Africa’s challenges are enormous but not insurmountable. There is therefore no need for despair. Solutions to enhance economic inclusivity abound through the low carbon pathway powered by clean energy of which the continent has in abundance though untapped. By making the right policy investments building institutions, capacity and technology, Africa can unleash its latent clean energy potential and leapfrog to being a global leader without adding a single tonne of planet warming gases while simultaneously creating income opportunities for millions of its citizens
Capitalising on the continent’s renewable energy to sustainably improve access to energy and hence combat poverty is an untapped opportunity. Tapping it now could change the continent’s narrative for good.
Untapped Energy a gold mine for jobs, and poverty alleviation in Africa
Documented tangible benefits of the low carbon pathway are immense. Off-grid solutions like solar can enhance access to power in marginalised areas and power households, schools, hospitals, businesses as well as rural agro-industries, hence enhance inclusive economic growth. In Bangladesh, an LDC, solar has enhanced electricity access to an additional 20 million persons, provided in excess of 115,000 direct jobs and an additional 50,000 induced in downstream business due to availability of solar in rural areas.
Current success stories in Africa also abound, though at a lower scale. By upscaling, the continent can potentially create a thriving electricity supply industry with an estimated 2.5 million temporary and permanent jobs.
On savings, Africa’s poor households, which spend up to 20 times more on energy for lighting than high-income households connected to the grid can make plausible savings of up to USD 8 billion by making grid power and off-grid renewable options like solar more accessible to them. In total, switching to a clean and accessible grid can reduce poverty in SSA by 16 – 26 million people.
Off-grid solutions which are the most economical solution for electrification in remote areas can power rural agro-enterprises and optimize agricultural productivity by enhancing value addition thereby cutting food loss and creating more jobs along the value chain. SSA lost food worth USD 48 billion in 2010, and yet its annual import bill is a whopping USD 35billion. These represent potential income opportunities lost. In addition, without value addition, food is sold in its unprocessed form and fetches lower prices, translating to loss in potential incomes.
By scaling clean energy for rural economies, then African agriculture will go a long way in enhancing income opportunities for youth, women as well as marginalised rural folk, hence enhance economic inclusivity without piling on emissions.
Existing policy enabling Environment for Africa to revolutionise Low carbon pathway
Global and continental policies are in synchrony in calling for low carbon development as a potent strategy out of poverty. The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which Africa has embraced through its common Africa position on the post-2015 development agenda on the overall give more weightage to economic and environmental factors. Goals 7, 8, 13 and 15 jointly address environmentally sustainable, socially inclusive economic development.
The Common African Position (CAP) on post-2015 and the AU Agenda 2063 two key continental blue prints also revolve around environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive industrial development leading to economic growth, powered by at least 50% clean energy. The alignment of continental and global priorities toward low carbon development represents a defining moment of hope, and Africa should capitalise on this momentum to actualise a low carbon agenda.
Leapfrogging Africa into a global energy leader: The needed Policy enablers
There is need to up-scale the success achieved at micro-scale. Consequently the means of scaling up is an urgent action area. Scaling Africa’s low carbon inclusive growth will require enablers including financing, knowledge management & action research on means of implementation, capacity building, technology transfer & business innovation, educational reforms, institutional, regulatory and policy reforms. Actualising these is within reach if commitment is fostered by African governments, the international community, and the private sector investors and multinationals.
The upcoming monumental climate talks in Paris present an opportunity through which commitment in all these issues can be garnered and legislated.
For instance, on the key financing component, the report documents that Africa’s energy sector needs investment of USD 55 billion annually until 2030 to achieve universal access to electricity. This figure is less than the continent hemorrhages in excess of USD 69billion annually as illicit financial flows. Stemming IFFs will recoup more than the required amount. Additional financing proposals made in the report include boosting tax collection, cutting corruption, ending subsidies for unprofitable utilities, where an additional USD 21billion can be recouped. These are actions in which African countries should take a lead.
Africa’s challenges are enormous but not insurmountable. There is therefore no need for despair. Solutions to enhance economic inclusivity abound through the low carbon pathway powered by clean energy of which the continent has in abundance though untapped. By making the right policy investments building institutions, capacity and technology, Africa can unleash its latent clean energy potential and leapfrog to being a global leader without adding a single tonne of planet warming gases while simultaneously creating income opportunities for millions of its citizens. In the words of Nelson Mandela – ‘it always seems impossible until it’s done’. So let us begin to make this a possible for the collective prosperity of all!