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Anita George: "If we continue business as usual it’s going to be a much tougher problem to tackle"

Blog | Video: "If we continue business as usual it’s going to be a much tougher problem" – Anita George
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Video: "If we continue business as usual it’s going to be a much tougher problem" – Anita George

Anita Marangoly George is the senior director of the World Bank Group's global energy practice. In this video interview, she spoke with us about the world’s water and energy challenges between now and 2050. You can read more of the interview below, and find out more about the World Hydropower Congress here.

How does hydropower fit into the World Bank’s portfolio?

I would say hydropower for us is now front and centre because of the concerns about climate change, and equally the concerns on connecting the 1.3 billion people without access to energy. 

Coincidentally, where the two occur such as Africa, South Asia and South East Asia, there is both abundant hydropower potential as well as the need for access to electricity, so it comes together very nicely and it’s a core part of our efforts to increase renewable energy.

How can developed and developing countries best co-operate to address the world’s water and energy needs?

I think the most important thing really is to work together and not have an ‘us and them’ approach, as I don’t think that’s constructive or solution-orientated.

There also has to be a balance, because you need a diversified energy pool to remain energy reliant"

We can learn a lot from the experience of developed countries.  There are many countries, especially in Europe, that have been able to diversify their energy to bring in more renewables.  Simultaneously we see developing and middle-income countries giving a big push to renewable energy, so it is a collective problem and we have to come together.

We all know from citizens who live in the cities in developing countries that it is becoming more and more difficult – the level of pollution, the impact on health and basic liveability. With that being the case, I think each country has to look for the most sustainable and climate-friendly energy plan that they can put in place.

Countries like Brazil, India and China are all moving in that direction, and our challenge is to help other developing countries to be able to take a similar approach to be able to attract the kind of financing that is needed for more expensive renewable energy solutions.

How can we manage water and energy over the next 35 years?

If we continue business as usual it’s going to be a much tougher problem to tackle. One of the things that keeps me going on this issue is that if we continue business as usual, the number of people in Africa, South Asia and South East Asia who don’t have access to electricity, clean water and sanitation is actually going to grow, and that to me is the real challenge before us: how do we arrest that gap, and how do we make sure that we can connect more people.  

In terms of ‘are there solutions’ I truly believe they are, and one is that a lot of renewable energy sources are becoming closer and closer to grid parity in terms of costs because of technology changes and better implementation.  

There also has to be a balance, because you need a diversified energy pool to remain energy reliant and secure in your supply, and I think there is more awareness of the good examples of countries that have managed to make that transition. So for developing countries, there are more examples to follow and avoid some of the mistakes that have been made in the past.  

There are many opportunities as well. To give you another example, the stock of buildings in a lot of emerging markets has yet to be built, and if those can be made more energy-efficient and water-efficient, we’ll have done better than what a lot of developed countries have done in the past 50 years, so I think that’s where the focus should be.

How does the energy and water nexus work in practice?

We work with governments starting from an energy plan, and one of the things we are doing through our initiative called ‘Thirsty Energy’ is to encourage governments to look at the implications on water and other natural resources.  

Secondly, we see ourselves as a global practice able to share experiences which sometimes happen in very small pockets, when policy and investments have come together very nicely. That is part of our role.

I don’t think it’s the day and age anymore where you can instruct governments – you have to raise awareness from the ground up, so that governments will incorporate those improvements and changes themselves. Again, we see many countries that are really working on that path and framework.

What will be the role of hydropower in Africa?

I think it will play a very important role.  It’s a resource that Africa is blessed with, and I think we need to learn from the lessons on how we do hydropower smartly and in the right way, looking at the impact on communities, the environment, and bio-diversity.

And at the same time, how do we deliver baseload power that is less expensive than many other renewable sources, and how do you improve the energy security and reliability?

This is not just within countries – the regional power pools that have been created and the ability to feed those networks with clean energy is really the challenge of the next decade for Africa. I’m very hopeful that with everybody this morning [at World Water Week 2014 in Stockholm] pledging to bring financing to Africa, hydropower in Africa will really get a boost.