Africa must grasp funds generated by carbon credit trading to pay for cleaner, cheaper energy and help fight climate change that threatens to undo years of economic development, the UN climate chief said on Wednesday.
Yvo de Boer, attending the first pan-African carbon-trading forum designed in part to match specialist investors with low-emission projects in Africa, said African countries had been discouraged by low carbon investment relative to other regions.
"If you look at the potential impacts of climate change those are likely to undo many of the investments that have been made to eradicate poverty, so I think dealing with climate change is an economic imperative," he told Reuters.
Some scientists expect increased heatwaves, floods, desertification and rising sea levels caused by global warming to affect African countries and islands worse than most.
"Add to the impact of climate change the cost of fossil fuels ... It makes a lot of sense to develop your economy in a cleaner direction," said de Boer, who heads the Executive Secretariat of the UN Climate Change Secretariat.
The carbon trading forum that opened in Senegal on Wednesday aims to increase low-emissions investments in Africa.
The continent has so far all but missed out on proposals for rich countries to fund clean energy projects under the "Clean Development Mechanism" of the Kyoto Protocol on global warming.
To date Africa has just 53 of 3 902 projects worldwide - just 1,4 percent of the total, and nine times smaller than its share of global carbon dioxide emissions, according to a World Bank study released in Dakar on Wednesday.
The report said a lack of investor knowledge, local skills and cash were to blame for the shortfall.
"I think that African countries in general have the feeling that the climate change regime as we have it at the moment is not really benefitting them," de Boer said.
"The system we have at the moment is the first of its kind. Surprise surprise, it's not perfect," he said.
Under the Kyoto Protocol, 37 developed nations have agreed to cut emissions by 5 percent below 1990 levels by 2008-2012.
Members hope to finalise a new accord to follow Kyoto at a summit in Copenhagen in late 2009, but pressure for poor countries, who made no Kyoto commitments, to sign up to cuts is fuelling tensions between rich and poor groupings in the talks.
This week's meeting in the Senegalese capital Dakar, where power cuts are so frequent that many businesses have installed their own diesel generators, offered a chance for African countries to shape the next agreement, de Boer said.
Delegates at the meeting were promoting projects ranging from low-emission bus services to generating power from methane produced by household trash, hoping investors would provide funding in return for carbon credits they can then sell on.
"For the African economy to grow, more generating capacity will have to be put in place. The question then is: is it going to be conventional dirty power generating capacity, or is it going to be power generation that anticipates the need to act on climate change," de Boer said.