With more than half the population off the grid and still using charcoal and other harmful sources for cooking, Africa’s energy future – torn between fossil fuels and renewable energy – is hanging in the balance.
As nations debate the climate crisis at the UN mid-year talks in Bonn, AFP spoke to Mohamed Adow, founder of think tank Power Shift Africa, about the forces pulling the continent in opposite directions.
The stakes, he warns, are global.
Q. You said that rich nations owe climate debt to the rest of the world
“The prosperity they enjoy was actually subsidized by the rest of the world because they polluted the environment without bearing the cost.
“Africa is home to 17 percent of the world’s population but is responsible for less than 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and only half a percent of historical emissions. The continent emits less than a tonne of CO2 per person, compared to seven in Europe or China and more than 15 in the United States.
“If our planet’s least developed continent wants to jump from fossil fuels to renewable energy, rich nations will have to pay the climate debt they owe.”
Q. How will Africa’s energy decisions affect the rest of the world?
“My continent stands at a crossroads with two possible futures. Africa can become a clean energy pioneer with decentralized renewable energies driving a more inclusive society and green economy, or it can become a major polluter burdened with lost assets and economic instability.
“We have the opportunity to make a difference for Africa and for the world.”
Q. US Envoy John Kerry says climate change in Africa could result in “hundreds of millions of people looking for a place to live.” Is he right?
“Absolutely. It is important to recognize that climate-related migration is a threat. As climate impacts increase, people in Africa — where almost all agriculture depends on rain — will be forcibly evicted from their land.
“In wealthy nations, this is mainly seen as a security issue. But this is a humanitarian catastrophe with people already losing lives, homes and livelihoods.
“The only way to prevent climate-induced migration in the long term is to reduce carbon pollution at the scale required.”
Q. Is the war in Ukraine affecting energy development in Africa?
“To achieve energy security after Russia’s invasion, Europe is effectively urging Africa to direct its limited financial resources into developing its fossil gas extraction and export industry, mainly for consumers in Europe.”
“Last month, during a three-day tour of Senegal, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said his country would ‘closely pursue’ projects to develop and import Senegal’s vast gas reserves. Of course, Germany is particularly dependent on Russian gas.
“So now Europe wants to shackle Africa with a new fossil fuel infrastructure that we know will be redundant within a few years, not to mention self-harming the continent. And lest we forget, 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 aspiring to transition to renewable energy?
“Last month the Sustainable Energy for All summit in (Rwandan capital) Kigali issued a communiqué supporting ‘Africa to use gas as a transition fuel’. But only 10 out of 54 African countries have signed the declaration.
“I think the majority of African nations recognize the tremendous opportunity that renewable energy offers for job creation, innovation, reduced air pollution and sustainable industrialization. But that majority is a silent majority – they have not yet used their moral voice to advocate for a cleaner, more sustainable Africa.
“There are some pioneers. My country, Kenya, is currently 90 percent powered by renewable energy and has set a target of reaching 100 percent by 2030.”
Q. The trillions needed for a rapid transition to renewable energy will not come from public sources alone. How do you mobilize private capital?
“We need to think about long-term investment security in Africa. This is the most expensive continent to secure any loan or credit. We need to put in place payment guarantee schemes, backed by international funding, to enable secure investments in renewable energy.”
“But you still need public money to boost international investment and finance. We also need to tap into Africa’s domestic sources – public funds, sovereign wealth funds. And then there is debt. If we could swap some foreign debt for the kind of investment Africa needs, it could make a big difference.”