Solving Africa’s Energy Challenges by 2025
In the wake of United Nations Conference of Parties (COP 21) in Paris, the discourse on the nexus among energy access, economic growth and carbon dioxide emissions–the major cause of global climate change–remains a central policy issue. Access to modern energy services is crucial for economic growth. It also secures access to basic human needs and human security, ultimately supporting the achievement of sustainable development goals (SDGs). While the increasing use of energy-dense fossil fuels has underpinned much of the overall increase in productivity over the past century in both industry and agriculture globally, Africa is still mainly reliant on traditional biomass fuels. This causes hundreds of thousands of deaths each year due to indoor air pollution. Lack of access to electricity denies two-thirds of Africa’s citizens a decent quality of life and retards economic growth, employment creation and investment. And yet, Africa’s poorest people list among those who pay the world’s highest prices for energy. Increasing access to modern energy services for meeting basic household needs in Africa could yield substantial improvements in human welfare at relatively low costs. As a matter of justice, African countries deserve to provide light, power and a sustainable source of livelihoods to their people, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid who have been less behind in the development story. While Africa’s historical and current contributions to global CO² emissions are very low, the carbon footprint of the continent could increase rapidly if the continent follows the fossil fuel intensive path taken by more developed countries. But as the continent most vulnerable to climate variability and change, charting a low-carbon pathway is in Africa’s long-term development interest. At the same time, increasing access to energy services will improve Africa’s capacity to adapt to climate change, which is already negatively affecting socio-economic development. Africa has abundant yet under-utilised renewable energy resources. The continent should seize the opportunity to capitalize on the global shiss in energy technologies and avoid lock-in to carbon-intensive technologies. International cooperation and transformative actions are required to effectively address Africa’s energy challenges to ensure that a leapfrogging to clean energy technologies can happen sooner, rather than later. Experience has shown that the externality costs of the principle of "grow first and clean up later" are economically, socially and environmentally unsustainable. Africa’s policy objective should be to enable the continent to achieve “climate-smart” socio-economic development without slowing down the pace of growth. The transformation of existing energy systems requires pragmatic choices of suitable energy mixes that harness the comparative resource advantages of countries to meet economic development needs, while at the same time keeping GHG emissions in check. This is achievable. Our political leaders, energy stakeholders and citizens have the civil duty to act together to make it happen. Dr. Jeremy Wakeford Quantum Global Research Lab Macroeconomist
Photo: Quantum Global
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