Addis Ababa, Ethiopia—From atop Mount Entoto, which rises 10,500 feet above sea level and draws thousands of pilgrims annually as one of this country’s most revered spiritual sites, it is impossible to look upon the sprawling capital below without sensing both the burden of Ethiopia’s history and the promise of its future.
Addis Ababa, meaning “new flower” in Amharic, has been shaped by forces both internal and external since its founding in 1887. They include a devastating 16-year civil war and communist tyranny, multiple foreign invasions, and chronic cycles of drought, flood and famine that contributed to more than a million deaths since 1970.
Today, 24 years since its last government overthrow and 30 years since its last crippling famine, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia is enjoying relative peace and prosperity. Those conditions have helped Addis Ababa emerge as one of Africa’s political and economic superhubs alongside Johannesburg, Nairobi and Accra.
Unlike many of its sub-Saharan neighbors, however, which have embraced economic growth at the expense of environmental protections, Ethiopia has embarked on one of the world’s most ambitious green growth and climate mitigation programs.
Nothing like it has been tried before, much less in one of the world’s largest and poorest nations.
“No other African country has even begun to make the level of commitment that Ethiopia has in reducing emissions,” Robert Mukiza, Ethiopia country director for the Global Green Growth Institute, said in a recent telephone interview from Addis. His organization is working with the government to help implement sustainability programs, including elements of Ethiopia’s Growth and Transformation Plan.
The blueprint for Ethiopia’s climate agenda, drafted by the government in 2011 and now being implemented across all levels of society—from the herding villages of the central highlands to the transit corridors of Addis—is embodied in a 15-page document called the “Climate-Resilient Green Economy strategy,” or CRGE.
Much more than an emissions plan, the CRGE is a multipronged development program that promises to hold Ethiopia’s greenhouse gases at 145 metric tons of CO2 equivalent per year over the next 15 years, while also lifting the country from among world’s poorest nations to achieve middle-income status by 2025.
The challenge is immense, the cost astronomical, and failure is a distinct possibility.
A path to a low-carbon Africa?
Consider that Ethiopia currently ranks 186th out of 198 countries in per-capita gross domestic product, and roughly a third of its estimated 94 million people live on less than $1.25 per day, according to recent World Bank estimates.
But no one, least of all Ethiopia’s prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, is bowing to the conventional wisdom that Ethiopia’s only path to climate security is through foreign aid agencies and nongovernmental organizations.
In fact, officials here argue the opposite, often invoking the words of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. In 2009, he told U.N. climate delegates gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark, that Ethiopia would not stand by as Western nations develop and implement strategies to address the world’s most pressing environmental problem.
“Africa is a continent of the future; it is destined to be a growth pole of the 21st century,” Zenawi declared.
“We are therefore here not as victims of the past,” he added, “but as stakeholders of the future reaching out across the continents, so that together we can build a better and fairer future for all of us. … Africa is a green field that can and wants to chart a different course of development, one that is not carbon-intensive.”
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