Sustainable Africa: Gabon at the forefront

In 2011, Yale University ranked Gabon first among African countries for the Environmental Performance Index (EPI). This was no accident. In the last 5 years, Gabon has undertaken a deep transformation of its economy in order to follow a more sustainable model of economic development. Thanks to its efforts to develop renewable energy sources and non-oil dominated sectors, the country has made sizeable progress, especially on the quality of its infrastructure. As its economy grows greener and becomes more diversified, Gabon’s emergence as a key economic player on the African continent is about to become a reality.

Africa is the cradle of mankind and will be home to a third of the world population in 2100. In light of this, the continent was particularly involved in the COP21 conference that was held in the French capital in December 2015. Africa faces the prospect of the doubling of its population in the next 35 years (it will reach approximately 2.5 billion inhabitants in 2050) and must therefore urgently begin pursuing sustainable growth in order to avoid a major ecological disaster in the near future.

Gabon is well on its way to meeting this huge challenge on its territory, thanks to the Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan (Plan Stratégique Gabon Émergent) launched by President Ali Bongo Ondimba in 2010. Whereas our country used to rely heavily on oil income, the Gabonese government was bold enough to invest massively in diversifying the economy, thus anticipating the foretold collapse of oil prices. This sustainable development strategy is mainly based on the pillar of a “Green Gabon”, which comprises a set of measures aimed at developing the use of renewable energy in order to support the country’s economic growth, while at the same time preserving our natural resources.

Indeed, Gabon has significant hydro-electric potential, (ranging from 5000 to 6000 MW) and in the last five years Ali Bongo’s government has begun to exploit this potential by building several dams. Today, the Grand Poubara dam is the most powerful in the country (160 MW).  Other projects are currently being built or are in the planning stages, such as the Ngoulmendjim dam (115 MW), the Empress Eugenie Falls dam (84MW) or the FE2 Falls dam (36MW). Thanks to the development of renewable energy sources, only 60 % of our country’s energy comes from fossil fuels, which makes Gabon one of the top 5 African nations in terms of energy competitiveness. In 2025, gas generated electricity will only represent 20 % of production, compared with 80 % for renewable electricity.

Producing clean energy is paramount to the preservation of our natural resources. It also plays an important role in the development of non-oil dominated sectors, which need dependable access to electricity. While two thirds of the African population lives without electricity, the rate of electrification in Gabon nears 80%. Sizeable projects have been already been launched nationwide, such as the thermal power plant of Alenakiri (70 MW) and Port Gentil (52.5 MW today, but it will reach 105 MW in the upcoming years). This has enabled our country to double its electricity distribution capacity over the last five years, and by 2020, Gabon should gain universal access to electricity, while gradually lowering the share of energy generated from fossil fuels.

Gabon has therefore decided to diversify its sources of growth through the production of renewable energy, but also by using sustainable valorization of its outstanding ecosystem and its 22 million hectares of woodland. To that end, the government bets on the industrialization of sectors such as timber and fishing, as well as the increased development of agriculture. As a contribution to curbing the dangerous rise of global temperatures, Gabon has committed to a remarkably low-carbon industrial development plan, within the framework of the PSGE (Emerging Gabon Strategic Plan).

What’s more, in its intended contributions for the COP21, Gabon pledged a 50% cut in its 2010 level greenhouse gas emissions by 2025. The contribution includes the possibility of defining new marks for 2030 and even 2050. What makes this goal all the more ambitious is that the targeted level doesn’t take into account the amount of stocked carbon, made possible by biomass in a country where 88% of the land is covered with forests, therefore absorbing four times more CO² than it emits. Finally, Gabon pledges to reach this target without buying carbon credits abroad.

To that end, Gabon has launched several measures concerning sectors that have a direct or an indirect impact on GHG emissions. It has forbidden the export of raw logs. It is working towards forbidding the flaring of the gas generated during oil extraction by offering to cover indirectly the cost of the gas reprocessing units for oil companies. In the future, the National Land-Use Plan (Plan National d’Affectation des Terres) and the creation of a National Fund for Sustainable Development will also help curb emissions.
In order to evaluate in real time the results of his climate policy, in August 2015, President Ali Bongo Ondimba inaugurated an agency for spatial studies and observation (Agence d’Études et d’Observation Spatiales) with the French minister of ecology, Ségolène Royal. The agency’s purpose is to collect and analyze data generated by observing the country from space in order to improve the management of the environment, natural resources, land use and spatial planning.

This green economy will be essential in fostering long-term growth and is in line with the other pillars defined by President Ali Bongo Ondimba, with the aim of facilitating the emergence of Gabon onto the international arena. These pillars consist of the development of infrastructure, industry and services through the valorization of human capital. I am convinced that the State must encourage private initiatives in the industrial sector in order to help what I would call a “creative energies” platform.
These measures have been crucial to the sustainable industrialization of Gabon and have already led to the doubling of foreign direct investment, which amounted to $5 billion in 2014. What’s more, national growth continued at 5.1 % in 2014 despite the collapse in oil prices, which proves that the government’s vision and efforts to diversify the economy have paid off. According to the IMF, Gabon’s growth should stabilize at an even higher level, around 6 %, over the next 5 years.