African nations can expand their power generation and achieve universal access to energy by leapfrogging to new technologies that are transforming energy systems throughout the world.
However, this will require decisive action on the part of Africa’s leaders, continuous dialogue on how they can, collectively and individually, formulate national policies to address Africa’s interlocking climate and energy problems.
This was the general consensus during the high level panel for African leaders on Energy and Climate Change hosted by the African Development Bank on Tuesday, May 24, Day 2 of the Bank’s 2016 Annual Meetings in Lusaka, Zambia.
"We must start from what we have, from our natural endowments, not just clean energy.
“Our immediate needs require the base load power – fossil fuels, coal – that will move us quickly,” said Oluyemi Oluleke Osinbajo, Vice-President of Federal Republic of Nigeria.
As the most vulnerable continent to climate variability and change, access to energy services in African countries also ranks among the lowest in the world.
Currently, over 645 million Africans do not have access to electricity, 700 million have no access to clean cooking energy and 600,000 die each year from indoor pollution due to their reliance on biomass for cooking.
For his part, the President of Chad, Idriss Deby, underscored the need to protect the environment by promoting use of renewable energy, but also coordinated efforts.
He emphasized the need to encourage industrial production of solar energy in Africa.
"If each country looks only at itself, we won’t get anywhere. We need to explore a global solution for the continent.
“There are challenges, there are possibilities, and then there are realistic actions. Focus on the realistic actions," Deby said.
Panelists identified lack of financial resources, lack of information on technologies, as well as lack of incentives for the private sector to invest in climate-change mitigation technologies as main barriers to technology development and transfer.
They urged developed countries to assist African countries to address these challenges.
Edgar Lungu, President of Zambia, pointed out that Africa's issue is not switching from carbon to clean energy, but access to power. Shortage of rainfall, he said, is already causing power shortages.
“Ninety-nine per cent of our energy is hydro. In two years, there has been no rainfall – should we wait until rains come? We need a solution," Lungu said, underscoring that priority be placed on increasing access to energy using cheaper, non-clean sources, or more expensive renewables like solar.
Panelists raised concern over absence of appropriate regulatory frameworks and insufficient involvement of the private sector, which continues to undermine investments in the energy sector.
They also called for increased political will to support the private sector to make investments in renewable energy.
Climate change discussants argued is a challenge that provides opportunities for clean energy and industries.
While Africa has what it takes to achieve universal access to energy services while reducing the carbon intensity of its growth, weak energy and climate change policies could limit Africa’s ability to harness its conventional energy resources especially oil, gas and coal.
About 7.7 per cent of the world’s proven conventional oil reserves, 7.6 per cent of available natural gas reserves and 3.7 per cent of coal reserves are in Africa.
The continent has well over 10 TW of solar potential, 350 GW of hydroelectric potential, 110 GW of wind potential and an additional 15 GW of geothermal potential.
“We need three things to address energy in Africa – finance, technology, expertise," said Kassim Majaliwa, Prime Minister of Tanzania.
In her remarks, Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland (1990-1997) who currently serves as the UN Secretary-General's Special Envoy on Climate Change, urged African leaders to work as a region and intensify pressure to the developed world to achieve strengthened international cooperation on these issues, but also mobilize funds for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
“You must persuade the world to be with you on climate financing,” Robinson said, underscoring that Africa is the most vulnerable continent to the adverse impact of climate change.