Experts urge African leaders to take strong climate change action
Thursday February 09 2023
As African leaders gather next week for the African Union summit under the theme ‘Acceleration of AfCFTA Implementation’, experts are urging that climate change and the energy crisis to be placed at the centre of the free trade talks.
They argue that AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Area) presents an opportunity for Africa to be a dynamic force in the global arena and investing in renewable energy sources can provide access to affordable energy while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) reports that energy poverty levels in Africa are at an alarming rate, with over 70 percent of the population living without access to electricity.
IEA also notes that energy poverty is particularly high in rural areas, where only 20 percent of the population has access to electricity. This lack of access to electricity has a direct impact on poverty levels as families are unable to generate income or engage in small-scale businesses that require power.
Market for other countries
Without energy, the experts say, Africa will not industrialise but will continue trading and being a market for “other” countries’ manufactured goods.
Pan Africa senior advocacy advisor at Christian Aid Joab Okanda says that despite the challenges, Africa is faced with immense opportunities to get out of the shackles of fossil fuels.
“Africa must take advantage of rising demand for environment-friendly energy sources driven by demand to reduce carbon emissions amidst falling cost of renewable energy. It is time the continent put all hands on deck to be influential in climate negotiations by demonstrating to the world that a clean, inclusive and sustainable development pathway powered by renewable energy is possible,” he says.
To achieve this, Mohamed Adow, a climate justice advocate and director of energy and climate think-tank Power Shift Africa says that adaptation and renewable energy investment by African leaders are crucial.
“Wind and solar will be the bedrock for African energy so the first step is to change our mindsets from competitors to collaborative neighbours and recognise the power of a pan-African movement,” he says.
According to the World Bank’s 2021 report, Africa accounts for less than one percent of global installed wind capacity.
Africa Director for the Global Wind Energy Council Wangari Muchiri notes that wind power is often overlooked yet it has great complementarity with solar and hydropower technologies which can create significant renewable energy for countries and enable them to transition to the net-zero scenarios.
“Wind power is a key solution in Africa and there are sufficient resources to power the continent for decades. African governments can, therefore, identify areas of great wind potential within their countries and begin to collect data on these sites to reduce the lead time that it will take to develop projects by private sector investors,” says Ms Muchiri.
She adds that one of the key barriers to the development of power in Africa is financing for early-stage projects.
“Governments and African leaders can create grants that encourage the development of windfarms by local players in the industry,” she says.
According to the experts, COP27 showed the power and influence that African countries can bring when they work together on the global stage.
“After decades of discussion around a loss and damage fund without success, it was this African COP which got it done and that was despite many rich countries trying to not even include it on the meeting's agenda. Africa has a powerful moral voice when it comes to climate change, and we need to use it to get more finance and technology transfer from rich countries to help our energy transition,” says Mr Adow.
The experts further explain that because Africa is the most impacted by climate change and the least responsible but also the least informed, the African leaders should prioritise the much-needed discussion on renewable energy and climate education.