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Africa’s energy future on a knife edge

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Paris (AFP)- With more than half of its population without electricity and still using charcoal and other harmful sources for cooking, Africa’s energy future – torn between fossil fuels and renewables – is up for grabs.

As nations discuss the climate crisis at the UN’s mid-year negotiations in Bonn, AFP spoke to Mohamed Adow, founder of think tank Power Shift Africa, about the forces pushing the continent in opposite directions.

The stakes, he warns, are global.

Q. You said rich nations owe the rest of the world a climate debt

“The prosperity they enjoy was, in fact, subsidized by the rest of the world because they were polluting without paying the price.

“Africa is home to 17% of the Earth’s population, but accounts for less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions and only 0.5% of historical emissions. The continent emits less than one tonne of CO2 per person, compared to seven in Europe or China, and more than 15 in the United States.

“If the least developed continent on our planet wants to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy, rich countries must pay the climate debt they owe.”

Q. How will Africa’s energy choices impact the rest of the world?

“My continent is at a crossroads with two possible futures. Africa can become a leader in clean energy with decentralized renewable energy powering a more inclusive society and a greener economy, or it can become a major polluter burdened by stranded assets and economic instability.

The share of solar and wind energy in total electricity production in 2020 for selected countries Jonathan WALTERAFP

“We have the opportunity to make a difference for Africa and for the world.”

Q. US envoy John Kerry said climate change in Africa could see “hundreds of millions of people looking for a place to live”. Is he right ?

“Absolutely. It is important to recognize that climate-induced migration is a threat. As climate impacts increase, people in Africa – where almost all agriculture is rain-fed – will be forcibly displaced from their land.

“In rich countries, this is seen primarily as a security issue. But it is a humanitarian disaster in which people are already losing lives, homes and livelihoods.

“The only way to prevent climate-induced migration in the long term is to reduce carbon pollution on the scale needed.”

Q. Does the war in Ukraine affect energy development in Africa?

“To achieve energy security after the invasion of Russia, Europe is effectively pushing Africa to devote its limited financial resources to the development of its fossil gas extraction and export industry, mainly for European consumers. “

“Last month, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, during a three-day tour of Senegal, said his country wanted to ‘intensely pursue’ plans to develop and import Senegal’s huge gas reserves. Germany, of course, was particularly dependent on Russian gas.

“So now Europe wants to chain Africa with new fossil fuel infrastructure that we know will be redundant within a few years, not to mention self-harm for the continent. And let’s not forget: the gas from Africa will emit the same amount of emissions as gas from Russia.”

Q. What is the balance of power in Africa between fossil fuel interests and those striving to switch to renewables?

“Last month, the Sustainable Energy for All summit in (Rwandan capital) Kigali issued a statement supporting ‘Africa in deploying gas as a transition fuel.’ But only 10 out of 54 African countries have signed on. statement.

“I think the majority of African nations recognize the huge opportunity that renewable energy presents for job creation, innovation, air pollution reduction and sustainable industrialization. But this majority is a silent majority – they have yet to leverage their moral voice to advocate for a cleaner and more sustainable Africa.

“There are leaders. My country, Kenya, is currently 90% powered by renewable energy and has set a target of 100% by 2030.”

Q. The trillions needed to stage a rapid transition to renewable energy will not come solely from public sources. How do you mobilize private capital?

“We need to think about the security of long-term investments in Africa. It is the most expensive continent to obtain loans or credits. We must introduce payment guarantee systems supported by international finance to facilitate secure investments. in renewable energies.

“But you still need public money to leverage international investment and finance. We also need to unlock Africa’s domestic sources – public funds, sovereign wealth funds. And then there’s debt. If we could swap some of the external debt for the kind of investment that Africa needs, that could make a big difference.”