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Looking to Rio: Connecting the dots between environment and development

June 20, 2012

OPIC’s Vice President for Investment Policy John Morton at the Frontiers for Development Conference

OPIC's Vice President for Investment Policy John Morton at the Frontiers for Development Conference

Later this week, as thousands of world leaders gather with the global development and business communities at the Rio+20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil, they will focus on some of the seemingly incompatible challenges facing a world with a rapidly growing population and diminishing natural resources. Global energy consumption is expected to be 30% to 40% higher in the year 2030 as it is today as roughly three billion people join the middle class.

Many of these same challenges were the focus of USAID’s Frontiers in Development forum last week in Washington. When leaders from the business, nonprofit and development communities discussed one of the most fundamental challenges – feeding a growing planet – they acknowledged that collaboration is needed between different industries. In rural Sub-Saharan Africa, where food security is often a major challenge, for example, just 5% of the population has access to electricity, which is essential to producing and storing food in any significant quantity.

“Energy insecurity is food insecurity,” Kathleen Merrigan, Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said at the USAID forum. Although Merrigan stressed that “energy access is crucial for fighting poverty,” other speakers acknowledged that agriculture and energy were too often seen as competing priorities, especially in low-income countries with limited resources.

Other speakers said that — in addition to technical solutions that would allow for greater food production with less land or water usage — the developing world needed creative financing solutions and creative collaboration.

“Access to financing is one of the critical issues that should be addressed,” said USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah. And Gunilla Carlsson, Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation, stressed that “many of the new technologies and skills that are required are in the private sector.

Powering Agriculture is a new partnership between USAID, OPIC, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Duke Energy, and the African Development Bank that will address one critical aspect of improving food security in a sustainable manner. The partnership is designed to link renewable energy technologies with farmers in low-income countries.

“The trick is always in the implementation,” said John Morton (pictured), OPIC Vice President, Office of Investment Policy, who noted that OPIC tools that provided long-term financing as well as risk mitigation would help support the challenge.

Public-private partnerships, renewable resources as well as financing tools tailored for the unique needs of the developing world are all key areas of focus for OPIC, which last year set a new record for its commitments to renewable resources projects, and leverages close to $2.70 in private investment for every dollar it invests.

OPIC President and CEO Elizabeth Littlefield, who will participate in the discussions at Rio later this week, will introduce an innovative and collaborative new financing mechanism to mobilize clean energy investments in Africa and low income countries throughout the developing world. The new initiative will align U.S. Government resources in new ways to better address the connected challenges of energy access, development and climate change.


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