Namibia’s aspiring climate targets, on the back of plans to become a world leader in hydrogen, has excited many delegates at this year’s climate talks in Glasgow. But the southern African country will need funds to achieve this, its government warned. 

Namibia has some of the most ambitious climate targets on the table at the COP26 talks. But a key component of the country’s energy transition will be to leverage its natural assets to attract much-needed foreign direct investment.

James Mnyupe, Namibia’s presidential economic adviser and hydrogen commissioner, said in a World Economic Forum on COP26 that his country was endowed with enough renewable energy potential to become a regional powerhouse that could significantly reduce sub-Saharan Africa’s reliance on carbon-based fuels.

In his address at the COP26 talks on Tuesday, Namibia‘s president Hage Geingob emphasised that Namibia was ready to become a climate pioneer. He said that the country had amplified its 2015 pledge in the nationally determined contributions, which determine how individual countries slash their emissions, and the country now aspired to reduce its emissions by 91% before the end of this decade. 

But, he warned, the estimated investment required to achieve this target was about US$5.3 billion, 10% of which would have to be unconditional finance.

 

Bye bye coal, hello renewable energy

 

Namibia would be one of the countries hardest hit by climate change and the country was eager to do more than its share to change things, hence its ambitious targets. And it believes that green hydrogen, along with a scaled up renewable energy programme, is the way to go. 

Hydrogen has often been labelled the fuel of the future, thanks to its abundance in nature and its clean-burning nature that emits only water vapour. But its extraction in the past was too carbon intensive, and production was not cheap. Although hydrogen is abundant, it has to be extracted from other substances, mostly water.

In the past few years so-called green hydrogen – hydrogen that is produced without any carbon emissions using renewable resources – has become economically viable for the first time. 

Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water by electrolysis, which produces only hydrogen and oxygen. The oxygen is released into the atmosphere with no negative impact on the environment.

Labeled as the “oil of the future”, green hydrogen could power vehicles, helping countries to discard their reliance on fossil fuels, particularly oil and coal. 

 

It could also be piped to homes in existing gas pipelines to power household appliances. Apart from its uses in industry, green hydrogen can also transport renewable energy when converted into a carrier such as ammonia, or used as zero-carbon fuel for shipping. 

 

Namibia was eager to support the “consign coal to history” movement, as per the rallying cry of UN secretary-general António Guterres.

Mnyupe said Namibia will support the phasing out of coal “by significantly scaling up solar and wind energy to support domestic demand, while working with our neighbours to responsibly phase out existing coal generation in the Southern African Power Pool and transform our region’s energy map”.

He said the amount of land available for renewable energy in Namibia gave the country a competitive edge. 

Namibia’s vast territory of more than 824,000 square kilometres, low population of just 2.5 million people, and annual energy consumption of only two and a half terawatt hours means that the country has one of the lowest energy-demand density scores in the world. 

“Often a key constraint to deploying large scale solar and wind assets is the limited amount of land given a country’s population density. When looking at land availability Namibia is uniquely gifted,” Mnyupe said. 

“Land availability is not a constraint to developing large scale renewable energy systems.”

 

Green hydrogen

 

Namibia’s proposed green hydrogen initiative attracted a lot of interest at COP26. The Namibian government views green hydrogen as an emerging market opportunity with the potential to spur national and regional economic growth. It planned to partner with other governments and the private sector to develop a green hydrogen economy. 

In August Germany and Namibia signed a joint communique of intent in Windhoek and Berlin to establish a partnership in the field of green hydrogen technology. 

German Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek said the global race for the best hydrogen technologies and best sites for hydrogen production was on, and Germany was eager to partner with Namibia as an ideal site to take up hydrogen. 

She said Germany‘s Federal Research Ministry would provide up to $46 million to fund the partnership. 

“We think that one kilogram of hydrogen from Namibia will eventually cost between $1.70 and $2.30. This would be the most competitive price in the world, which would be a huge locational advantage for hydrogen ‘made in Namibia’.”

Saliem Fakir, executive director of the African Climate Foundation, labelled Namibia’s green hydrogen programme as an excellent example of a pioneering energy transition: “This is going to receive immense attention in the next couple of years.” 

 

A new renewable hub in the desert

 

Green Hydrogen will form the backbone of the Southern Corridor Development Initiative in Namibia’s Karas region, along with solar and wind projects. 

Geingob said that Namibia would make more than 5,700 square kilometres available in the Karas region for the potential development of green hydrogen and ammonia assets. 

 

This will triple the installed renewable energy generation capacity for the entire country, he said.

Mnyupe explained that the initiative envisioned including a portfolio of complementary infrastructure projects in the Karas region of Namibia. If effectively conceptualised and delivered it could have a transformative impact on the Namibian economy.

Karas, in Namibia’s southernmost province, has the lowest population density in the country but has the greatest renewable-energy potential.

Mnyupe said the region’s Luderitz port was well-positioned to act as a conduit to deliver green hydrogen and green ammonia – produced by green hydrogen – to the world.

 

COP26 has to be the turning point

 

Geingob believed that COP26 was the international community’s last chance to collectively overcome the disconnect between a dividend international system and a global calamity that threatened everyone.

He said, along with the world, Namibia is experiencing widespread and devastating impacts of key facets on civilisation, which included droughts and devastating veld fires that had destroyed large tracts of agricultural land and adversely affected livelihoods, human health and well-being.

“For these COP negotiations, there are critical objectives that are crucial to protect us all from the impacts from runaway climate change, breakdown of the biosphere and the death of the world’s oceans.”

 

Call for climate finance

 

He added that Namibia’s support for scaling up climate finance calls for the US$100 billion target for climate finance to be surpassed as a target, with a clear roadmap on how the committed amounts will be delivered.

Geingob was also in favour of grants, instead of loans, so as not to increase the debt burden on poor countries. 

“We urge for an increased volume of grants – rather than loans – to make it possible for emerging economies carrying high debt burdens to kickstart transformative projects,” Geingob said.