovation, as well as through increasing energy efficiency and conservation practices.
As the European Union, we strongly believe that there is great potential in promoting Lesotho's capacity to be a producer and also exporter of clean, renewable and sustainable solar, hydro and wind power energy, while at the same time providing energy efficient devices at household level for those Basotho families in remote locations who do not have easy access to electricity. Lesotho can be among the main exporters of clean energy in the Southern Africa region. It is certainly possible. I would like to highlight the EU financed 'Electrification Financing Initiative' (ElectriFI), which was elaborated in close cooperation with representatives of the private sector and development financiers and aims to support investments providing access to reliable, affordable and sustainable electricity and energy services in developing countries. However this available financing instrument did not yield any response for Lesotho during its first call for projects in 2016 – this should be a wake-up call.
For harnessing the interest of the private sector, as in many neighbouring countries, the energy sector needs some restructuring in order to become more conducive to private sector involvement. In order to bring about a programme of change in this sector, some determined efforts, combined also with a strong commitment at the political level, will be necessary. We are confident that the funds made available under this new Financing Agreement can help enable bringing about the necessary changes to unleash the potential for clean energy in Lesotho.
Before I close, allow me to share with you a personal and practical observation. On the last occasion that I visited our headquarters in Brussels I observed as the plane was descending towards the airport that over half of the houses in the surrounding area had solar panels installed on their rooftops. As you will know, Belgium, and many other European countries, experience far fewer days with a sunny sky than does Lesotho, and indeed most of the African continent. What I am getting at is, if countries which do not get as many sunny days in a year succeed in effectively harnessing solar energy, then imagine the potential that Lesotho has and the magnitude of solar energy that can be generated. Imagine how much "free" energy we are losing out on by not promoting and investing in solar energy in Lesotho. The transition towards more usage of solar energy is a potential gold mine as it will also create jobs and support new industries.
I call on everyone involved in the implementation of this new programme and also other planned programmes - whether in the public or private sectors - to work together and, endeavour to make a real success of these programmes in the energy sector. We notice an increasing interest from other development partners for involvement in the energy sector, be it from the World Bank, BADEA, AfDB or UNDP-GEF to name a few. The Energy Sector Coordination Forum, initiated in 2015 – with the strong engagement of the Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Meteorology and others - could therefore not have come at a more opportune time. Everyone's continued commitment will be essential to achieve our common goals.
On behalf of the European Union, I wish all involved stakeholders every success with the implementation of the programme. I also invite you to keep a close eye on the EU website and Facebook page for developments over the coming months. I thank you very much for your attention.
Khotso. Pula. Nala.