Statement by Minister Solheim (Norway)

Erik Solheim, Norwegian Minister for Environment and International Development

Speech at SARi Launch – 7 December 2011

My dear friend Minister Peters, Minister Davies, everyone else.

While we need, on one hand, the top-down climate change talks, to provide a broad international agreement and put pressure on nations to act, we also need a bottom-up initiative; governments and nations and companies doing the right thing and those inspiring others to do exactly the same.

And this is exactly what you are doing, putting in place such an initiative; bottom-up and inspiring the rest of us.

I have to say I am so happy to be here tonight. It is really a pleasure and also proud that you have offered Norway to be a partner to this initiative and we need many more of these types of initiatives. There are a lot of companies and nations, and even groups of nations working together on these types of initiatives but we need more and this is one of the most important. Why is this so important? For me, for three reasons.

  • Number one. South Africa is the one and only African nation south of the Sahara with substantial climate gas emissions per capita. Not the same as some of the most polluting developed nations but still they are substantial because you are so coal dependant. So that South Africa shows that there is also another path that you are developing the renewables I think is enormously important. It will show the way for many others and it will also reduce your emissions.
  • Secondly, there is a need for a lot more energy in Africa. Everyone knows. I was very moved when Secretary General Ban Ki Moon  came to Oslo just recently and he said that he had learnt to read and write over a candlelight. That was during the Korean war. There was no energy in Korea those days and he learnt to read and write those days. And of course yes, true, the most brilliant students can learn to read and write over a candlelight. But most certainly it’s much more efficient and we’d have a much broader group of people who can learn to read and write if we can provide an electrical lightbulb. Still I believe that 25% of the South Africans are not connected to the grid. If you move to neighbouring Mozambique, the figure is about 80% of the Mozambicans, four out of five, are not connected to the grid. Of course it makes it much much more difficult, say, to read the lessons after dark. And to start the smallest of industries, say a milking machine may be you need electricity. That is of course also why Secretary Ban Ki Moon had launched renewable or sustainable energy for all initiative which I believe will be one of the key deliveries at the Rio conference in June next year. But this fits into this as you’ll be able to provide energy for more South Africans through this.
  • And then the third reason is that it’s also providing jobs. I am a very firm believer in the argument, that unless we are seeing the economic crisis and the climate crisis in conjunction we will fail on both. The reason why we are in trouble on climate negotiations at the moment is primarily that the top leaders of the world have their daily agenda filled with the economic crisis. And when they are coming to the afternoon, still there are new economic issues and they simply don’t have time to focus on climate. That applies to the United States, it applies to Europe, it applies to many other parts of the world. And unless we can do both; both provide jobs and resolve the climate negotiations or climate crisis with the same means, we will fail. There are an enormous amount of jobs to be created in the solar, hydro-electrical power, bio-mass and all the other sectors of renewables.

I’m very happy also that Norwegian companies will be able to work on this and provide some expertise. Suprisingly enough, today it’s snowing in Oslo. Neverthesss Norwegian companies are able to offer support in the field of solar though we hardly have the sun back home.

Let me congralutate you with this. I think you are showing the way. You are showing the way to providing environment-friendly energy. You’re showing the way to providing energy to people in South Africa who are not on the grid at the moment. And you are showing the way by providing jobs and energy solutions at the same time.

Let me finally mention just one point. This is for South Africa and the nations in the region to decide but I think in the long run, based on our experiences in Europe, the more you can connect the entire region on the grid, the more successful you will be. I was in Mozambique only two weeks back and the Mozambicans have quite successfully financed the so-called  “back-bone” which is a grid system through Mozambique which is of course, to a large extent, to export to the South African market. The more this can be seen as one entity, the more successful both South Africa, Mozambique and, of course, all the other nations in Southern Africa may be in the future. So, good luck, there is enormous potential here.