As mentioned in Abiy Ahmed’s stake, the environment is intertwined with several spheres of his government: the regime’s survival, the need for economic development and the challenges posed by unexpected, yet recurrent, climatic catastrophes. Furthermore, politically, he is undergoing an internal crisis, leading a civil war against one of the strongest ethnic groups in Ethiopia. These events influence his agenda prioritization, and, thus Abiy must not only mind traditional governmental issues such as economics and politics, but he must also put a great emphasis on dealing with the dissenting group; as well as responding to the negative criticism received by international organizations for his “violent and illiberal” handling of the crisis.
For Abiy Ahmed, the implementation of environmental policies will be pushed to a secondary position unless two situations emerge: that climatic catastrophes are directly and urgently impacting Ethiopia’s population or that environmental initiatives are providing economic gains, fulfilling one of Abiy’s main goals, economic development. However, Abiy Ahmed’s environmental leadership does not simply end there, Abiy Ahmed’s agenda also includes, though in a smaller proportion, policies aiming at solving the climatic challenges of his country. In short, most of his environmental policies are firstly directed at challenges in other spheres, such as the emerging macroeconomic crisis, but will be addressed as part of his climate leadership, as they are overflowing into environmental mitigation strategies positively.
Section “The Stake”, presented the environmental challenges faced by Abiy Ahmed. This section, in turn, introduces the solutions he proposes for such problems.
Ethiopia’s framework for environmental efforts
Ethiopia’s official efforts on climate leadership are scattered across multiple platforms. The most significant pointers for Ethiopia’s efforts are the country’s two Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) submissions (2016 and 2021) to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The updated NDCs build on the country’s development goals as laid out in Ethiopia’s 10 Years Perspective Development Plan. The plan, which runs from 2021 to 2030, aims to sustain the remarkable growth achieved under the Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) of the previous decade, while facilitating the shift towards a more private-sector driven economy. As such, the plan outlines a strategy for the country’s green development, focusing its efforts on large-scale investments in irrigation agriculture, broad-based rural development and private sector involvement.
In particular, the strategy outlines the need for investments in the agricultural, forestry and industrial sectors (the first two being the most vulnerable to climate change), and fostering export-oriented growth. With the vision to make Ethiopia an “African Beacon of Prosperity”, the plan’s macroeconomic goals are to reach 10.2% average growth target across the ten years, reduce the poverty rate from 19% to 7%, and reduce urban unemployment to less than 9%. Beyond sole development objectives, the plan also has six main pillars, namely economic growth, increased commercial competitiveness, institutional transformation, expanding the private sector, ensuring equity for women and children, and building a green economy.
The last pillar, building a climate resilient green economy, is particularly important to understand Ethiopia’s environmental leadership legacy. In 2011, the Ethiopian government launched the Climate Resilient Green Economy Strategy (CRGE), providing an overarching framework for Ethiopia’s response to global warming. With the vision of becoming a lower-middle-income country by 2025 through a green economy transition, the CRGE looked at building adaptive capacity and resilience in order to reduce the country’s vulnerability to climate catastrophes. As such, the three focus sectors established by the CRGE were “improving crop and livestock production practices for higher food security and farmer income while reducing emissions; protecting and re-establishing forests for their economic and ecosystem services (…); expanding electricity generation from renewable sources of energy for domestic and regional markets and leapfrogging to modern and energy-efficient technologies in transport, industry and buildings”.
In particular, the key areas for the CRGE were those of agriculture, forestry, energy, water, transport, industry and housing. All in all, the CRGE had the goal of reducing the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 64% by 2030, compared to the business-as-usual scenario. It shall be noted that the CRGE was born with the support of western nations. It was launched during the COP17 (and thus has the support of the United Nations), and it has established partnerships with bilateral and multilateral institutions, such as the Adaptation Fund, the Climate Green Fund, the World Bank group, and the Global Green Growth Institute. Nationally, the Ministry of Finance and the CRGE facility are in charge of its oversight and implementation.
Under this framework, Abiy Ahmed places his green (or green development) efforts. The following pages will thus present the main policies/solutions falling under the GTP-II, undertaken by Abiy Ahmed. As such, the solutions will be organized following the three pillars of the CRGE Strategy: First, a reforestation initiative will be presented; secondly, a policy hoping to promote more efficient agricultural practices; and lastly, two strategies aimed at solving Ethiopia’s chronic energy shortages.
Green Legacy Project
With the goal of raising “the public’s awareness about Ethiopia’s frightening environmental degradation and, educating society on the importance of adapting green behavior” as well as “combatting the challenges of food insecurity by preventing land degradation”Abiy Ahmed proposed a national reforestation project called the Green Legacy Project. The project hopes to plant 20 billion trees over a four-year period (2019-2022) in order to reach national environmental goals and provide a solution to the forestation harm produced through decades of mismanagement of forests and agricultural production.
This initiative is particularly relevant for the categorization of Abiy Ahmed as a climate leader, as it is a strategy that will only pay off in the long-term. Abiy himself has also backed this logic: “While literally sowing the seeds today, we have no doubt these seeds will bear fruit across generations and contribute to reducing carbon emissions, decreasing water and air pollution, increasing rains in dry areas and preventing flooding and landslides”.
Unlike other of his green policies described below, this long-term scope is especially important when addressing Green Legacy: why take on such an effort, if it will not bear fruits in the immediate future, eg: for the next election? To answer this, one must look at multiple factors: raising national and international public opinion, depicting efficiency and unifying the country.
On the one hand, the initiative is not solely aimed at turning back the climate clock, rather, it is also a vehicle to foster public awareness of the threat of deforestation for the country’s survival. Moreover, such a goal is rather intertwined with Abiy’s more general ambition of increasing national pride and unity (the key of his Meedemer philosophy). By presenting the project under the principle of “combating a common enemy” (environmental catastrophes driven by global warming), Abiy Ahmed is aiming to engage the whole of Ethiopia’s population, fostering national unity beyond the long-standing ethnic divides.
In this regard, through an open letter in the Ethiopian Monitor Journal, Abiy Ahmed has stated, “We set out to build an exclusive process that will enable a large section of society to be custodians of such a grand national initiative first by participating in the execution and then by being custodians for the future”.
When referring to the unifying power of Green Legacy, the leader said, “when I call upon all Ethiopians to ‘Adorn Ethiopia’ the call is to cover our nation Green; to see beyond lines of division – regional, ethnic, religious, sex – and in unity dress Ethiopia with the prosperity and dignity the people of this great nation deserve.”
Furthermore, involving the public in Green Legacy also gives Abiy’s environmental policies a sense of heightened transparency. In addition, Green Legacy also hopes to unify the country at an institutional level, involving all kinds of national and international organizations like the country’s Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Innovation and Technology, The Forest and Climate Change Commission, local governments, officials and operators of public institutions, the private sector, and the UN’s Environment Program.
Besides the national prospects of the initiative, the project also carries an international motivation. If proven successful, it could be used as a vehicle to publicize Abiy’s leadership in international climate foras, thus providing more popularity to Abiy Ahmed’s regime (particularly, to western, liberal countries who have recurrently demonstrated their commitment towards reforestation strategies). Drawing favorable international attention is key to Abiy’s current regime, in order to provide incentives to important international allies that have withdrawn their support in light of the Tigray war. Thus, the support raised from the international arena is not only relevant for its political significance but also for its economic funding from Western donors.
All in all, Green Legacy has become more and more important with the fall of Abiy’s leadership due to the harsh reality of realpolitik. The war in Tigray marks a clear turning point in Abiy Ahmed’s rule, showing a gap between the initial long-term idealist vision of his speeches, versus his short-term, unrehearsed efforts to deal with this challenge. More than ever, Abiy relies on these efforts to gain back the popularity among the national and international public opinion.
Ethiopia joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in the Scaling Up Climate Ambition on Land Use and Agriculture (SCALA) program as of early 2022. The program, which will last until 2025, supports 12 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America in building adaptive capacity and reducing GHG emissions so as to meet the countries’ National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) and NDCs. In particular, the program focuses on climate action in the agriculture and land use sectors, and is funded by the German International Climate Initiative (IIKI). It also counts on the joint efforts of regional offices and national governments.
More specifically, SCALA Ethiopia has established three objectives, 1) enhance integrated watershed management, 2) enhance irrigation performance, and 3) improve pasture land management. As for the first objective, it is argued that creating more efficient management of natural resources will overall improve water sources both for irrigation but also for livestock feed. As for the second, improving the irrigation value chain will also help counterbalance natural resource degradation. In addition, through water conservation methods, the marketable production of agriculture will increase. It should be noted that these first two objectives speak directly to climate change-induced risks typical to Ethiopia: droughts and floods. Lastly, the third goal hopes to rehabilitate small ruminant value chains, which will protect pasturelands, remove carbon emissions and be a source for economic development.
The motivations for Abiy Ahmed in accepting the intervention of international institutions in his handling of the environment are several. Firstly, the solutions brought about by SCALA are directed to addressing key existing climate hazards, as the project intends to improve the country’s adaptive capacity and resistance to natural resource degradation, floods and droughts. As will be seen below, most of Abiy’s environmental efforts are linked to the development of high ROI projects, such as the strengthening of the green energy sector. Apart from the Green Legacy project, which does not consume a high proportion of resources and serves as a tool for controlling public opinion. In this regard, handling current, unexpected climate hazards is a costly activity and not a “cost-effective” one, as providing solutions to environmental catastrophes is more aimed at solving the pre-existing hazard rather than at seizing a new investment opportunity. Thus, signing SCALA allows Abiy to channel fewer funds to such “low ROI” needs and thus direct them to other high-cost projects for economic development, while still providing a feasible solution to his population’s urges.
Participation in the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Program
In 2012, the country joined the World Bank’s initiative to encourage private investments in emerging countries’ solar power. The program, part of a larger international initiative, is funded by the Climate Investment Plan. In this regard, the Scaling-Up Renewable Energy Program (SREP) is backed by a U$S839 million fund, and channeled through five multilateral development banks. Its objective is to “finance scaled-up deployment of renewable energy solutions to increase energy access and economic opportunities”.
In Ethiopia in particular, the program underwent updates with the regime change, but its main objective remains the same: supporting the energy sector objectives of the country’s Transformation Plans. When it was first introduced in 2012, the program had the plan of “increasing power generation capacity from the present level of 2 GW (2012) to 10 GW by 2015 and to 25 GW by 2030”. In this regard, the goals for the SREP were to “meet the demand for energy in the country by providing sufficient and reliable power supply that meets international standards at all times”. According to the SREP, such a goal would be achieved by enhancing hydroelectric power plants, as well as other renewable energy projects, and improving the existing distribution lines to provide more access to rural villages across the nation.
In addition, the program highlighted the importance of producing energy for regional exports, as well as modernizing the distribution system so as to reduce power losses. These objectives were presented under the umbrella of improving access to energy while also remaining under international standards of carbon emissions. The program thus selected three projects to be funded: the Development of Aluto Langano Geothermal field, Assela Wind Farm Project, Clean Energy SMEs Capacity Building, and Investment Facility Development of Tendaho Geothermal field.
In 2018, the country signed the Public Private Partnerships Proclamation (PPP), a legislative framework to promote and facilitate the implementation of privately financed infrastructure projects. Under this umbrella (and following the established SREP framework), Abiy Ahmed’s government engaged in several programs for renewable resources development projects, securing access to US$ 50 Million (96% in grants, 4 % in loans) for the development of the SREP projects as of January 2022.
All in all, the PPP marks a clear public-private partnership framework being encouraged by Abiy Ahmed’s policies. These partnerships are likely to bring regional investors together, as well as realign the international alliances of Ethiopia, not only focusing on international organization funding, but also grants and loans from international corporations. Enhancing development through public-private partnerships, thus, is not only in accordance with the country’s CRGE Strategy, but also corresponds to Abiy Ahmed’s overall neoliberal agenda.
The Assela Wind Farm Project
In September 2020, The Ethiopian parliament validated a loan agreement for the construction of the Assela Wind Farm, a $170.5 million USD project hoping to provide 100 MW to the Ethiopian electricity grid. The project is signed between the country’s Ministry of Finance, Denmark’s Danske Bank (providing a loan facility of approximately USD $137 million), the Danida Business Fund (granting the country USD $111 million) and the African Development Bank (providing a USD $10 million loan and performing a feasibility study). The partnership entrusted the project’s construction to Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy and counts on the participation of the state-owned Ethiopian Electric Power, which will build a substation for the transmission and distribution of the sourced energy.
All in all, the agreement signed between Ethiopian Electric Power and Siemens Gamesa stipulates that the Danish subsidiary of Siemens Gamesa will have control of 60% of the development project, with the parent company holding the remaining 40%.
Participation in the International Finance Corporation’s Renewable Energy Program
In 2016, the state-owned electricity producer signed an agreement with the International Finance Corporation (IFC) for the development of a 500MW solar power source under the institution’s Scaling Solar Program. The first round of the partnership thus finished in December 2019, with the construction of two solar independent power producers (IPPs) of 250 MW. However, the agreement was continued under Abiy’s government, with a new, second round of tenders. Costing around $798 Million, the second round of the solar program was expanded to six projects and 750 MW. The Scaling Solar 2019 round involved the Saudi Arabian developer ACWA Power, focusing on two development projects in the Somali and Afar regions. According to an IFC disclosure “[t]he projects are expected to not only provide competitively priced clean power but also reduce Ethiopia’s dependence on hydro resources by diversifying the energy supply mix. IFC will assist Ethiopian Electric Power and the PPP Directorate General in developing/structuring, following a competitive tender, an independent power producer to design, finance, build, and operate solar PV-based generation capacity of up to an additional 750 MW.”
The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
Meeting the CRGE goals hinges partly on new hydropower projects, the most significant of which is the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The initiative is set to make up 90% of Ethiopia’s electricity supply, becoming the seventh largest hydroelectric dam on the planet when finished. The project is said to have the potential to make Ethiopia a continental energy producer, as the dam would allow Ethiopia to hold more than double its carrying capacity, turning the country into the largest producer in Africa. This alone has the potential to be a huge step in the country’s aspirations toward economic prosperity. In this regard, its completion and operation would speed up the efforts of poverty alleviation through energy exports and easier access to electricity for its population.
Thus, the dam has become a symbol of the modernization process (modernization in terms of the promotion of development projects) carried out by Abiy Ahmed’s administration, elevating it as an icon of national pride and unity. While the GERD aims to represent the modernization of infrastructure, its efficient construction and operation would also symbolize the success of Abiy Ahmed’s overall modernization goals (representing the ideological revolution of Medemer). Modernization, for Abiy, thus contains a dual meaning; the completion of the GERD is proof of the success of Abiy’s modernization ideals in these two senses, the need for development and Abiy Ahmed’s individual, psychological motivations: achievement and power.
Building the dam would provide the country with economic power and influence, which is key for a region where development is a main priority. Furthermore, the building of the GERD corresponds to Abiy’s search for affiliation: were the dam to reap the socioeconomic gains it promises, it could generate great public acceptance. Being such a groundbreaking infrastructure for the region, its effective operation and construction would define his leadership historically, possibly turning him into a beloved leader.
In conclusion, Abiy Ahmed’s environmental policies do not follow a single, unified green framework; rather, they are being implemented under two strategies for socioeconomic development. Therefore, the main motivations for the carrying of his environmental actions (which are -in bold terms- related to either afforestation efforts, sustainable agriculture and land practices, or renewable electricity generation and development) are mostly related to his electoral promises for development and the population’s demands for solutions when being struck by hash environmental catastrophes. One last motive to be highlighted in this regard is related to his psychological logic: the eventual success of his environmental initiatives would satisfy his result-oriented mindset and quest for achievement, as well as be a bargaining chip useful for carrying out negotiations with international Western organizations.