Abiy Ahmed’s HOT climate leadership serves as a tool for his greater vision for Ethiopia

  • Abiy Ahmed’s climate action is mainly guided by two specific objectives, achieving economic development and domestic security
  • Abiy’s climate leadership allows him to fulfill personal and governance goals of social and political stability and suit international interests.
  • Structural governance issues and domestic and International veto players are the greatest obstacles to his climate policy.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed
Office of the Prime Minister – Ethiopia

Why is Abiy Ahmed’s temperature HOT? 

Answer: Abiy Ahmed was able to implement environmental policies successfully, thus managing to target both his personal as well as his governmental goals.

Abiy Ahmed’s decision-making on climate policy is guided by one main goal: he seeks for solutions to implement the country’s 10 Years Development Plan and Growth and Transformation Plan, the country’s framework for governance. This framework states that his policies must be aligned with the objectives focused on economic development. Reasoning about a positive impact on the country’s environment will come in second place. 

There are two policies that must be highlighted when looking at his environmental leadership, relevant in terms of their success and the manner in which they are echoing into domestic and international audiences. Both of these are fitting Ethiopia’s framework for climate leadership:  

First, is the Green Legacy Project: a national reforestation project that hopes to plant 20 billion trees over the 2019-2022 period. Up to now, the project has shown record-breaking success, with the campaign even planting 354 million seedlings within a 12-hour span in 2019, and since then planted 3,5 billion trees according to the Ethiopian government. 

Second, the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (G..E.R.D): the construction and activation of a new hydroelectric dam that would generate 90% of the country’s electricity supply and become the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa. The success of this policy is essential to Abiy’s agenda: its activation would become a major source of income and political power, as its exports to neighbouring countries would make Ethiopia a continental energy producer. 

The policy is thus designed to bring great economic gains and create a sense of national pride through the establishment of energy security and independence. Furthermore, the dam would also become a way to represent the modernization process, in terms of the promotion of development projects, carried out by the Abiy administration. elevating it as an icon of national pride and unity and thus also allowing it to become a palpable symbol of the achievement of national unity and ultimately, climate policy. 

What is changing Abiy Ahmed’s “HOT”?

Answer: Abiy’s environmental policies are drawing both heated criticism and standing ovations from the international community. 

Abiy Ahmed was able to implement his main two climate policies successfully: the G.E.R.D and the Green Legacy Project are already in place, although the activation of the G.E.R.D has indeed brought about negative backlash from important veto players, namely Egypt, Sudan and International Organisations. However, each policy was effective in achieving one of Abiy’s two goals: the G.E.R.D has mainly shown success for Ethiopia’s national economic development, whereas Green Legacy was mainly useful in order to foster domestic popularity and please international fora. 

Nonetheless, there are other projects of his climate policies that have not proven to be successful yet. Their development has been stagnating by structural issues threatening most developments being initiated: Ethiopia’s lack of domestic unity, the country’s institutional divides and ethnic-nationalist confrontations and the governmental decentralisation.  

What is driving Abiy Ahmed? 

Answer: Unexpected environmental catastrophes, a quest toward developing Ethiopia economically and pressure from domestic and international arenas. 

Ethiopia is constantly being devastated by droughts and floods, causing famines throughout the region and raising domestic demands for Abiy’s government to take instant action and adopt emergency solutions. However, the ability to respond to these emergencies is compromised by another factor that is driving him. The poor macroeconomic performance of Ehiopia when Abiy was first elected, Since then he has been working towards the country’s socioeconomic development and has made it one of the guiding principles throughout his decision-making process, as pointed out above, climate action is not an exception in this regard. 

Lastly, Abiy holds personal motivations for taking on climate policies: his concern for the public domestic and international opinion, currently damaged by the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray. The civil war is dragging the international public opinion to meticulously focus on Abiy’s warfare practices, a weakness in Abiy’s quest towards being a beloved, Nobel Peace Prize-winning Prime Minister in the eyes of the international arena.  

International approval is essential for international investment into Ethiopia*s economic development. In this regard, Abiy desperately needs to be seen as a unifying politician, a leader concerned for the fulfillment of the pan-Ethiopian unity and well-being of the country. And he has identified successful climate action as a good way for him to regain a positive international image and sway investors his way. 

What does this mean for you? 

Answer: When dealing and negotiating with Abiy’s government, the focus should be placed on Abiy’s motivations to engage in environmental action. 

As the leader of a regional power, Abiy Ahmed serves as an example of climate policy. Combining climate action with economic development and security matters could serve as a template for other African leaders. Understanding that environmental policies serve Abiy Ahmed as means to his ends is the key for anyone to understand his climate policy.