|The Olkaria IV Geothermal Power Plant in Kenya
On April 22, world leaders met in New York to sign the major agreement on unitedly combating climate change they had reached in Paris in December 2015. The signing ceremony set into action the global implementation of a long-term goal: achieving zero carbon emission.
Prior to the Paris meet - formally known as the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change - 53 African countries pledged measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, which included greater use of renewable energy.
As Africa’s economy expands buoyed by a mineral boom and growing investor interest, it is heavily dependent on fossil fuels for industrialization. Also, with 620 million people in Africa living without electricity, wood and charcoal are the key sources of energy for a majority. All this is causing pollution as a side effect.
The Paris Agreement is an impetus for Africa to seek sustainable development by tapping into its abundant clean energy sources such as wind and solar power.
“The Paris Agreement has placed Africa en route to a renewable energy revolution to drive its latecomer industrialization process in a clean manner over the coming years,” said Linus Mofor, a senior energy and climate change expert at the Ethiopia-based African Climate Policy Center of the UN Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).
Some African countries have already made progress in harnessing cleaner energy for development. South Africa has invested more than $6 billion to generate over 6 gigawatt of renewable power capacity through its Renewable Energy Independent Power Producer Procurement Program. Ethiopia is developing wind farms. It has also mobilized domestic resources for the $4.8-billion Grand Renaissance Dam, which would have a generating capacity of 6,000 MW when completed next year.
However, hydropower generation in Africa is taking a knock from water scarcity. It is the result of a continental drought aggravated by the impact of climate change.
Kenya has invested in geothermal power development, becoming a global leader in the sector. It has also developed wind power, including the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project with a generating capacity of over 300 MW. Between 2010 and 2014, Cabo Verde increased its renewable power capacity by 200 percent to 33 MW, mainly from wind and solar power, taking the share of renewables in the national energy mix to 34 percent in 2014
Mofor told ChinAfrica the fall in the cost of low-carbon energy technologies has made them cost-competitive with fossil fuel technologies. Also, going green would provide jobs, food security and resource efficiency. It would increase global competitiveness, regional integration and trade.
“So it is not about making a painful choice between dirty and clean energy sources; it is about making the right and sensible choice for Africa’s energy systems,” he said. “It should therefore not be seen as a challenge but as an opportunity for a new and inclusive development agenda.”
“Africa stands to gain from developing low-carbon energy, and the world stands to gain from Africa avoiding the high-carbon pathway followed by today’s rich world and emerging markets,” former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan had said in his foreword to last year’s annual report of the Africa Progress Panel, the influential NGO headed by him.
However, green industrialization in Africa needs substantive public and private sector investments. For these investments to happen, developed countries need to assist with finance, technology transfer and capacity development.
Lessons from China
Can Africa learn from China’s progress toward a low-carbon economy?
China, Africa’s largest trading partner, has unveiled its 13th Five-Year Plan (2016-20), aiming to shift from heavily polluting industries to new energy-intensive industries to effect an 18 percent reduction in carbon intensity from the 2015 levels.
China, the second largest economy in the world, experienced huge economic growth over the last decade, with matching energy consumption which triggered environmental and social challenges. In 2008, China was the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter and faced global pressure for radical environmental policy changes.
The 13th Five-Year Plan embraces sustainable development and a low-carbon economy by laying out targets and measures to address sustainability challenges, said Song Ranping, Developing Country Climate Action Manager, Global Climate Program, at World Resources Institute, a research organization. These challenges include climate change, pollution, urbanization and transport.
“It is a significant step [for China] toward achieving its Paris Agreement pledge and long-term transformation,” Song said. “Each country is different. So it goes without saying that Africa cannot simply copy China’s experience. However, there are some lessons. China’s old growth model in the past was environmentally unsustainable. China’s over-reliance on coal-fired power and heavy industries and its growing vehicle ownership led to serious air, water and soil pollution and cost [it] heavily in public health.”
“China’s example demonstrates very nicely that moving to a low-carbon industrialization pathway is the sensible thing to do: it creates jobs, provides more opportunities for inclusion, increases productivity and global competitiveness,” Mofor said.
Mofor believes structural transformation - which the ECA promotes to meet Africa’s sustainable development objectives as framed by Agenda 2063, the African Union’s action plan to build a prosperous and united Africa - will enable Africa to industrialize, using its finite resources in an efficient manner.
“Indeed, Africa’s economic growth to date has been mostly focused on export of raw material into a global market with complex supply and demand side factors, over which African countries have little control,” he said.
Paradoxically, Africa contributes less than 4 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions but suffers the most from the adverse impacts of climate change.
(Reporting from Zimbabwe)