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African Perspectives on the Fossil Fuel vs Clean Energy Debate

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EditPro | Lagos Metropolitan newspaper By Godfred Edusei Derkyi

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 7 (SDG7) calls for ‘affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all’ by 2030. It recognizes energy usage as the dominant contributor to the generation of Green House Gases (GHG), accounting for about 60 per cent of total emissions. It observes with alarm that global emissions have accelerated, resulting in more than 46 per cent increase in the very short span of the last 30 years 1990 to date. The need to transition to clean energy is urgent.

Writing about energy for children has been my most challenging experience mainly because the subject is technical and not too easy to express in simple language. In the Episode 3 of my children’s adventure book series, Adventures of Hurricane & Tornado, subtitled The Sea is Powerful, I sought to break down the issues of SDG7, and to reduce into story form the technical expressions often encountered. My objective was for the reader to have a clearer understanding of the issues, a sense of the urgency associated with the need to transition, and to be convinced that everyone can and should contribute to the solution, however small their contributions may be.

Africa’s Advantage

Africa has three advantages in its clean energy transition. It has the advantage of being endowed with a vast amount of energy: solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, wave and tidal as well as biomass resources. Africa also has the advantage of being a source of needed raw materials for the manufacturing of batteries for the storage of clean energy and for driving the new generation of electric vehicles that are to replace high polluting diesel and gasoline engines.

The third advantage Africa has, is that of having to discard a smaller load of dirty energy infrastructure.

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The Challenge

Access to energy determines industrial output and quality of life. With – currently – about 17% of the World’s population, Africa’s share of global energy consumption is less than 5%. Consequently, for Africa, SDG 7 should be about more than a transition to clean energy: SDG 7 presents the challenge of moving away from dependency to utilizing Africa’s vast resources to aggressively industrialize and possibly become a net exporter of clean energy. A key factor for Africa in the debate is whether clean energy technology can sufficiently advance to provide the needed push for Africa’s aspirations to industrialize within the set time frames for net zero emissions.

The Risk of Business as Usual

SDG Target 7.b addresses the challenges of lesser developed economies. It expects by 2030 to “expand infrastructure and upgrade technology for supplying modern and sustainable energy services for all in developing countries, in particular least developed countries, small island developing States, and land-locked developing countries, in accordance with their respective programs of support”. Africa should stand on this provision to draw up assistance programs aimed at obtaining sustainable energy services to build and own clean energy infrastructure that relies largely on locally available resources. This will be in line with SDG 1, especially 1.4 which speaks of equal rights to ownership, basic services, technology and economic resources, as one of the targets for the No Poverty goal.

Africa cannot afford not to be a participant in the on-going race towards developing and perfecting clean energy technology. There ought to be a reversal of Africa’s role as a scavenger of technology, looking up to others to lead. Currently Africa has 60% of the world’s solar power footprint yet imports solar technology to harness it. The continent must team up with its friends to build its capacity to at least produce solar panels and other clean energy components to drive down its costs. Wind, hydro energy including Wave and Tidal energies, are all resources that Africa has in abundance. The sea alone is estimated to have the potential to produce up to 4 times the total energy requirements of the world. An Africa hungry for industrialization must be among the leaders in the clean energy transition, and not a follower.

Will it Rain Cars in Africa?

Of the world’s 1.5 billion automobiles, Africa currently has only 50 million of them; mostly imported used. The continent is already considered the dumping ground for obsolete automobiles and other manufactured goods. As the race continues to manufacture and replace fossil fuel vehicles with electric vehicles, the pressing question is what will happen to the 1.5 billion automobiles that will be replaced in as short as a decade from now. Will Africa experience a torrent of obsolete automobiles from the developed world? The answer is, most likely. Can Africa resist this scenario? I think not. Africa must strategize on how it will handle this scenario of becoming the dumping ground of obsolete technology. Electric vehicle manufacturing is still in its infancy in Africa, and what may happen is that a fossil fuel to electric automobile conversion industry will develop as a part of the transition to clean energy by 2050.

Justice in Transition

The Africa Union Executive Council, at its 41st Ordinary Session held on the 15th of July 2022, adopted the African Common Position on Energy Access and Just Transition. It is a comprehensive approach that commits to renewable clean energy. Significantly, it sets a longer time frame for full implementation, with due consideration to Africa’s peculiar circumstances. It is prudent for Africa’s needs to be fully accommodated within the global targets to enable the flow of funds so that its longer energy transition process can continue. The tempo of the continent’s industrialization must not be held back by the pace of development of clean technology.

Thankfully, the African Development Bank has also launched what it terms, A New Deal on Energy for Africa to support Africa’s transition to clean energy. It describes the deal as built on the following five principles:

  • Raising aspirations to solve Africa’s energy challenges
  • Establishing a Transformative Partnership on Energy for Africa
  • Mobilizing domestic and international capital for innovative financing in Africa’s energy sector
  • Supporting African governments in strengthening energy policy, regulation and sector governance
  • Increasing African Development Bank’s investments in energy and climate financing

To conclude, I borrow this quote from the African Development Bank (AfDB):

“Africa is simply tired of being in the dark. It is time to take decisive action and turn around this narrative: to light up and power Africa – and accelerate the pace of economic transformation, unlock the potential of businesses, and drive much-needed industrialization to create jobs.”

  • Godfred Edusei Derkyi is a retired bank executive, financial consultant, author, and publisher of books. Article published by the courtesy of the SDG Book Club Africa.

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