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The UN Conference on Climate Change (COP21), expected to run until 11 December, will officially involve 196 parties in its heavily secured Paris-Le Bourget site. While leaders, presided over by French President François Hollande and foreign minister Laurent Fabius, leave their officials to negotiate a global agreement to restrict carbon emissions, COP21 will also see a welter of new initiatives to promote renewable generation, energy access and improved efficiency in sub-Saharan Africa. Distributed, off-grid projects will play a significant role, as donors have come to recognise that insolvent national utilities are incapable of providing access to rural and peri-urban populations for decades to come.