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Cameroon: taking the green path to development

The government of Cameroon is beginning to take its environmental responsibilities more seriously, with an increasing number of recycling and renewable energy projects being developed.

Yet, by some measures, the country is already doing well. Its carbon emissions are around 8.62 million megatons per year, according to World Bank figures, which translates to very low per capita emissions by international standards.

However, the country’s methane emissions are higher and increasing due to the level of animal agriculture in the country. Nevertheless, at the 21st UN Climate Change Conference (COP21), held in Paris in 2015, Cameroon pledged to reduce its carbon emissions by 32% by 2030.

It is important that environmentally friendly approaches are integrated into all government policies, otherwise dedicated projects could be seen as a form of greenwashing.

Yaoundé has sought to encourage organic farming and has drafted a bill governing organic production in the country. A significant portion of Cameroon’s annual crop is produced without using pesticides or other chemical inputs, but is not classified as organic due to lack of controls and certification.

Plastic Solutions

Plastic pollution has long been a big problem across much of Africa, particularly from plastic bag litter but also from the increasing use of other plastic containers, while recycling infrastructure tends to be limited.

Plastic blocks drains, exacerbating the impact of flooding and providing breeding grounds for mosquitoes, while much of it enters waterways and eventually reaches the ocean, affecting marine wildlife and entering food chains. Some communities burn their waste, but this releases harmful compounds and also contributes to climate change.

In order to tackle the problem, the government of Cameroon has announced plans for a factory in Kousseri in the Far North that will recycle plastic waste into cobblestones. The project will recycle waste, create a supply chain and create jobs for local youth.

The Lake Chad Region Recovery and Development Project (Prolac) is currently seeking to recruit an industry-experienced NGO to run the plant, possibly alongside a private sector contractor. Prolac was created in 2020 with funding of €157 million from the International Development Association to promote sustainable development in the Lake Chad Basin.

Further south, an NGO called WasteAid is boosting its waste management and plastic recycling capacity in Douala with funding from UK distribution and outsourcing company Bunzl. It also works to promote recycling systems in the city. Employees collect the waste using handcarts and bring it to a central plant for compaction and then supply.

Bunzl Sustainability Manager, James Pitcher, said: “WasteAid’s projects help communities in low-income countries establish waste collection and recycling services that protect the environment and provide opportunities for subsistence.

WasteAid CEO Ceris Turner-Bailes said: “Pollution from mismanaged waste affects us all, whether through health effects, marine plastic pollution or climate change. This continued partnership means that more people can benefit from being part of a circular economy, with all the long-term benefits that brings.

Focus on renewable energies

Cameroon is also making rapid progress in developing low-carbon electricity generation, although there is some controversy over the larger projects as they take the form of large dam projects. Large hydropower projects generally produce relatively low greenhouse gas emissions, but the devastation caused by construction, both in terms of impact on flora and fauna and local people, means that they are generally not not defined as renewable energy projects.

The largest project under construction is the 420 MW Nachtigal project, which is now expected to produce its first electricity in mid-2023 following pandemic-related delays. Located 65 km from Yaoundé, it is developed by Nachtigal Hydro Power Company, itself owned by Electricité de France, International Finance Corporation, Africa50 and STOA Infra & Energy.

The project price of 786 billion CFA francs ($1.3 billion) includes the cost of the new transmission lines, which are being developed by Bouygues Energies & Services. These large projects are often criticized because the areas in which they are developed receive all the impact but often no electricity. In this case, a small 4.5 MW plant will provide electricity to communities in the immediate vicinity of the dam.

Nachtigal could be overshadowed by the larger 600 MW Chollet hydroelectric project, if it is eventually built. In April 2021, the governments of Cameroon and Congo-Brazzaville awarded China Gezhouba Group a concession to develop the project on the Dja River along their common border, with production shared by the two countries.

The project is expected to be completed by 2025, but few details have been released. Elsewhere in Cameroon, the government is seeking financing from China’s Exim bank for the 72 MW Menchum hydropower project in the northwest, while work on the 30 MW Lom Pangar dam in the east is underway. of completion.

Micro and small hydroelectric power plants fall under the definition of renewable energy and several new projects are under development in Cameroon, such as the 1.48 MW mini hydroelectric project in Mbakaou, which was completed in April. Developed under a public-private partnership between the government, the French company IED and the electricity utility Eneo, it was built on the Djérem River, a tributary of the Sanaga River in the Adamaoua region. .

It is linked to the city of Tibati by a 40 km transmission line and will supply 40,000 people as part of Cameroon’s rural electrification programme. The combined cost of the hydroelectric project and the power line was 3.5 billion CFA francs (5.4 million euros), while the completion of the project will allow the closure of small thermal power plants in Tibati, Ngaoundal and Mbakaou , reducing annual carbon emissions by approximately 7,444 tonnes per year. .

Also in April, the government announced plans for two more mini-hydropower plants at Widikum and Menka in the northwest of the country.

Details on the scale of the projects have yet to be revealed, but are expected to power a new soap factory and oil mill, as well as supply power to more homes. rural.

Plans to build the country’s first large solar power plants have now been approved. In December, developer Scatec signed agreements with Eneo to build a 36 MW photovoltaic power plant with 20 MW storage capacity by mid-2022. The costs of building and operating solar PV have been falling rapidly around the world, making it a cheap option for African economies and also the most obvious way to develop decentralized power generation.

Energy storage technology is at an early stage of development, so Cameroon will become one of the first African countries to acquire storage plants. However, costs are falling here too, with storage being the key to ensuring high solar penetration rates.

Cameroon’s solar resources are concentrated in the Far North, where the average solar irradiance is 5.8 kWh/m2/day, compared to 4.0 to 4.9 kWh/m2/day in the south. New transmission infrastructures will therefore be necessary to allow the projects to benefit the whole country.

In addition, as part of its rural electrification programme, the government has committed to ensuring that 500 MW of photovoltaic capacity is developed in off-grid sites, although the timing is uncertain.