Transforming Africa: Just & Equitable Energy Transition

By Emily Karanja

A global transition to lower-carbon energy sources is crucial for our species’ survival given the worsening effects of climate change. With many people increasingly advocating for a rapid shift from an energy system dependent on fossil fuels, questions on how to make this transition arise – one that is just and equitable, especially in the developing world.

There are many questions that need to be answered. How do we make realistic and enforceable policies that support energy transition in an equitable way? What changes do we need to make to existing infrastructure and in storage technologies?

How can we increase funding and investments to develop clean and effective energy sources inclusive of clean cooking technologies? How do we ensure employment, prosperity and other opportunities are maintained and increased during this transition?

According to CDP Africa report (2020), Africa accounts for the smallest share of greenhouse gas emissions at 3.8% of the total global emissions but experiences harsh climate change effects. Even with continued growth in industrialization and development activities in Africa, emissions remain low.

The energy sector is a major contributor to growth and development of a country but also accounts for high emissions with burning of fossil fuels needed for building roads, cold storage facilities and transport in and out of the cities.

There is need to focus on where we can reduce emissions and start on climate mitigation while providing reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy.

Transport Sector

Two-thirds of the global greenhouse gases emitted today are linked to the use of fossil fuels in the generation of energy for lighting, transport, and in industry. The transport system in Africa is highly dependent on fossil fuels, recent price increases of which have had a knock-on effect on food prices and more generally, impacted negatively on living standards for many in poverty-stricken areas.

Furthermore, the transport system contributes largely to outdoor pollution, especially in the East Africa which has seen in recent years, an increase in the road infrastructure and the acquisition of motor vehicles (most of which are imported ‘reconditioned’ from Europe and the Far East, and whose tail-pipe emissions would not be considered acceptable in those countries).

African countries are consolidating mitigation approaches to reduce the effects of fossil fuels from the transport sector. This includes a shift from fossil fuel-powered transport, an example of that being Kenya launching electric shuttle buses in the public transport system this year (CitiHoppa and East Shuttle) and motorcycles (Ecobodaa).

While these shifts are appreciable, they still have a long way to go in terms of replacing traditional vehicles, as the costs remain prohibitive for most, and the support infrastructure needed for electric vehicles is still largely absent.

Clean cooking

In Africa more than half the population has no access to clean and reliable energy sources which results in the use of biomass (charcoal and firewood) for their heating and cooking needs, in turn contributing to environmental and health complications.

Clean cooking is an integral aspect not to be left behind in this transition. According to latest SDG7 (IEA) tracking report, 2.5 billion people worldwide do not have access to clean cooking facilities and rely on kerosene, coal and solid biomass for cooking.

This number has increased with population growth and challenges levied by the COVID-19 pandemic which led to governments shifting priorities, and increase in poverty with loss of employment opportunities making basic energy services unaffordable.

The use of biomass not only increases pollution, and affects the total forest cover globally, but also poses serious health risks to users, particularly women and children who are the most vulnerable segments of the population.

Encouraging clean cooking innovations seeks to provide alternative technologies that are sustainable, efficient, reliable, and affordable to these communities. Incentives towards adoption and use of liquified petroleum gas can greatly reduce illness, deaths, and indoor air pollution.

Awareness creation and training initiatives by both governments and civil society groups have yielded some results with more households adopting clean cooking technologies. This has been further made possible through government incentives and policies that create a conducive environment for the production and/or importation of these technologies as well as facilitating access to them.

Government Policies

Government policy is a key component in addressing energy-related issues and ensuring that a just transition can be achieved. In particular, governments have a crucial responsibility in ensuring that innovations and technologies are developed and delivered. Well thought out strategies and policies are required for this transition to work.

The policy development process should be participatory and inclusive of all stakeholders to ensure equal and adequate representation of interests, ideas, and issues in the transition plans. This means governments working together with local communities, businesses, the labor market, and development partners to identify areas for improving and developing clean effective sources of energy and clean cooking technologies and develop policies to encourage innovation, investments, and new markets.

Strategies to support incentives for technology transfer and development and reduced taxation are also a requirement to accelerate this shift.

During this year’s SE4All forum held in Kigali, Rwanda, conversations around a just and equitable transition were held with ministries and high-level delegates of several African countries agreeing on seven transformative action points of implementation.

Governments committing and actioning these seven transformative actions would ensure that Africa is on a path towards economic prosperity and achieving a net zero future. These action points look to making modern sustainable energy available, pursue a modern energy of up to 6000kWh per capita in Africa which prioritizes clean cooking, scale up private and public sector investment in new energy technologies, infrastructures, and distribution systems.

They also point out support to Africa in deployment of gas as a transition fuel and green hydrogen for industrial development with the sustainability aspect checked, prioritizing local job creation in the energy sector for local economies, lifting development finance restrictions limiting project in Africa to ramp up domestic resource mobilization and make changes towards technology transfer mechanisms to ensure Africa has access to latest energy innovations.

These transformative actions offer opportunities to engage local communities and better meet the needs of the disadvantaged and those that lack modern energy services.

Renewable energy

Energy generation from renewable sources is one of the ways we can achieve net zero emissions by 2050. Replacing conventional forms of energy generation with new energy sources has boosted the sector and energy decarbonization, thus, ensuring reduced carbon emissions and costs while providing reliable, affordable, and sustainable power.

Technology innovation and investments in new technologies must be put to work to respond effectively to arising challenges in consumption and power generation. Adopting new technologies will ensure that power generation is more efficient and that the power grid is more secure and resilient to support and supply consumer needs.

With a huge population in Africa living in rural areas coupled with poor infrastructure development, there is need to accelerate the green mini grids and off grid plans in the sector for enhanced and reliable energy access.

Green mini grids are flexible, and their designs can be altered to fit specific sites and are deployed in closer proximity to the user hence more reliable and accessible.

Renewable energy technologies and green mini grid systems must be included in energy policies and plans to address the barriers that hinder the adoption of these new, more reliable, efficient, and sustainable technologies worked out.

Governments should put in place and support policies that promote technological advancement in renewable energy generation and distribution while facilitating financing and investment opportunities in the sector.

Energy planning should leverage existing data to develop demand-based plans to ensure energy needs are met. Decision-making in the energy sector must be data-driven to ensure useful information is captured and analyzed to reflect and support the advancement of and forecast predictive maintenance.

Today 759 million people live without electricity, with many millions living with unreliable and insufficient access. Though significant progress has been made, gaps in this sector are daunting, and more needs to be done.

To accelerate progress, Africa requires support through stronger government commitments in terms of adequate policy and incentives and long-term energy demand planning. This will spur fast uptake of sustainable energy solutions while supporting innovations and investments in technology development.

IPS UN Bureau

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