Rio+20: USA Announces Africa Clean Energy Finance Partnership

Rio De Janeiro, Brazil – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is addressing the plenary session this morning, the closing day of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development. But has been the case throughout most of the week, the real action is in the side events, where pledges are made and new initiatives launched.

Case in point is Secretary Clinton’s first stop before heading to the main hall to deliver her official address for the launch of the new US-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative. This is a $20 million program “to support project developers or investors who are under consideration for [Overseas Private Investment Corporation] financing…but need a small amount of catalytic grant funding for their project.” The idea is to spur the development of clean energy projects by increasing access to financing and loans available through OPIC, which is a branch of the US government that invests in private sector development projects.

“600 million men, women and children in Africa live without power. This is not a technological hurdle, we know how to haress the energy and deliver it,” said Secretary Clinton. “The challenge is there because investors in these places see obstacles and risks to investing in clean energy, even though all pieces are there.” The US-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative, said Clinton, will offer new investments to help overcome that financing hurdle.

The announcement from Secretary Clinton today is one part of a $2 billion package of programs that the US government are putting into place to support the Secretary General’s Sustainable Energy for All initiative. Yesterday, there were a series of high level meetings between champions of industry, heads of state and NGOs, which amounted to a pledging conference for sustainable energy programs.  Bank of America Chair Chad Holliday presided over an afternoon of public remarks which brought together hundreds of new commitments to the table. At one of these sessions yesterday, Kandeh Yumeklla, the Sierra Leonean head of UN Energy (and a rising star in the UN system) said that several years from now we’ll remember Rio+20 as “the time the world agreed that without energy access you won’t have sustainable development.”

Events like the launch today of the US-Africa Clean Energy Finance Initiative drive home the fact that the real legacy of this conference will not be the official outcome document, but for the launch several new clean energy programs under the rubric of Sustainable Energy for All.