Senegal: Supporting Parliamentary Action on Renewable Energy

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Senegal has untapped renewable energy potential that could - and should - play a critical role in setting the country on a path towards sustainable development.  Today, that potential goes unharnessed.  Despite its seemingly endless supply of sun, wind and water, Senegal is still an energy importer.  This comes at a high cost.  In addition to the price tag, it undermines energy security, fuels pollution, and fails to offer opportunities for those most in need.  A lack of electrification continues to cripple the economic prospects of the most vulnerable: while cities are close to 90% electrified, rural areas lag far behind at 25%.

Senegal’s failure stems, to a large degree, from its inability to kick-start the renewable energy sector at the local and national level.  To take full advantage of its renewable energy potential, the country must put in place secure and sustainable investment conditions for those with the revenue and know-how to convert sun, wind, water and biomass into energy access.  To date, Senegal has not been able to offer investors – either national or international – enough incentives and guarantees to take the plunge. The nascent renewable sector cries out for action on decrees that were passed but remain unimplemented.  The promised feed-in tariff has still not been established, and renewable energy equipment continues to be subject to elevated import taxes set by the regional West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA).  Such barriers block the further development of this sector, leaving Senegal dependent on energy imports while its own wealth goes unexploited. 

UNDP’s Parliamentary Action on Renewable Energy (PARE) project, funded by the European Commission and implemented with the support of the Climate Parliament, supports parliamentarians in breaking down those barriers.  Launched in Senegal, Ivory Coast and Benin, the project aims to facilitate the flow of revenues towards renewable energy development by shaping a more secure and attractive legal framework for investors.  It brings together MPs, government officials and private sector stakeholders to explore what kind of changes are most needed, and assists MPs in overcoming those hurdles. 

On March 7th and 8th, UNDP and Climate Parliament organized a two-day workshop in Dakar, Senegal to bring together MPs, government officials and private sector stakeholders.  The workshop started off with a closed session that allowed the parliamentary network to identify parliamentary priorities moving forward.  Following a brief introduction to the project by Julia Keutgen, Dhamir Mannai, regional coordinator for the Climate Parliament and a former Member of Parliament in Tunisia, walked MPs through the successful strategies and initiatives adopted in the project’s previous phase: asking parliamentary questions, submitting policy recommendations, and amending laws and budget lines, among others.  He focused in particular on the benefit of establishing cross-party groups and networks, which are invaluable in lending the necessary weight and legitimacy to such initiatives.  Understanding the topic and appreciating the potential of renewable energy is also critical.  In the words of Dr Mannai: “Get to know the topic. Be convinced. Then, be convincing.”

Next, Lotte Geunis led the MPs through a ‘diagnostics’ session, using the AGORA Toolkit on Climate Change and Energy, to explore what has been done to date in four key areas: COP21 and the Paris Agreement, gender, oversight, and budgeting.  Each area was discussed in some detail, and several action points emerged:

  • Senegal sent a large delegation to COP21 (including some MPs), but the parliament and its relevant committees have not yet been briefed on the discussions that were held. To remedy this, a formal briefing will be organized to discuss how Senegal can move forward on the Paris Agreement and deliver on its own Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). 
  • Regarding gender and energy, little if any action has been taken so far.  Gender-segregated data are not available, and there are no dedicated parliamentary staffers working on the subject.  While the network generally agreed that gender should be integrated in their work, several MPs stressed that energy access to all – especially the most vulnerable – must remain the ultimate priority. 
  • The feedback regarding oversight and budgeting centered on well-known issues: the feed-in tariff must be set, the national renewable energy agency (ANER) should be more generously funded, and import taxes must be lowered. 

A recurring theme throughout these discussions is the pervasive lack of technical support these MPs have access to.  Assessing to what extent energy policies respond to the needs of women and girls is nearly impossible if gender-segregated data are not available.  Holding a government to account is beyond challenging if the implementation of specific rules and regulations cannot be determined.  The Paris Agreement, however significant and welcomed, understandably takes a back seat in the face of competing priorities – education, health care, poverty reduction – that all demand a parliamentarian’s limited time and attention. 

To galvanize more political support and practical expertise on the subject, MPs stressed the importance of engaging the local level.  Mayors – many of whom are (former) MPs or hold government posts – can bring political clout and experience to the table.  They can also share much-needed facts and figures from the local level, which can prove invaluable in informing policy debates and decisions.  Critically, they can influence key (budget) decisions before these reach parliament. While Senegalese MPs hold the prerogative to review the annual budget, the changes they can realistically demand are limited. MPs are therefore often more efficient if they can engage with those doing the drafting – whether formally or informally. 

Bringing the workshop to a close, Mr Secou Sarr presented his evaluation of Senegal’s renewable energy framework.  The study will guide the work of the PARE parliamentarians for the remainder of the year. It is currently being reviewed and will be made available on AGORA's climate portal shortly. 

In the meantime, the work continues.  Policy recommendations on gender and energy are being developed by the group’s women parliamentarians, and the proposed meetings with COP attendees, ANER and private stakeholders are being set up.  For updates, keep an eye on this page or contact Lotte Geunis at lotte.geunis@undp.org

This is a blog post by Lotte Geunis, Parliamentary Development Officer at the United Nations Development Programme.